Dell Mini 9 Mysteriously Ablaze! (Pics)

There’s a big scorch mark on Hannah’s floor. It appeared last week after her Dell Mini 9 began suddenly sizzling and smoking and melting. We have pictures, and questions.

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On December 12th, Hannah wrote us about her Inspiron Mini 9, bought in November 28 2008:

“Hi, last night I unplugged my laptop from its charger, carried it downstairs, and placed it on the wood floor of my living room.

I heard a loud popping sound and the room immediately filled with smoke while the laptop hissed and sizzled. It died down, I pushed it with my foot, and it stared hissing again. There is a large scorch mark on my floor.

It goes without saying, I am glad the laptop was not on my couch …or in an airplane.”

After we put Hannah in touch with Dell, the computer maker paid for her to FedEx her netbook to them so one of their Forensic Electrical Engineers could check it out. Dell also sent her a free, upgraded, laptop. It is unknown yet whether Dell will compensate her for the burnt floor.

Dell said they had received the crispy laptop but had no further information about what caused it to malfunction. The company said it was not aware of any overheating issues with the Dell Minis. “We take any report like this very seriously, and, as a matter of policy, our safety teams investigate thoroughly following any issue like this,” said Dell. “We will get to the bottom of this.”

Beyond one or two people mentioning in online forums that the felt their Dell Mini 9 ran a little hot, we couldn’t find any more information about this issue.

Theories as to what caused Hannah’s Mini to turn into a skillet? My money is on the battery. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

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  1. Jfielder says:

    Um, so are they going to pay to fix the floor? I would be going after that for sure…. Glad to hear they’re “taking it seriously”.

  2. thompson says:

    Kudos to Dell for doing the right thing here. Things go wrong with complicated electronic products, even if they’re thoroughly tested in R&D — they’re bringing it in to see what ACTUALLY happened (was this a fluke? a bad solder job? bad chip? or a wider design problem?). In the meantime, Hannah got a nice new laptop.

    Though, I hope Dell also offers to pay to clean up her floor (if it’s more than just surface soot).

  3. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    I’m guessing the battery is under there, and it just sploded. They do that from time to time. “Running hot” doesn’t cause anything to catch fire…and if it was something like the CPU fan failing, the machine would just lock up and/or shut down – it wouldn’t catch fire.

    I hope Dell compensates her for her floor too.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      I have two dell Mini 9’s and I can confirm that the melted part is the left side of the battery. Mini 9’s don’t have fans (no moving parts at all actually, with solid state drives) – the bottoms can get pretty hot, but nothing like this with mine (so far)

    • Colonel Jack O'neill says:

      It’s exploded, not sploded.
      I HATE it when people make up words that doesn’t make any sense

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Stand down, colonel. Yes, it’s a made up word, get over it. And it does make sense, since you clearly understood what I was saying. I get to use a little bit of literary shenanigan to inflect through text the way I’d say something in person.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          Look, it’s not sploded, it’s ‘sploded. The punctuation is just necessary. Also, a’sploded.

      • kalaratri says:

        Does it make your head asplode?

      • coren says:

        Considering the way the word exploded is pronounced, sploded does actually make a degree of sense.

        Plus, how does any word that is made up make any more or less sense than any other?

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          Indeed – while I’m not suggesting we submit “sploded” to the Queen Mum for approval, at some point every word was “just made up.”

  4. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    …next big Hollywood blockbuster… “Laptops on a Plane!” What will be the outcome as our hero tries to save everyone and the world from flaming laptops on a plane… and our hero without his bottle of water (confiscated)!

    • cosmic.charlie says:

      For future information it is not a good idea to throw water onto an electrical fire.

      • failurate says:

        I don’t this is an electrical fire. It is an electronic device that just happens to be on fire. IANAFM (Fire Marshal), but I think this would be a chemical fire via the battery.

  5. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Wait, in that center photo…Yes! The film appears to have captured the image of a spirit that wasn’t visible to the naked eye, but the film and camera seems to have been able to capture it. You can see the ectoplasm from it’s angry attack. Someone call TAPS! They don’t need an electrical engineer, they need an exorcist!

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      But seriously, given the visible litter box in the pict, it’s possible that some hair got into the machine and caused a short or prevented the heat from escaping properly. I find tons of cat hair in all my computers, unless they are 9-12 inches off the ground. Then it’s only pounds of it.

      • fpage77 says:

        That’s a storage tote not a litter box.

      • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

        I hear ya…I found the closer I put the computer to the floor…the more likely I’ll be able to catch an actual cat, and I don’t have cats. Apparently, my computer emits some kind of strange electric charge that cats can not resist….a proverbial Pied Piper of cats if you will.

        Which brings me to the smoke in the picture which was deployed by the cat, in turn hiding the cats ninja like skills…while the cat deployed it’s hair into the laptop causing the laptop to stop it’s harmonious electrical charge. Which in turn caused the noises she heard, and while she was distracted with the noises and pushing the laptop with her foot…the cat made it’s get away by cutting a hole in the floor which left a burn mark on said floor.

    • katstermonster says:

      O hai. I is in yer compooter, settin it on firez.

    • squirrel says:

      Come on,

      Everyone who has taken an electronics course knows it’s the “magic smoke”… and she let it out.

  6. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    It could’ve been something that got into the keyboard igniting – foodstuffs, etc – but I don’t see that causing such a high intensity fire. My god, I would’ve gone after the damn thing with my fire extinguisher and that would’ve made a RIGHT MESS!

    Glad Dell did the right thing and that Hannah is ok!

    • Preyfar says:

      If it ignited foodstuffs that just would have been on the top of the laptop. This appears to have burned through the top and bottom.

  7. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    I’m typically surprised companies aren’t quicker to resolve these fire related issues, not that Dell is doing a horrible job but I’d think spontaneous combustion would be bad PR and something you’d want to resolve fast.

    I had a 2 week old seagate hard drive burst into flames on me, thinking I had the easiest RMA call ever I called them up expecting an easy refund and to my surprise they initially refused to help me citing that fire voided my warranty. I had to battle them for nearly a week for replacement and even then they’d only replace it with the same model which I didn’t trust. I don’t know why you’d risk an $80 hard drive RMA over a potential lawsuit issue. If it were my product and company I’d want to resolve the issue as quickly and quietly as possible.

    • katia802 says:

      I’m sorry, know that you had to have been upset, but I just had a major fit of the snickers when you said your item caught fire, and the fire voided the warranty. Hope you did get it replaced after they were done turning themselves and you inside out trying to get out of doing the right thing.

      • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

        Oh yeah it was like something right out of a Dilbert comic strip, the customer service guy practically cut me off as soon I as mentioned fire and said it voids my warranty. I tried explaining that the hard drive caused the fire and was the only thing on fire so how could it’s catching fire void the warranty? Eventually I had to take pictures of it and send them in, then 3 days later they wanted me to mail the hard drive at my expense and they’d only replace it with the exact same model.

        To clarify this was actually a Maxtor hard drive but Seagate has owned them for a few years now and handles their support and manufacturing. I requested the comparable Seagate equivalent of the hard drive instead of the Maxtor model which caught fire but they wouldn’t even do that. I did not think that was an unreasonable request but they wouldn’t budge. I will never purchase their products again it’s just that simple.

    • coren says:

      First, Seagate tech support are obviously morons in your case…jeez. Second, though, Dell has responded promptly and IMO appropriately to resolve this one.

  8. zentex says:

    at least it was a wood floor!

  9. azzy says:

    Yeah, that is where the battery is – and I believe the battery connector also. Perhaps something got in between the battery’s connections and shorted it out.

    Still doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable about my Dell Mini tablet mod.

  10. wright.aaron says:

    The DC charging port on the notebook is probably in the rear at exactly that spot. A problem with the port or Ac Adapter would cause this to happen.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      The charging port is on the side. The burned part is the battery, near where it interfaces with the computer itself.

  11. Amaras says:

    I’m surprised this didn’t get the “taking it very seriously” tag.

    Then again.. It was a laptop from dell, that’s probably the fastest it has ever gotten.

    • Rachacha says:

      But in this case it would appear that they are taking it seriously. Less than 5 calendar days from notification to Dell to replacement of the laptop with an upgraded model.

  12. KTK1990 says:

    Looks like something went funky with the battery. Since the burn mark ontop is not a part of the laptop itself, it is the battery.

    95% of the damage on the 1st pic is battery damage, getting hot and melting the surrounding aera on the laptop.

    Did she use an origional battery? aftermarket battery?

  13. crazydavythe1st says:

    It’s almost certainly the battery. Nothing else could cause that level of damage – if the CPU cooling went out, you at worst would be stuck with a melted CPU. In reality, you would every likely just end up with a computer that wouldn’t run longer then a few seconds before shutting itself down.

    Lithium Ion batteries require special charge circuitry. Ideally, if that circuitry fails, you shouldn’t be able to charge a lithium ion battery at all – but if the protection circuitry failed and it kept charging, you could easily end up with a situation like this. By nature, Lion batteries are somewhat unstable, and you have to be extremely careful if you’re designing the charge circuitry for anything that uses one.

    • Mr_D says:

      Lion batteries… stalking the savannah for prey, they *gets booed off stage, drawn, and quartered*

    • Traveller says:

      Just to point out, as an owner of a Mini 10V, these netbooks are passively cooled, meaning no fans. So it has to be the battery. As to the circuitry in the battery itself, from what I understand it’s designed to ensure the battery continues functioning in the event of the first cell being burned out. There also is an overcharge prevention circuit in them as well to prevent the battery from getting too much of a charge and exploding. Some batteries, like the ones used in cordless drills have the overcharge protection built into the charger, thus the need for a Li Ion charger.

  14. Don_Thate says:

    Almost looks like an F/L inverter to me. Those run at rather high voltages and, if shorted, could cause this to happen.

  15. brianc says:

    The lithium ion battery is the culprit here. If you look at the service manual for the Mini 9 you can see that just to the right of the power button, there is no other component or board. (see image of board here: http://support.euro.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/ins910/en/sm/qh_ther8.jpg).

    The battery model (manufacturer part no: D044H) had a reference to combustion at the following blog address (http://laptopbatterywholesale.blogspot.com/2009/04/thats-lithium-ion-battery-cooking-out.html).

  16. mykie says:

    Was it Hackintoshed?

  17. Segador says:

    Companies need a new term for “Very Seriously”.

  18. Wang_Chung_Tonight says:

    a dell computer that ended up being a POS? no way!

    let’s post a story of a person that has a dell that’s still working right 3 years later. THAT would be some news!

    • rickhamilton620 says:

      I have a Latitude D630 that has been flawless, and I bought it in 07. My Stepmom’s XPS 400 was bought in 06 and same story, no issues at all.

    • Rachacha says:

      Owner of 3 Dell computers for personal use, and 2 for work ranging in age from 1-8 years, each have required nothing more than a periodic re-install of Windows (certainly not attributable to Dell)

    • kalaratri says:

      Both my parents have Dells that are still going 4 years later. Hubby’s Dell laptop made it to 8 with only one failed battery. I just bought a used XPS 200 that’s doing fine…

    • coren says:

      Outside a software issue that was clearly not Dell’s fault, I’ve got one that’s 7 years strong.

    • Dunkelzahn says:

      I’ve had an Inspiron since about 2003, only thing that failed was a hard drive, and that was in December of ’08.

      I think the people have spoken.

    • Dafrety says:

      I have a three year old Dell Vostro 1500. Works perfectly fine, only needed a new power cord due to dog.

    • failurate says:

      I have an E310 that is 3+ years old and my only complaints are that it doesn’t have a PCI x16 slot and the power supply is under powered. Both my own damn fault when I ordered it.
      I’ll gift it this coming year to the in-laws, replacing their 5+ year old Dell. That will soften the blow when my wife sees the bill for the DIY build I have planned.

    • SabyneWired says:

      I have a Dell Inspiron 5100 that I got in ’04, and asides from a few minor things, it’s still going strong. It IS a tad slow, so I’m looking at a replacement due to its age, but it’s been a good laptop.

      • stuckinms says:

        I have a Dell Inspiron from 2003 and, while it is obviously slower than our new computer, it still works fine.

    • webweazel says:

      I have a Dell Dimension 5100, bought from the outlet when we bought our house 3 years ago. Added in a floppy drive (don’t ask) and a DVD/RW. Had a stick of RAM go bad last year. Replaced it. Done. Still going strong. I will replace the harddrive soon, as I know what the life expectancy is on those, and don’t want to be caught short.

      My last Dell (my first self-purchased computer) lasted 5 years+ without any major problems, except for a CD-ROM that died and had to be replaced.

      Don’t stick the comment out if you don’t want it stepped on.

  19. tasiann says:

    Certainly don’t want to pick on the OP, since it’s clearly not her fault that the Dell decided to spontaneously combust….. BUT…..
    Is it just me, or is the opening line of her explanation kind of strange? “Hi, last night I unplugged my laptop from its charger, carried it downstairs, and placed it on the wood floor of my living room.”
    Uh, why did you put your laptop on your living room floor?
    Don’t most poeple use a table, a couch, a chair, something above knee-level at least, to put their laptops on? I just think it’s so weird, and gee lucky, that she put this on the floor before it caught fire……

    • thompson says:

      Hmm… I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but it does seem a little odd.

      Especially when you see the wide-angle photo of the laptop just kinda, chillin… in the middle of the room…. away from anything flammable…

    • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

      Well, if you look at the OP pictures…I don’t believe they have any furniture as it would interfere with their “Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana” Yoga position. So, it would be perfectly logical to have set said laptop on the floor.

  20. FrankenPC says:

    Now of only Bear Grillz can demonstrate how to make an emergency campfire using only a Dell laptop.

  21. melinama says:

    This is my daughter’s computer, she called me in a panic when it caught fire. She took it in to the computer tech guys at her college campus and they were very impressed – especially in light of the fact that her netbook was otherwise in pristine condition. They told her, they had always suspected that these cases were the fault of the owners, saying “You should see what some people do to their computers, they probably tie them to strings and drag them behind their cars,” but that hers was so obviously well taken care of she presented “a new and significant data point” about spontaneous combustion of computers. I take offense at the suggestions here that it was HER fault. It was not hacked in any way, it was precisely as it comes from the manufacturer. She is a careful and responsible computer owner. AND EVEN IF SHE WEREN’T I don’t believe there are any circumstances under which it’s ok for a computer to burst into flames.

  22. Macleod says:

    It’s all clear to me now. I see the freakin’ litter box over in the corner. Het laptop probably sucked up a bunch of cat hair and the PC hair ball caught on fire. Cats….the other white meat.

  23. AllanG54 says:

    I’ll bet they say that she spilled some liquid in it and will ask for their upgraded computer back.