updated 06:05 pm EDT, Tue June 29, 2010
Dell lawsuit reveals 12m Optiplex PCs were bad
Newly unearthed documents from a lawsuit filed three years ago against Dell have today confirmed that the company was aware of and continued to sell flawed PCs. About 12 million OptiPlex desktops between 2003 and 2005 shipped with mainboards capacitors that, according to e-mail messages, Dell employees knew would fail within three years. Staff were told to avoid acknowledging the mainboards were bad and downplayed breakdowns, even when batches of 1,000 or more PCs (including those of its eventual legal defense) failed at the same time.
The stalling went so far that Dell at one point accused Internet service firm AIT of simply working the systems too hard in a tight space, according to the New York Times. Dell openly tried to upsell AIT to more expensive systems rather than fix or replace the affected systems.
Dell eventually admitted to the issue and in 2005 set aside $300 million to mend and replace computers, although it tried to downplay the effects by saying the capacitors didn't cause data loss or pose a safety risk. Many affected companies did, however, complain that they lost millions of dollars of business as they were suddenly forced to repair or replace systems all at once.
The problem wasn't unique to Dell and did affect system builders such as Apple and HP. Producers of stand-alone mainboards like ASUS and MSI were also affected. Most of these, however, were more active in addressing complaints and either fixed systems more proactively or started extended repair programs sooner.
Dell's supply chain has also been blamed for some of the faults. Its system, which is still in practice today, relies on a just-in-time assembly process that lets it get cheaper parts as they become available. While leaner and more profitable, it exacerbated the problem by leaving Dell with no easy solution to getting alternative mainboards where other companies could swap them out sooner.