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Tue 29 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Feeling the heat

Kudos to Dell and Apple for ‘doing an HP’ and being completely upfront with consumers about their laptops’ battery woes. But what about if you own another brand of notebook - should you be concerned about this also becoming too ‘hot’ to handle? Windows explains…

|~||~||~|Let’s begin with exactly why a small number of Dell and Apple’s Sony-made laptops have actually been overheating of late.

Sony Gulf’s explanation, given earlier this month in response to Dell’s battery recall, details the exact issue: “On rare occasions, microscopic metal particles in the recalled battery cells may come into contact with other parts of the battery cell, leading to a short circuit within the cell. Typically, a battery pack will simply power off when a cell short circuit occurs. However, under certain rare conditions, an internal short circuit may lead to a cell overheating and potentially flames. The potential for this to occur can be affected by variations in the system configurations found in different notebook computers.”

So it’s the cells that are the problem, tied together with the particular system configuration of the laptop they’re used in. These cells could be part of a full Sony battery pack or alternatively a pack made by another vendor that happens to include such Sony-made cells. With me so far? Good.

So which notebook manufacturers actually use these potentially affected lithium-ion battery cells in such a way that might crank up a machine’s heat to egg-frying levels?

Sony Gulf told ITP this week that, as an OEM manufacturer, it was “not at liberty to disclose the names of (our) customers without their consent”. Right. Well the reports circulating online suggest that in addition to Dell and Apple, Lenovo and Sony units might also be affected.

With regards Sony’s own Vaio laptops, the firm’s spokesperson told us that, although a “select number of VAIO PCs sold in limited quantities” utilise the same type of battery cells, the potential for overheating can be affected by variations in PC system configurations and as such Sony doesn’t believe “that VAIO PCs have this potential.”

“We believe that they are safe,” the spokesperson added. “We are not aware of any overheat incident related to these products.”

Now, quite honestly, that’s one ‘we believe’ too many to make me feel all warm and cosy inside (whatever happened to ‘we’re 100% positive’?), but there haven’t been any reports of firestarting Vaio PCs to date, so we must of course take the firm at its word. Second up, Lenovo has assured us that its notebooks too are also unaffected by the flaw.

All of which means that as long as you aren’t using an unchecked Dell or Apple machine, you needn’t give this burning battery issue another thought.

To help persuade you further, here’s what two other vendors, HP and Toshiba, had to tell me.

The marketing manager of HP Middle East’s personal systems group, Hanan Kamal, confirmed to me that HP’s notebooks are completely unaffected by the issue. “HP notebooks are not affected by the battery replacement/recall program announced by Dell Inc. on August 14, 2006,” she said. “HP has also worked closely with Sony to verify that the batteries cells used in HP notebook PCs are not affected by this Dell notebook battery recall.”

Meanwhile, Toshiba Systems’ general manager for the Middle East and Africa, Ahmed Khalil, told me its customers can also rest easy: “The design of the battery packs supplied to Toshiba by Sony differs from those supplied to Dell and cited in the recall. The system design of our notebook PCs also differs from that of Dell's. We have found no indication that the problem reported by Dell in its recall applies to our notebook PCs. Sony has confirmed to Toshiba that there is no problem with the battery packs supplied to Toshiba.”

Last but not least, on the off-chance that you are an Apple or Dell laptop owner and you’ve missed our news stories about their respective battery recalls, click the following links to find out whether your machine’s battery is affected:

· If you’re a Dell owner, click here

· To read our Apple report, complete with Apple support hyperlinks, click here.

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