Dell takes heat for faulty Nvidia chips

Users are questioning Dell's decision to fix the problem of faulty Nvidia graphics cards with a software patch instead of replacing the hardware.

Dell's recent software patch to control heating problems caused by faulty Nvidia graphics cards has attracted a fierce response from unhappy users, who say Dell is shying away from addressing the larger problem of bad hardware.

Some users consider the software patch a temporary fix and are asking Dell to replace the faulty Nvidia cards, which can overheat and ultimately fail.

Nvidia reported earlier this month that some of its graphics chips were overheating. While the exact cause of the problem was unknown, Nvidia said it related to a packaging material used with some of its chips and the thermal design of some laptops.

Dell released a software patch on Friday that updates the BIOS software in its laptops to better control the thermal fluctuations in the graphics cards and help prevent them from overheating. It did not offer to replace the cards, however, and some users expressed concern about being saddled with a laptop that could die at any minute.

"A BIOS update to turn on cooling fans is not the appropriate response when I have spent approx. US$2,000 on an XPS that I now fear will have a shortened life span," said a person who signed his name as Paul on the Dell blog entry announcing the patch.

Dell will replace the cards for users who experience a graphics card failure, but it will be done on a case-by-case basis, said Anne Camden, a Dell spokeswoman.

"In most cases, customers who are impacted by this specific issue will likely need a motherboard replacement," Camden said. While Dell is working to resolve the issue, the best thing a customer can do for now is to update their BIOS software with the patch, she said.

The patch will cause the fans to come on sooner or keep them running longer in order to sufficiently cool the system and prevent overheating, Camden said.

But some users remain skeptical about Dell's fix, saying they might have to buy extended warranty protection to make up for the faulty Nvidia hardware.

"Well, since this BIOS update won't mysteriously change the die packaging material, the only real thing you can do is to exten[d] warranty or premium support ... and still ... live with the fact that your computer could die on you any time," a person called Matthias wrote on Dell's blog.

Some users were also concerned that Dell didn't issue patches for all its notebooks with the affected Nvidia chips. Camden said that if a BIOS update wasn't released, then there is no indication of a problem with those laptops. Nvidia has said the design of each laptop will partly determine if there are problems or not.

Dell is not the only PC maker carrying Nvidia's faulty chips. HP said it has been notifying customers about the problem and posted a list of the affected laptop models in an advisory on its Web site.

It may be hard for companies that manufacture laptops in such large volumes to replace the faulty cards, said David Milman, CEO of Rescuecom, a computer repair firm.

Dell's products have a good reputation but its customer service comes under repeated scrutiny, so the company should do all it can to address the issue, Milman said. It could take back the notebooks and give refunds or at least do everything it can to get the affected systems working properly, he said.

Microsoft faced overheating and hardware failures with its Xbox 360 gaming consoles and offered to refund users' repair fees, Milman said.

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Agam Shah

Computerworld

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