Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Saturday, 11 November 2006

A few months back, when the exploding dell and apple laptop batteries first started coming to the public attention, I wondered if my laptop would be affected. Eventually Dell set up a website to deal with it and published a list of PID's (part numbers basically) that were affected and subject to recall. I remember looking through the chart for my serial number, and it wasn't there. Great, no need to worry about my laptop catching fire and burning the building down while I was at work. I still left it unplugged while I was out though, just to be safe.

Two weeks ago, while I was on vacation, I noticed my laptop battery seemed to discharge pretty quickly. I know that batteries start to degrade over time, after about 500 discharges and charges, but I didn't think I was to that threshold yet. Rich's Dell Battery stopped charging when an internal counter hit 500 and just refused to ever work again.

When this laptop (Dell Inspiron 700m) was new, 18 months ago, I could last about 4.5 hours with the WiFi radio on and the screen at full brightness. It was pretty kick-ass. On the plane ride home from Vancouver, the battery died before I even finished watching a single DVD movie, with the screen brightness turned down a bit and the WiFi radio off. That was less than 50% of what it was when new. Not good. Within another week, I noticed it dying even quicker.

I unplugged it at 100% charge and carried it over to the bed and watched a TV show. 21 minutes later (gotta love no commercials) the battery said 46% remaining (1:20). I watched another episode.. at the end of that 21 minutes, the battery was 8%, the red x was over the battery and the little bubble popped up saying main battery very low, I should change battery or switch to AC power to avoid losing any work. Before I could GET the ac power, it dropped to 6% and then 4% when I plugged it back in. 42 minutes from full charge to "you should change your battery immediately to avoid losing work". Well that's no good at all.

I was on the phone with Dell Support (since this is part of Latin America, we get call centers in Panama with thick eSpanish accents... sometimes I WISH for Indian call centers... but I digress) the next day at work, making some claims for warranty work for some of the machines at work that piled up in the "fix" pile while I was away. I have to say that I've never had a "bad call" with Dell. It's under warranty, I explain the problem, and the new parts are out by UPS to their local supply chain partner and in my hands inside of about a week. Pretty friggin good. That's one of the reasons why we continue to buy Dell at work but again, I digress.

While I had the tech support rep on the phone, I asked about my laptop battery. He asked me for the serial number... which I didn't have. I explained the situation to him and he advised me to make sure the battery was fully charged, unplug it, turn it on and go to the BIOS and let it sit there on the BIOS screen and see how fast it discharges. I should make a note of it and call Dell Support with the service tag #, the battery serial number and the data collected by that little experiment. He informed me that Dell warranties their batteries for one year from purchase. Uh-oh, this machine is just over a year old... But I have CompleteCare, that covers it, right? If I drop the laptop over the side of the boat, so long as I dive down and get it, and have the carcass to give back to them, it's covered. Somewhere in the fine print is a sentence exempting batteries from CompleteCare, and spelling out that batteries only have a one year warranty. Yeesh.

Tonight I was sitting at my desk, deleting 650 or so splog trackbacks from my website, when suddenly the laptop powered off. No low battery warning, no windows is hibernating, no nothing, just powered off. I plugged it in and charged it back up and then shut down, unplugged and booted to the BIOS screen, just like they said. If it lasted a few hours, then I could look back at my process list and see if something was causing the processor to work at high utilization, generating heat, which requires the fans to spin and drain the battery quicker. No dice, it discharged completely to 0 and shut off in 46 minutes.

I went to support.dell.com and logged in to my Dell Premier Support account and punched in my service tag number. I selected "request support" and thought maybe I'd get lucky and they'd see that I have close to 1000 systems under my profile and throw me a frickin bone.. or a battery. Before I got that far, I got a popup saying I should check the Dell battery recall site as my laptop model number is one of the ones that are under recall. I already checked it a few months ago, but hey, what the heck, I HAD the battery serial number right in front of me already, so I punched it in and hit "submit". Lo and behold, I was told that my battery should be replaced immediately, fill this address info out and expect a new battery within 20 days. Sweet. I filled it out and sent it in and now just have to wait for a new battery to arrive.

The only WTF moment I had was "How many days have I left my laptop plugged in to the AC while I wasn't at home where this could have caught fire and burnt the whole building down???" yikes. I'll be unplugging and removing the battery from now on when I leave the house until I get the new one!

Saturday, 11 November 2006 09:57:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Tech#
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