Dell Issues Massive Recall of Notebook Power Adapters

Dell has announced a massive recall of notebook computer power adapters, saying the components — made by a company whose products prompted a similar recall by IBM last month — could overheat and cause fires or electrical shock.

Dell said it arrived at the decision to voluntarily recall some 4.4 million adapters after consulting with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). It said it would offer free replacements for the returned adapters, which were sold for use with Latitude, Precision and Inspiron notebooks between September of 1998 and February of 2002.

The adapters were sold with new notebooks and also sold individually and supplied to customers in response to requests for service. Dell said about 3 million of the adapters were sold in the U.S.

In a letter to consumers, Dell advises owners of the affected adapters to stop using them at once.

Delta Force

According to the CPSC Web site, there are seven known incidents involving overheated adapters, but apparently no injuries were involved in any of those cases.

The agency said the adapters were made by Taiwan-based Delta Electronics and were manufactured in China. That makes at least two strikes for Delta, since its adapters were also the focus of a recall just last month by IBM.

In that case, some 550,000 Delta adapters sold with IBM-branded machines during 1999 and 2000 were recalled.

Dell did not disclose what the recall would cost, but a spokesman at the Round Rock, Texas, company said it should not affect Dell’s earnings outlook. The impact might be muted by the fact that many of the adapters were sold with machines that would already be more than five years old.

Dell shares were down slightly in midafternoon trading today to $36.06.

Total Recall

Though the size of the overall recall makes it one of the largest among tech companies in recent years, Dell can take some comfort in knowing it’s far from alone among technology companies in making recalls. In fact, the past year has been marked by a slew of recalls by PC and peripheral makers.

Last month, printer maker Lexmark was forced to recall some 40,000 laser printers — including some that were sold under the Dell brand.

In August, Apple called back some 28,000 batteries sold with its G4 Powerbook, and earlier in the year, Hewlett-Packard recalled nearly 1 million memory modules, while IBM urged the owners of some 550,000 AC power adapters to exchange them.

Analysts say it’s not a surprise that so many of the PC-related recalls would deal with battery or AC-adapter issues.

“We’ve seen a number of instances where computer makers have had to call these types of components back,” Meta Group analyst Rob Schafer said. “They are trying to give consumers what they want, but the technology has not always advanced quickly enough to make that happen.”

Not only do power issues represent the most likely concern for consumer safety, but PC makers know that users want lighter machines that are easy to plug in or that work longer on their battery power. At the same time, the cutthroat price competition forces PC makers to squeeze every last penny of savings out of its costs in order to preserve profit margins.

Schafer said Dell is legendary for taking control of costs in the supply chain, but is not going to risk its brand reputation in order to save a few pennies.

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