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back to article Now that's FIRE WIRE: HP recalls 6 MILLION burn-risk laptop cables

HP has recalled more than six million power leads after the US Consumer Product Safety Commission warned the kit was starting fires. HP AC power cord recall Melty cords a danger to HP users "HP has received 29 reports of power cords overheating and melting or charring resulting in two claims of minor burns and 13 claims of …

Anonymous Coward

HP - "Setting the world alight with our quality".

Why does anyone still buy anything from this sorry shadow of a company?

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Anonymous Coward

Could be worse.. could be buying dELL

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Anonymous Coward

Why does anyone still buy anything from this sorry shadow of a company?

After having spend /FAR/ too much time unearthing and zapping Brother software from various machines (as a result, we simply banned any further purchase of Brother kit), the simplicity of HP drivers and printer software comes as a welcome relief - although here too we're looking at Samsung and the like.

So, they manage to look good by comparison :)

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Anonymous Coward

the simplicity of HP drivers and printer software

You have got to be kidding! Drivers, maybe, but the printer support software is unmitigated crap. It can't even figure out the difference between an IP address and a FQDN! (4 fields separated by dots? Must be an IP address. So let's stick .in-addr.arpa on the end and do a lookup. "printer.home.mydomain.org.in-addr.arpa" nope, no such address. D'Oh). Looks like it was written by a summer student, and the support centre's best advice was (you guessed it) "try reinstalling it". Never, never, never install any HP printer software. On anything. Ever.

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Anonymous Coward

I think you got those two the wrong way round.

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I agree actually, I've had very little bother with HP printers, and the printer drivers work pretty well.. oh you don't want to install the bloat software that comes with it (that goes for any manufacturers 'extras') I always wonder why they bother to supply it, but the drivers are great, the options are clear and easy to use, i.e. duplex, poster print, borderless, booklet print.. all the little finishing touches that mean your software doesn't need to know how to do these things...

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Anonymous Coward

Re. Brother

Apparently our in-house guys have renamed Brother to Bother :)

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"(as a result, we simply banned any further purchase of Brother kit)"

(turns around from desk and looks at work-supplied Brother printer)

At least I didn't pay for it, and it hasn't tried to kill me yet...

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Anonymous Coward

Flat, 3 core, single insulated, vs round, 3 core, double insulated?

I've seen quite a few cloverleaf cables in my time, although admittedly all Yoorpean rather than Murikan.

I've never seen anything like, and nor would I want anything like, the cable pictured.

It looks a bit like something where if you sneeze at it the wrong way, the internal conductors become exposed.

It looks a lot like something built from dirt cheap bell wire cable, except three conductors rather than two, and with mains connectors at each end (and presumably no fuse in the picture to protect the wires).

Is this something HP have "Invent"ed of their own accord or is it industry standard over there?

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Re: Flat, 3 core, single insulated, vs round, 3 core, double insulated?

My Asus laptop shipped with a similar cable.

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Re: Flat, 3 core, single insulated, vs round, 3 core, double insulated?

Yep, single-insulated flat cables are industry standard in the USA.

They use wimpy 110VAC instead of manly 240VAC so they think nothing can happen.

Except that the risk of fire roughly quadruples of course - P=I×I×R

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Re: Flat, 3 core, single insulated, vs round, 3 core, double insulated?

I've never seen anything like, and nor would I want anything like, the cable pictured.

I have. In datacenter racks configured by HP. Somewhat beefier, but still singly-insulated, cable with C13/C14 connectors.

(and presumably no fuse in the picture to protect the wires).

That's something you'll find only in BS 1363 plugs, which need them because of this "ring mains: thingy

.

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Re: Flat, 3 core, single insulated, vs round, 3 core, double insulated?

Fuses, the best unintended side effect of a copper shortage and a ring main..

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Re: Flat, 3 core, single insulated, vs round, 3 core, double insulated?

With the sensitivity of modern RCDs, a fused plug isn't really necessary these days. Still, you can never have too much protection when it comes to electricity. Belt and braces and all that.

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Re: Flat, 3 core, single insulated, vs round, 3 core, double insulated?

nonsense

The 3 core double insulated has nothing to do with 'ring mains', we also have twin double insulated cables. Without an Earth.

And for the record MANY Chinese appliances use 3 core double insulated cables for sale in the LOCAL market.

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Really HP? Really! Even the power cables overheat!?

Seriously! Both laptops and power cables HP?!

(I really want to rant about my try with HP, I got new laptop and I was like "Oh my, look the fan isn't even on, and I don't have to prop it on a book" - Grr that's me getting started)

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Re: Really HP? Really! Even the power cables overheat!?

Your HP notebook computer should have an option in the BIOS to leave the fan always on when plugged in.

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Re: Really HP? Really! Even the power cables overheat!?

I know, I checked for that almost immediately, it's so hot the fan is always on, and if you want to do anything (think leaving something to compile) if it takes longer than 7 minutes on a flat surface (like a desk say) it'll turn itself off.

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From what I have seen of power cables round the world that rather dodgy flat cable design is a US idea and the only other countries where it is used are that are heavily influenced by the US - Saudi for example.

It is not permitted to be sold in the EU as it does not conform to the double insulated standard requirements although it shouldn't overheat here because with 230 volts you half the current for the same wattage and it is the current that does the heating.

I assume that that when the cables went to manufacturing HP used a company that was used to making 230 volt cables so they used a wire that was suitable for that forgetting that 115 volts cables require heaver wire - Something that HP QC should have picked up very quickly.

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The resistance encountered by the load is of course that which causes the problem; with a smaller cable, substandard and ridiculous American voltage will heat a wire more because more current is required to provide the same power, as you say.

Copper is costly, so the Chinese will surely love to ship you some aluminium instead, or maybe some aluminium covered in something vaguely copper looking to fool you (this happens).

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"I assume that that when the cables went to manufacturing HP used a company that was used to making 230 volt cables so they used a wire that was suitable for that forgetting that 115 volts cables require heaver wire - Something that HP QC should have picked up very quickly."

Sometimes you don't pick it up. We've seen many IEC mains cables supplied with much less copper than is required, even though they're marked (fakely) as 10amp capable along with all the other auth stamps.

Using it with the supplied USB external drive or whatever won't matter much, but being IEC cables, they're really easy to "repurpose" to somewhere else that DOES drink the juice.

I'm guessing the chinese built HP cables have had the same thing happen to them.

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42 cords out of 6,000,000+ (approx.) 0.000007% if I did my maths right. Does any other product have this low a failure rate? And it merited a recall?

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42 that they know about

And that have already failed spectacularly.

Presumably they have now inspected the shipping wire and found it's got a flaw - most likely there's practically no copper in it, like a lot of the cheap E-Bay IEC cables you see in Blighty.

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Anonymous Coward

42 cords out of 6,000,000+ (approx.) 0.000007% if I did my maths right. Does any other product have this low a failure rate? And it merited a recall?

If you're one of the 0.000007% you'll be glad they did.

You could, of course, behave like Ford in the case of the Ford Pinto and work out the cost difference between a recall or be done for damages. The very fact that they decided to do some spreadsheet work against human cost has had a seriously negative influence on the company.

In this case the upfront costs are probably considerably lower than the consequential liabilities. When there is a KNOWN defect and it's left unaddressed it is not just correct to address it, it also staves off lawsuits. I recon if you prevent about 10 lawsuits the exercise becomes worth it financially, if you stave off ONE death because of it it is already worth it from a legal perspective.

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Thanks, El Reg

just checked the cable on mine and it is recalled . . . no heating problems . . . so far.

when i get the replacement i'll cut the old one open and see why it fails . . . best guess is either badly crimped connections or teeny-tiny copper wires.

finally! . . . a computer problem that an old "power-side" EE like me can analyze with complete certainty.

note: the flat 3-conductor cables aren't usually a problem for indoor use where they don't get plugged and unplugged often.  the problems happen when the cable gets twisted - the center conductor doesn't have to span as far as the two outer ones because they have to wind around it and this often causes the center conductor to poke through the insulation.  i'm just glad that the center conductor is, usually, the ground and it pokes through to the air and not an adjacent conductor.  it is a pretty shitty design though - somebody picked "cheap" and "fast."

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Childcatcher

How the mighty are fallen Re: Thanks, El Reg

I remember HP being the proud manufacturers of electronic test equipment, always our first choice. HP 8640, anyone? (1) And then they chose to split their business: The old and thoroughly reputable test equipment side got a new name, Agilent (we resented it bitterly); The burgeoning PC and printer side retained the Hewlett Packard name.

So it is ironic (2) that their hardware (or some of it) is cheap and poor quality. Sigh.

(1) If you don't know what one of these is, you're too young. But that's my point.

(2) It is also ironic that I can't do colour here. Or did Proud Mr Bronze Badge miss something?

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Prior Art

HP would want to be careful. Apple already has prior art on laptops bursting into their flames with their much maligned Powerbook 5300 series.

That being said, poorly engineered power cables trumps poorly engineered batteries when it comes to computer companies (and Apple was a computer company back then).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Prior Art

Don't get me started on the Apple power supplies for their MacBooks. It may look cute and the Magsafe connector is a good idea, but there is no proper way to protect that cable where it comes out of the PSU when you're travelling - any constraint and you have a cable being bent at 90°, eventually resulting in breakage.

The foldable lugs they fit to their PSUs actually make things worse: if you make the mistake of using them (which I haven't) you're almost guaranteed a cable break in short order. The hardware is brilliant, but those power supplies suck seven ways to Sunday.

BTW, be very careful with sourcing a replacement from an alternative source: there are a lot of imitations out there which don't even conform to minimum isolation standards.

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Re: Prior Art

Actually, no...

The 5300 'HindenBook' came with either Ni-mh or Li-ion battery packs, and it was the Li-ion batteries(manufactured by Sony, who claimed that Apple screwed up in the charging circuitry) that caught fire.

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yet more numpties

probably find they had them plugged in without having unbundled the cables... left them all coiled up and so they underwent inductive heating... this is why you should never use one of those retractable extension leads without having spooled it all out...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: yet more numpties

Inductive heating needs a high amperage before you get heat, I don't think any ordinary laptop gets close to what is required to have that as a risk.

As for rolled up cables, it again depends on use. I've seen reels stating both a rolled up and unrolled wattage, which strikes as the most sensible approach. Personally, I prefer to use a fuse that limits current to the rolled up rating - prevents mistakes (that won't work, of course, if you use stuff that needs power like electric heaters).

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Boffin

Re: yet more numpties

inductive heating.

Go calculate the inductance of a coiled power cord, the resulting reactance at 50 (or 60) Hz, then the resultant power loss at (being generous) 1 amp of current through that "coil". Take note of how that power loss only partially occurs in the actual power cable, the rest being induced in ferrometal parts happening to be close. Compare this to the amount of resistive warming due to weedy and non-copper cable cores.

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Price of copper

Would have nothing to do with it?

You could save a few cents there and only burn a few houses, who would ever know....

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FAIL

Well...

...so much for always buying genuine parts as counterfeit goods are dangerous.

I've often bought 3rd party cables (not cheap 99p ones) and found them to be a lot better than the manufacturer shipped stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

Prior Art

It was only 8 months ago that I had the hassle of returning a HP Chromebook because the power supply had a tendency to catch fire. At least that was a fairly new requirement (higher current over USB) whereas this type of cable has been produced safely for well over 10 years (and probably much longer). To take such an established solution, and all the modern expertise in computer aided product design and established quality assurance practices, and make something simple and safe into something dangerous....a significant fail.

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Anonymous Coward

HP Cables Here In The UK Have A Fault To

I saw this piece and thought it would be about an issue we are having where I work, but not so here is our problem:

Our IT partner ATOS have issued a safety notice, and subsequently replaced hundreds of leads here in the UK. In this case the UK mains plug is branded Linetek and has a part number BS-1363/A LP-61L. The LP-61L is the important bit other Linetek parts are fine. Apparently the plastic at the power adapter end becomes slightly conductive as it ages causing current leaks which can trip the safety circuits.

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Re: HP Cables Here In The UK Have A Fault To

BS-1363 is the standard for UK 13Amp mains plugs & sockets, so if a company puts them on its power cables model numbers, then it should be the same for all the UK ones.

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Re: HP Cables Here In The UK Have A Fault To

BS-1363 is the standard for UK-style 13A plugs, unfortunately many of them just say something like "built to" BS-1363. If they don't also have the BSI Kite Mark they they haven't been tested as conforming to BS-1363.

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Re: HP Cables Here In The UK Have A Fault To

A lot of the time, dodgy plugs are obvious (insulation in the wrong places or lack of, pin dimensions shot, tiny gap around the edge of the plug to live and neutral, etc.), but dodgy cables, not so much, if they stick a small conductor inside and put thick insulation on it.

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Re: HP Cables Here In The UK Have A Fault To

I can also confirm UK plugs are affected, I came across one this morning and checked.

In the middle of trying to get everyone to check everything as a precaution.

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Saving on copper

I saw an EEVBlog where he tore down a dodgy mains cable. The printing on the flex said 1mm squared, but when cut open, there was only a few strands of copper. Instant fire risk.

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Wow!

How's that quality control??

And much worse: even at 110V, you'd not expect a single 1 A to pass the cable, and - depending on the standards - it will be marked at 2, 4, even 10 or 13 A. If at least it would start burning while running at its limits. But these burn from relatively small currents, less than 10% of the rated ones. So the manufacturer *must* have known that some isolated copper atoms would suffice. And HP surely has not done *any* QC, because simply cutting a sample ought to have demonstrated the prevailing lack of expensive electric conducting material.

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Its OK, I have a Samsung...

...But I was sitting one evening and my backlight flickered. Hmm I thought, Is that related to the electrical magic smoke smell that is now drifting past...

Yes. The mains power lead was all hot and bothered at the clover connector. I mined into the plastic (having unplugged it) and the termination didn't look too good.

All is well - I went and dug out a replacement lead from my old laptop parts pile. OTOH, perhaps I should be worried - the old lappy was a HP...

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Wire Terminations Re: Its OK, I have a Samsung...

In my experience, poor terminations are the most dangerous. Thin wire will distribute the dissipation along the cable; a break in thin copper midway will soon burn itself out, but, I expect, without setting fire to the insulation; a termination tends to be where more substantial conductors can withstand more current and temperature rise (1). It is too easy to crimp badly and then hide the mess in a block of plastic.

(1) c.f. arc welding

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Anonymous Coward

I built my own cable...

...out of a extension cable designed for power tools. That sucker was rated at 20A while coiled, and 25A after unrolling. I'm pretty sure that cable was also designed to be extended over driveways where cars could run over it. All the 80ft. of it.

Sometimes, a twist in the cable forces the PSU to hang in mid-air.

Standard overbuilt BOFH solution for stuff that shouldn't break. Ever.

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Re: I built my own cable...

I don't know... Maybe should've used #00 arc welding cable, just to be safe

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I built my own cable...

That's the backup cable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I built my own cable...

Standard overbuilt BOFH solution for stuff that shouldn't break. Ever.

The only disadvantage being that the power cable alone now weighs more than the laptop + power supply, but those are mere trifling details if it is a repair for the marketing director. The wire in the shape of a knife under the power supply rating sticker is merely there to reduce interference, btw. Nothing to do with creating x-ray problems. Or the fact that there is always a tip off prior to arrival that tends to result in a thorough cavity search...

Sorry, channeling the BOFH for a moment. I'm back now.

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Re: I built my own cable...

So you've over engineered the cable and it's stressing the connectors - the socket will likely get ripped off the PCB.

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Trollface

"dodgy wiring in the Chinese-manufactured"

redundant statement is redundant.

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