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Dell Employees Knew Its Computers Would Fail

Dell, still one of the largest sellers of computers in the world, knowingly made and sold to customers machines there were known to be faulty, according to the New York Times.

Between 2003 to 2005, Dell sold millions of OptiPlex machines to major buyers such as Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo, Mayo Clinic and various education institutions. The math department at the University of Texas reported to Dell that its machines were failing, and Dell told the school that the machines were overtaxed by all the difficult math calculations they were running. In actuality, the machines were built with bad capacitors that popped and leaked chemicals.

These bad capacitors also affected machines HP and Apple, but the spotlight is on Dell right now as its employees went out of their way to conceal the problem. One internal Dell email stated, "We need to avoid all language indicating the boards were bad or had ‘issues’ per our discussion this morning."

Other sales people were told Dell salespeople were told, "Don’t bring this to customer's attention proactively" and "Emphasize uncertainty."

Dell was aware of the problem, as it hired a contractor to investigate. The contractor found that the problem was 10 times worse than Dell had anticipated. Dell itself found that the bad capacitors were expected to cause problems up to 97 percent of the time over the three-year period.

To make matters worse, Dell was replacing the faulty computer parts with other faulty parts, resulting in just a refreshed cycle of almost inevitable failure. Dell chose not to issue a recall, but extended the warranty on the affected machines, leaving it up to the customer to contact Dell in the case of failure.

With customers unaware of the hardware problems, some would lose valuable data from the PC malfunction, which was the basis of several lawsuit claims. At the time, Dell denied that that the capacitor issue caused any data loss. Ironically, the law firm that was representing Dell in the lawsuit, Alston & Bird, also had its own OptiPlex machines fail.

Read more at the New York Times.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • Tomtompiper
    Ha! Thought as much, we replaced our machines around that time moving from Fujitsu to Dell, around 30% of the machines Optiplex 270 were dead on arrival and most needed to be boxed up and sent to our MIS people at least once during it's life. The stupid thing is they still buy Dell laptops for the sales force, where as management get IBM.
    Reply
  • rageaholic
    I'm no Dell lover by any stretch of the imagination, but shouldn't at least some of the blame lie with the company who actually manufactured the motherboards in the first place?

    I know a lot of these Dell machines use modified-Intel boards, and I've seen plenty of non-Dell built machines with blown capacitors. Intel 815, 845, 865, and 915-based boards all seem to share the same problem over time. I've yet to see any 945-based (or beyond) boards with failing capacitors, but time will tell I suppose.
    Reply
  • ssddx
    I never did like the idea of a dell branded custom motherboard. I'll stick with trusted brands that use 100% japanese capacitors.

    If dell wants some respect back they need to step up on their game.. in a major way. If not, someone will just take their place.
    Reply
  • rocket_sauce
    this is part of why we build our own computers with trusted manufacturers. Too many shady components to cut corners or to save them money...totally unacceptable...
    Reply
  • cmcghee358
    It's not so much the fact they used the bad capacitors. It's that they recognized the problem and intentionally made efforts to conceal it. And worse, replaced bogus parts with more bogus parts and hoped the customers would simply give up.

    This is almost like programming a machine to fail to induce customers to purchase faster to increase revenue. Shady shady. But at the Optiplex price point, you get what you pay for right? I mean if we can't build a quality machine at that price point, they can't either.
    Reply
  • konjiki7
    Hp d530's had this same issue.(and other models released around the same time) government and the general public may have sent these things back 3 or 4 times for bad caps...

    They used cheap Taiwanese caps... Taiwanese caps aren't bad now but back then they were complete garbage and often out spec....
    Reply
  • Onus
    Building a shoddy system is one thing, as that can be fixed. Lying about it is something else. It would no doubt drag out in courts for years, but when all is said and done, I hope Dell takes it in the pants over this one.
    Reply
  • konjiki7
    konjiki7Hp d530's had this same issue.(and other models released around the same time) government and the general public may have sent these things back 3 or 4 times for bad caps... They used cheap Taiwanese caps... Taiwanese caps aren't bad now but back then they were complete garbage and often out spec....Hp employee's also knew about the caps being worthless...
    Reply
  • user-one
    yep, my company sent back over 30 motherboard due to bad capacitors, dell always said " yeah we know this is a problem" but they always picked up the tab.
    Reply
  • jfby
    From a Quality Control stand point if you KNOWINGLY ship a defective product whether you produced the part or you purchase it as a sub-assembly it is COMPLETELY unacceptable to pass it along to the next stage in the process, especially the customer. Does the board manufacturer have responsibility? Sure, and Dell well have to work with them to resolve the current issues in the field, but Dell should take a hit for this for releasing bad product. Period.
    Reply