Court Docs Reveal Dell Sold Computers It Knew Would Fail

Seem Dell has a hell all of its own. Newly unsealed court documents show that Dell sold computers knowing they would go kaput. The documents reveal that Dell sold nearly 12 million Optiplex machines between 2003-2005 with leaky capacitors that caused problems in 97% of the cases in over three years. Leaky capacitors lead to device failure, and can even cause the computer to become ablaze with fire.

One email exchange unveiled involved customer service workers saying, “We need to avoid all language indicating the boards were bad or had ‘issues’ per our discussion this morning.”

Other documents about the situation had Dell sales staff being told, “Don’t bring this to customer’s attention proactively” and “Emphasize uncertainty.”

Internal memos circulating into 2008 had sales people worried that their clients could “justify their job” by telling their companies about the computer failures and recommending other brands.

“To counter such lingering bad impressions, Dell salespeople were told to emphasize that the company’s direct model allowed it to identify and fix problems faster than competitors,” NYT reports.

The Optiplex computers were mainly sold to businesses and government customers.

In Suit Over Faulty Computers, Window to Dell’s Fall [NYT] (Thanks to everyone who sent this in!)

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  1. BuddyL says:

    Couldn’t you REALLY replace “Dell” with ANY PC manufacturer??

    • spazztastic says:

      No; Dell tried to hide the problem because it generally manifested shortly before the warranty expired.

      • Dre' says:

        Also, when they did die before the warranty was up, they replaced them with the *same bad motherboards*.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Yes, because many companies used the caps from the bad manufacturer.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Not so much…um, Red.

        While it’s true that a large number of PC and component manufacturers were affected by the bad caps, Dell is the one that didn’t do anything about it.

        Willfully.

        And continued selling, I don’t know, let’s say 12 million PCs equipped with said caps knowing they were gonna blow. And instructed their peeps to lie about it.

        So…nah. This one’s all on Dell. For being the suck.

    • Bohemian says:

      What makes it all worse is that during the same time frame most of Dell’s PCs had a proprietary motherboard and power supply setup. So if either fried you had to get a very expensive replacement from Dell. Generic parts would not work in the mix with the other proprietary parts and case. $360 for a stinking power supply for a PC.

    • peebozi says:

      Couldn’t we replace Dell with any “publicly traded company”?

      They have no moral or ethical responsibility to anyone. they only have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders

  2. vinnycthatwhoibe says:

    GX270s and 520s were the worst!!

    • Starfury says:

      We have GX270 and GX280. The 270 die all the time from blown capacitors. We’re going to be replacing all the desktops this year…I hope not w/ Dell.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        I remember working on a Optiplex GXXXX computer for 3 weeks trying to get it to work correctly because it would boot up, only to shut down quickly. In the end, I finally found a thread on Google and checked the caps, and sure enough, they were a-bulging.

        • Starfury says:

          The power supplies in the GX270 are also crap…too small.

          I REALLY hope they don’t buy Dell desktops.

    • NumberSix says:

      Yeah, the 270s were crap. I replaced the motherboard on all of the ones we bought. The 260 power supplies were pretty bad too.

    • zandar says:

      yeah, our shop rolled about 200 of those out.

      We spent the better part of a year opening them ALL and replacing parts.

    • HappyFunTimes says:

      We went from the metal Gn+ series to GX240 to the GX280 to the 520 over the course of my employment. We just recently ditched the crap 520s with Vostro 420s with quad-core processors and 4 gigs of RAM. Overall, the 420s are fantastic machines. It’s doubtful we’ll buy Optiplex ones again.

    • BillyDeeCT says:

      I work for a school district loaded with these crappy machines. I even had a Dell customer rep tell me they wouldn’t sell me replacement main boards. And these clowns can’t figure out why we buy Hewlett Packard now?

      GZ270s, GX280s and the whole lot of them – even monitors, too. We tried replacing caps in desktops but you could spend days finding the failing caps without doing the entire board! We fixed a bunch of monitors as we didn’t have the funds to just outright replace them.

      I would not shed a tear to see Dell go out of business!

  3. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    We had lots of these in one of my old offices, but we also had the Gold Support plan so they were fixed post haste. I guess in cases like that they were the ones who lost out.

  4. APriusAndAGrill says:

    Dude got busted

  5. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    It makes me wonder if this were a ‘closed bid’ for those government PC’s … Then Dell would’ve had a limited budget based on their low bid; then, per agreement, had to manufacture said product within the financial limit set in the bid.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      MANY companies got hit with these bad caps, including Apple. Dell just used them a lot more of them. The Optiplexes were also sold to schools, which is why I have 8 of them.

  6. Bardiel says:

    Well I know about blown caps left and right. We started with the GX270’s and well they blew boards and we replaced them. A good 3 to 5 day wait for boards. We get the GX620’s and they were great at first. A Couple DOA’s but that is to be expected when you order in large batches. We have replaced at least 90 to 95% of our 1500 GX620’s motherboards from blown caps. With a major power outage we could expect at least 20 to 30 machines to be dead when the power comes back on.
    We are now going into the GX740’s and hope the fan under the hard drive will help keep the caps from blowing. We have had a few problems with the series but time will tell how much trouble they will become.

    • Trick says:

      We have about 300 GX620’s which were the first batch of Dell’s when we switch to Dell in late 2005 that have been for the most part, very reliable here on our campus. Many of them used by students… mostly CMOS batteries being reported as dead because of the heat and about seven motherboard failures… recently a lab tech told me one of his GX620’s had a leaky capacitor and we replaced the motherboard (no longer under warranty but we have spares).

      Most of the GX620’s will be replaced over the next year if not sooner so we are not doing much other than fix as the fail…

  7. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    From what I have read, the bad capacitors came from a company that stole the formula from another manufacturer. But the recipe wasn’t correct, which is why all of these caps leak. I tried re-capping a bad mobo I found in the trash, but it didn’t work. That said, I have a GX270 and GX280 which run three of my webcams and aren’t that bad. I also read that if you called Dell, they would quietly replace the mobo’s, even after the warranty ran out. But I wonder if I can send in some of the bad mobo’s I have for new ones.

  8. dg says:

    I’ve had a couple of capacitors explode over the years – not just in Dell. It’s ALWAYS a loud bang, always a mess, I always lose whatever I was working on at the time. Sometimes, depending on how the failure occurred, the hard drive can get corrupted (often can be fixed, sometimes not).

    Dell needs to make this right – and they need to be fined up the yin-yang so they, and other companies don’t want to do it again…

  9. buzz86us says:

    What about my Dell Inspiron E1505? How come that doesn’t get fixed? I mean seriously only 3 years of use and the computer starts booting then making a loud beeping noise. I wish dell would give me my money back for that as of now I am typing this on an 8 year old toshiba laptop.

    • buzz86us says:

      the terribly sad thing is that my Dell Latitude CPxJ is still running strong outlasting this newer dell tell me that my Dell Inspiron E1505 isn’t affected by a similar problem.

    • peebozi says:

      the free market will work itself out. when dell realizes they lost your next $1000 purchase the market forces will commence.

  10. OnePumpChump says:

    Dell is committed to riding their former good name into the same oblivion that Gateway did.

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      Dell had a good name? Maybe for the first year they were in existence.

  11. spazztastic says:

    I worked for a company that had 400 of these machines. Dell refused to ship us ‘on-hand’ spares, or ship advanced replacements. Instead, we had to wait for the machine to fail, and make a warranty request (We were certified as Dell technicians, so we didn’t need Dell to do the work) Fortunately, we never had replacement boards fail, but it wreaked havoc on our automated inventory system because the hard-coded serial number no longer matched the machine; we had to boot from a floppy to manually change all the serials.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      You needed a floppy to change the asset tag? I can change all of mine in BIOS.

    • Bardiel says:

      When Dell sent you a replacement board they should have sent new thermal grease, a chem wipe, and Dell disks for the board. For a long time Dell refused to let us change the Dell service Tags so we and to ship refurbished boards back. They would just send more. They finally told us about Asset***.com The Drivers and Utilities 1 of 3 disc i believe has this on there. Depending on the board you can use the asset to reset service tag and asset tags. If you have the disc try D:CSDTOOLSBIOS and hopefully one of the Asset .com’s would help you out. I hope this will help fellow board re-placers in the future.

  12. tsdguy says:

    Issue is well known in the IT world. I guess what’ not new is the internal Dell document that they knew about this and continued to sell the products. I was director for an IT department with about 500 IBM desktops during this time. Although IBM updated their products internally, they put out plenty of faulty systems and didn’t proactively search out the owners to repair them.

    It was easier to wait for them to fail and then repair as needed. The failure period was variable and some took many years to go. They just quietly established a permanent hidden warranty and would replace any system motherboard without question if it was in the batch. I had no real issue with that. It would have been difficult to provide hundreds of spare boards to customers.

    Funny but I retired and recently started working part time in my local library and the first thing that came up was failing Viewtronic monitors due to faulty capacitors! In our case, Viewtronic didn’t care and wouldn’t replace them so we ended up figuring out which ones to replace and for $5 got the monitors back in order. A simple job compared to trying to repair multilayer surface mounted motherboards.

  13. Nighthawke says:

    Never had a GX270/280 go bang or catch fire, and the private school I work for had over 200 units at the campuses I worked for,

    Strange, for the one remote campus I worked at never had an issue with the caps… One of the batch runs that used the correct formula? But my home campus was experiencing bulged/failed caps right and left, putting a ton out of service.

    The company had all the GX270 main boards replaced but on some campuses, that really didn’t matter for their replacement boards had the same bad batch. So they were getting replacements for the replacements in right and left. The bane of my campuses were the GX280’s. When they blew caps, they took out the RAM chips too, so it was an expensive proposition to get fixed. Thank the gods they are to be replaced this year with HP desktops.

  14. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    can even cause the computer to become ablaze with fire.

    As opposed to some other way of becoming “ablaze?”

  15. Torchwood says:

    Sounds like a move by Master Bonehead Artists to maximize profits, minimize costs, and make Wall Street happy for the short term rather than make the consumer happy and continue to be a longtime customer in the long term.

    Either that, or it’s a grand scheme to have customers purchase extended warranties.

    But, then, I had build a system with a Soyo motherboard made in 2002 that was apparently well-rated at the time. In 2006, I had capacitor issues. Guess who no longer makes motherboards?

  16. jpdanzig says:

    This is appalling.

    I didn’t think anything could make Xbox failures look like a minor glitch, but leave it to Dell…

  17. doobiewondersmoke says:

    I actually worked at Dell when this issue began to rear it’s ugly head. Dell leadership was extremely adamant that we never mention it as a known issue. The design for the board was stolen from a different company (which Red_GitEmSteveDave….Yum! has mentioned). As a matter of fact the design was stolen from the trash can (you would have thought this would have been a clue). Dell has numerous shady practices that continue to this day. Maybe they should also be investigated for the ATI video cards in the Inspiron 8000 series, the practice of voiding warranties for no reason, or recycling broken computers that are unfixed and sending to customers as replacements and then blaming the non-working system on the customer. I could go on and on. They should shut Dell down and put Michael in the clink.

    • mythago says:

      Oh, and the thing with changing standard components to proprietary ones without telling anybody, so that if you got a stock power supply replacement, say, it would fry your mobo, which would have been bad enough except for the whole “denying this was ever true” thing for years.

      Don’t get me started on Dell. REALLY.

  18. SacraBos says:

    I have one of these!!! When I figured out it was a known issue and they had a recall, I tried to get it fixed and was told the motherboard replacement program had recently expired.

    Maybe I can get my money back rather than use it for a boat anchor.

  19. bobkatdell says:

    We think it’s important to make clear that this was not a Dell-specific issue and that the lawsuit folks are talking about is three years old.

    In situations where systems did fail due to the Nichicon capacitor issue, we worked directly with many customers to resolve. We also extended the warranty of impacted machines until January 2008, several years after they were purchased.

    More to come soon on a Direct2Dell post…

  20. sonneillon says:

    I had a friend have a capacitor go on his dell. He grabbed a soldering iron and replaced the capacitor. I didn’t know you could do that.

    • bikeoid says:

      Yup, I just fixed a Dell that I bought back in 2002 – there were 12 of these bum capacitors and I replaced them. Luckily none of them exploded before they caused the PC to stop working and I found the bad capacitors.

  21. NightSteel says:

    I didn’t have the Dells, but, our biggest client’s standard PC quote from their supplier, at that time, was with AK77 Pro motherboards. We replaced HUNDREDS of these motherboards for bad caps, and bad ones still turn up every few months or so. The supplier switched to MSI boards as a result.

  22. econobiker says:

    Dell Hell revealed…

  23. mythago says:

    The NYT article is priceless.

    “After the math department at the University of Texas noticed some of its Dell computers failing, Dell examined the machines. The company came up with an unusual reason for the computers’ demise: the school had overtaxed the machines by making them perform difficult math calculations. “

    • Laura Northrup says:

      Math is hard. Let’s go shopping!

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      Similarly, problems with failing keyboards in the English department were blamed on people using too many “big words”.

  24. stringcheese says:

    I had about 20 SX280’s with bad caps.

    I think every single one of them failed. At first, Dell would dispatch a tech out to change the motherboard. Finally, I just had them send the board and I replaced it myself.

    Eventually the warrantys ran out, but Dell agreed to cover them for an extra year.

    I finally resorted to buying surplus motherboards on ebay and when those were all gone, sent several to be recapped for about $50 each.

    These have been great PC’s except for the motherboard failures. If Dell sold them knowing they would probably fail, they need to get out their checkbook, because they have been a huge pain in the azz.

  25. AngryK9 says:

    Interesting. Just rolled out a bunch of Optiplex 780s to a customer. Perhaps I may have to point the boss to this one.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      The documents reveal that Dell sold nearly 12 million Optiplex machines between 2003-2005 with leaky capacitors that caused problems in 97% of the cases in over three years.

      Unless you rolled out 5 year old machines, you are safe.

      • incident_man says:

        Actually I have a few contacts who are still at DHell (I used to work for them, too) and the issue is still occurring, even with their Optiplex 745.

  26. ITDEFX says:

    I do believe that the school system I worked for 5 years ago did have those pc’s… As a tech, we were NOT allowed to open up the PC for any reason what so ever as it would render our warranty agreement with them, even if it as simple as removing a bad memory chip or disk drive.
    I really hated that job because it tied my hands like that. something that would take 5 minutes to fix, would have to be shipped out OR wait for their techs to come out to fix/replace it and that would take weeks.

  27. Starphantom12 says:

    Hah, these issues kept me employed and well exercised during college (help desk techie, woo!). I was running everywhere replacing Dell bits that exploded, fell off or just quit working. That part I didn’t mind… it was the angled USB ports that made you put your face on the ground to see how to plug in a flash drive. THAT drove me insane.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      And it was usually upside down, so you had trouble figuring out the angle AND orientation!

      • kabamm says:

        *This* makes me crazy. They’re upside down, angled toward the bottom, and the door covering them swings *up* where it’s then in the way so you can’t see the ports. Some kind of idiotic design.

  28. chris_d says:

    And no one has learned anything. They still buy Dell because they’re the cheapest. these were the more expensive “business-class” desktops and they still used crappy caps in them like Teapo. What do you get for that extra money? I guess nothing.

  29. scientific progress goes boink says:

    Working for a certain government customer I have learned all about the fun that is a Dell contract. I’m not terribly fond of HP either, but switching our contract to them has really been a relief…. now if only we could ditch Vista.

  30. pterrell says:

    Company policy of denying bad caps explains why Dell Tech Support was such a PIA when dealing with failed Optiplexes. Tech support had me run diagnostics to determine “the cause of a failed boot” when I explained that I could clearly seen smoked caps on the board.

  31. incident_man says:

    DHell definitely lies to cover their asses; when I worked for them, I was told by my manager to definitely not admit fault or even put notes in the computer program we used for tech support and customer service that DHell had an issue with anything, even if it was a known issue.

    • mythago says:

      That was to make sure in lawsuits like this one, nothing Dell was forced to turn over would be incriminating.

  32. madtube says:

    Screwed.
    The.
    Pooch.

  33. ohhhh says:

    I am pretty sure every time I called in on 270s and 280s the techs ALWAYS told me to inspect all I had on site because they were known to bulge.

    The 520s are a whole different problem, the fan controlling function on over half of our 520s have failed with the fan running full speed. They try sending out a new fan and heat-sink first every time and it never fixes the problem. I have given up arguing with them about it and just let them send parts multiple times, the best are the ones that won’t listen at all and send parts out 1 at a time.

  34. TJMorgan says:

    I worked for our state government in IT when this issue first started occurring – Dell would always have a tech out in an hour or two when we found the blown caps. We had replacements on thousands of PCs across our department

  35. Krrose27 says:

    While attending my high school our Network Administrator and his PC Support Students (one of which I was) replaced 250 Optiplex GX280 motherboards. We had only had a few fail but across the county it was something like 30 machines and dozens more seemed on the verge of death. Apparently after discussions with Dell they agreed to provide new motherboards for all machines that could have the problem. They also offered to perform the installations but that would have taken forever so the schools decided to have their Network Admins/Techs do it. Minus this one major issue I am still a big Dell fan after working with them for years.

  36. whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

    My Optiplex 745 at work blew up three days before the warranty ran out. Crashed the box hard enough that I wasn’t able to just migrate the drive, but at least I got warranty service (i.e., a motherboard with unexploded, but in no way quality-assured, capacitors.) Go me.

    My officemate’s 745 waited until two weeks after the warranty expired before it exploded, so Dell told us to pound sand even though everyone involved from us (the end users) to the CSR’s crabs knew what was going on.

  37. moofie says:

    ….duh.

  38. Clyde Barrow says:

    Mmmm, is the company that made the Opticplex the same that made the Optigrab?

  39. Clyde Barrow says:

    Folks, Please! Learn how to build a computer. It is NOT difficult and it is fun! You can match up components on newegg and build a very good system on the cheap.

    • chris_d says:

      Unless you’re going to build your own motherboard and select good caps, you will still have to watch out. I got bit by an a-bit (haha) motherboard with bad caps. AND I had a PS go too.

    • Aristotle-or-PlayDoh says:

      Please advise as to how to pick best motherboard / components. So we don’t end up with bad caps, failed power supply, etc.

  40. dreamcatcher2 says:

    I was working in a generic tech support role at a department at my university, and every single computer was a Dell OptiPlex. We couldn’t afford to have all of our computers out at once, and Dell would often refuse to fix the computers that didn’t have visibly bulging capacitors, so we would visually inspect the motherboards periodically, and send 5-6 computers out for replacement at a time.

    It cost our department piles and piles of money – in my time that I had to spend fixing them, and in all the computers we had out of commission.

  41. Shonky McShonk says:

    Dude,get a freakin Mac already………….. even if you dare bastardize it by running that crapware OS windows.

  42. gman863 says:

    Buying a pre-built desktop PC (Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, etc…) is like buying a sandwich made with mystery meat: If you really knew what was inside it would make you puke.

    Other than the processor (which comes from either Intel or AMD), everything else can be skimped on. Besides cheap capacitors, you normally find:

    – Anemic power supplies that typically die in 2-3 years; sooner if you install even a basic video card upgrade.

    – Lower grade hard drives. A/V or Enterprise grade drives are a bit more expensive but have a much lower failure rate. Spending the few extra bucks is much less painful than restoring your data to a new drive, assuming you backed it up in the first place.

    – Restore software that is loaded on the main hard drive instead of a CD or DVD. If the drive crashes, you’re f–ked.

    If you want a decent desktop PC, bribe your favorite geek to build it for you using quality parts. It’ll cost a bit more than a bargain box but you’ll be much happier in the long run.

  43. vinceli says:

    I work in IT as a defense contractor. This is nothing compared to the multiple power supplies we replace every week. But oh well, everything is made in China or the lowest manufacturing bidder anyways so there will always be multiple hardware issues on almost any brand out there.

  44. sly_61019 says:

    I’ve got a shelf full of Dell (280’s, 620’s, and 745’s) at work with leaking capacitors. Dell wont even sell us replacement motherboards anymore!

  45. peebozi says:

    the free market will work itself out on this one.

  46. Bob says:

    So why is there not a class-action suit for people with dead or burned up 2003-2005 Optiplexes, NOT including owner with good Optiplexes? There needs to be one and a BIG one. The settlement needs to be over $125 per person in the class or a $200 rebate on the next Dell, not a $3 rebate or 50 cents cash award like most class action suits end up being.

    Dell shouldn’t be able to walk away and say “We paid a $1 million settlement in that class action, I’m glad that’s over.” If there is 200,000 dead Optiplexes fitting the class that should be paying back the people, after the lawyers take their money, at least $30 million in rebates and cash. If dell thinks that’s too high then go to court where they will likely have to pay 5 times that.

    If you sell me a “new” car with a known car crippling fault and then it completely dies after 2 months you bet I would sue you for most of that money back if you refused to own up to the problem.

  47. friendlynerd says:

    Yeah, our company had to RMA about 85% of them. If I recall it was the GX260 that was particularly troublesome.

  48. Npakaderm says:

    One night about 2 years ago, I spent the evening swapping out 120 motherboards in Dell computers. At the time, Dell covered the motherboards but wouldn’t acknowledge that there was an issue even though all 120 machines had the same issue (Leaky capacitors). Fun.

  49. Kissyboots says:

    I am typing this on a 16-month-old dell that will not hold a charge. I have gone through 7 chargers at this point and that’s just the start of this POS’s issues. If you Google “inspiron 1545 plugged in not charging” there are 26,000 results. It’s obvious these are defective, but Dell won’t do anything about it. I will never ever buy a Dell anything again. Plus, the USB ports have stopped working, the keys fall off all the time, and I can’t run iTunes or Skype.

  50. ja says:

    The bad capacitors did not come from a company that stole a chemcal formula and incorrectly reproduced it. Dell actually obtained its capacitors from the best Japanese manufacturers, but ufortunately one of them, Nichicon, just happened to completely bungle the production of its model HM and HN capacitors from about 2001-2004, and many made their ways into Dell motherboards. These capacitors are black cylinders with either white or copper markings that likely read “1500uF 6.3V” or “1800uF 6.3V”. On a line below will be a date code in the form of a letter followed by 4 digits, the first 2 indicating the year, the next 2 the week of the year. For example, H0412 means the year 2004, week 12. Any of these Nichicons made before 2005 or that are bulging or leaking need to be replaced.

  51. nickmark says:

    I bought 6 surveillance DVRs for customers which are based on a computer case and all failed with days of each other will have to look into this further one of company’s I sub for had one of there same type dvr catch fire. Wil definately have to look into this thanks for the tip