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Got a Defective Computer?
Part I

Part II
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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When I purchased a new laptop computer one year and eight months ago, two salesmen really tried to talk me into buying an extended warranty. I had always regarded these warranties as a gimmick, as a way for office supply stores and electronics stores to make easy money. One of the salesmen said to me: They only make these computers to last one year. His remark both surprised and repelled me. How far will a salesman go to sell a warranty?! Why would anybody purchase a computer if they knew beforehand that it had a lifespan of one year? What a lousy sales pitch. Did the salesman think I was an idiot?

Well, the salesman was wrong. My new computer lasted more than one year. It lasted one year and eight months. Then, it died. Of course, it was out of warranty. If I had purchased the extended warranty, I could have returned it to the store. I just never dreamed that a Hewlett Packard computer could malfunction so quickly and so drastically. I have been so upset about it that I wake up at 3:00 a.m. every morning and begin thinking about it. Unable to go back to sleep, I get up and make a pot of coffee.

My Problem with My HP Compaq

The problem first manifested itself when I was uploading some pages to my website. Uploading tends to exert a laptop computer--depending on how much uploading is done at a time. The laptop becomes warm and the fan comes on more frequently. Nevertheless, the laptop functions and the task gets accomplished. I have used lesser computers for the same purpose and never encountered any problems. However, on this particular occasion, my laptop became hot--not warm, but hot--and the fan kept running. I did not suspect computer demise because sometimes the FTP server is temperamental and will not upload, or uploads very slowly. So, I disconnected from the server, let the computer rest a little, and went back to my task. Again, the computer got hot.

The next time I turned on the computer, it was hot from the moment I turned it on. I hurried and did some necessary work and turned it off. Then, the next time I turned on the computer, within minutes I got a blank black screen. I was able to turn on the computer a couple more times, quickly backing up recent work and deleting personal documents which I would not want a repairman to access. Then, I took the computer to a repair shop.

When the repairman tried to turn on the computer, he got a blank screen immediately. I left the computer with him and he began the diagnostic process (the fan, the thermal compound, and then the graphics chip). Upon taking the computer apart, it was concluded that the graphics chip was the problem. He was unaware of the NVIDIA graphics chip problem, although his partner had read about it. His partner told me that Hewlett Packard and Dell laptop computers had been having a problem with the NVIDIA graphics chip. I went home and did research on the internet for the next two days--on my old Toshiba laptop which I bought in 2003. Yes, it has lasted more than one year.

The NVIDIA Problem Dates Back to 2007

It seems that the NVIDIA problem was first noticed in November, 2007. NVIDIA, Hewlett Packard, and Dell knew about this problem. Apparently, HP and Dell notified registered customers who had the affected computers. It seems that repairs or replacements, as appropriate, were offered to those customers, and extended warranties were provided. In 2008, a class action lawsuit was brought against NVIDIA which was just recently settled. NVIDIA agreed to pay 2 million dollars in reimbursements to HP, Dell, and Apple customers, and 13 million dollars in legal fees. Customers can file claims as of December 20, 2010.

However, only certain computer models sold between certain dates are covered by the lawsuit. If your computer model is not on the list, you cannot file a claim against NVIDIA. And, if your computer is out of warranty, Hewlett Packard will not repair or replace it. My model is an HP Compaq Presario CQ60-210US; so I will focus on HP rather than on how Dell or Apple has responded to their customers.

I bought my HP laptop in 2009, approximately one year and three months after HP was aware of the NVIDIA chip problem. I had done a lot of shopping, and could not find anything I really liked. I bought the little Compaq to hold me over until I could find something nicer. I knew when I bought it that it was a basic, no-frills computer. Cnet had reviewed it as average. It seemed that rating was given mostly because the Compaq lacked additional features such as an HDMI port, and because it had a slow boot process.

Indeed, it had a slow boot and shut-down process. But, it worked fine and it was much more powerful than my old 37-GB-hard-drive Toshiba. It had a great keyboard and touchpad--and, as a writer, that matters more to me than boot speed, HDMI ports, and webcams. I was satisfied with the Compaq, and decided I would keep it indefinitely. There proved to be no need to get a fancier computer--the Compaq did everything I needed it to do. Now, it's gone forever.

Defective Computers, Quality Control, and Responsibility

What really bothers me about my experience with HP is that they continued to manufacture and/or distribute computers with the NVIDIA chip after they knew there had been problems with it. In my opinion, there should have been a total recall of all computers with NVIDIA chips. Although NVIDIA finally accepted responsibility for the defective chip in certain models, I must question how it happened that HP put and apparently continued to put these chips in their computers.

Is there no longer any such thing as quality control? Who assembled these computers? Who inspected or tested them? How did these computers leave the Hewlett Packard factory in such condition? My opinion is that HP should accept responsibility for other HP computer models that manifest the NVIDIA chip problem because HP continued to manufacture and/or distribute them to the stores. HP did not put any warning label on these computers. Customers unknowingly bought potentially unusable machines. Customers were gambling, without realizing it, at the HP computer casino.

Who Knew?

Did the office supply stores and electronics stores know about the NVIDIA problem? I telephoned the office supply store where I had bought the Compaq. They said they had not heard about the NVIDIA problem. I spoke to someone in charge of computer sales, and then asked to speak to the store manager. The manager thanked me for informing him of the problem, and he said that he would check his inventory and make sure he was not selling computers with the NVIDIA chip.

The next day, when I went shopping at that office supply store, the salesman on duty also said he had never heard of the NVIDIA problem. Then, I went to an electronics store. I spoke to a couple of salesmen, and they also said they had never heard of the NVIDIA problem. There were a couple of other salesmaen, however, who told me that the AMD processors had a tendency to run hot--although I never experienced this with my Compaq which generally ran at room temperature.

How is it that experts in computers--people who make their living by explaining different computers to customers and making sales--do not know about the NVIDIA problem which has been evident since November, 2007, and which resulted in a class-action lawsuit? Am I the only person in my locale to experience a blank screen and to contact the store about it? Were there not any defective computers returned to the store, perhaps under their extended warranty?

If even one salesman had heard about the NVIDIA problem, the word would spread from there. That salesman would certainly talk about it on the job, or consult with the store manager, and soon everyone in the store would know. Let's pretend they all know. But, they continue selling the defective computers. They cannot admit to knowing, because that would make them liable. They need their jobs and not one of them has a strong enough sense of ethics to act as a whistleblower.

It Is Unbelievable

I am not accusing any salesman of lying. I am just saying that I find it unbelievable that none of them knew about the NVIDIA problem. It is their job to know. Have they not noticed that most new laptops are being manufactured with ATI or Intel graphics chips? Do they not wonder why? When I brought up the topic of the NVIDIA chips with the salesmen, they did not seem concerned or even interested. They just denied having knowledge of the problem and did not ask questions about it or attempt to carry on a conversation about it.

Although most laptops seem no longer to come with NVIDIA graphics chips, I did find two manufacturers who continue to use NVIDIA (unless these models are old and have remained in stock in certain stores). Samsung makes a laptop with the NVIDIA GeForce 310M, and Apple makes a MacBook Air with the NVIDIA GeForce 320M. Now, these products might be perfectly good. Nevertheless, I find it surprising that Apple continues to use NVIDIA, because two MacBook Pro models contained defective NVIDIA graphics chips and are listed under the NVIDIA lawsuit settlement. My impression is that Hewlett Packard, for example, has severed all business with NVIDIA.

Are there not any salesmen who are aware of these dynamics? I suppose it is possible that some sales people in office supply and electronics stores are not technology experts. I have come across a few salesmen who seem to know less than I about computers. In order to answer my questions, they have to print out a spec sheet. I had a terrible time getting assistance at the office supply store--they had to page the salesman twice (there was only one on duty) and he seemed to want to hurry back to stocking shelves. If the salesmen are basically what we used to call stockboys, then this might explain their lack of knowledge.

If, and only if, there was a concealment of the NVIDIA problem from the general public, then that would indicate fraud and collusion among the manufacturers and the stores. Currently, on the Hewlett Packard website, there is no mention of any such problem. There is still an old forum page on which people have posted remarks about the NVIDIA problem. However, HP does not mention it or how they resolved it for their customers. HP also does not refer their website visitors to the NVIDIA settlement website. It is as though nothing ever happened.

Hewlett Packard Address and Phone Number

Moreover, the HP website does not provide a company address or telephone number. The only way to contact HP is through Tech Support. I telephoned Tech Support and asked for the HP headquarters address. The agent told me that he did not have access to the address. However, I googled Hewlett Packard address and found two results:

Hewlett-Packard USA
20555 SH 249
Houston, TX 77070
Tel. 281-370-0670
Fax 281-514-1740

Hewlett-Packard USA
1501 Page Mill Road
Palo Alto, CA

If all computer salesmen really are not aware of the NVIDIA problem--just as I was not aware; but I am not in the computer business--then it would seem that they have very little dedication to their work. When I purchased my HP Compaq and the two salesmen tried to push an extended warranty on me: maybe that was their conscience speaking. Maybe, they knew.


[NOTE 1: The Hewlett Packard company was made aware this essay would be published on this website by 12/31/10; Hewlett Packard was provided with the URL of this website; Hewlett Packard was invited to respond to this essay.]

[NOTE 2: This essay is based on personal experience. The author is not a computer expert. The author does not accuse any individual, company, or store of malicious or illegal intentions or actions. This essay is not intended to serve as advice regarding computer or related purchases, but only to expose a specific problem and to share a personal experience that seems to be based on that problem. The author has relied on a computer repairman's assessment of the computer in question, and on the symptoms of NVIDIA failure which include: sudden overheating, no video, black screen. The author does not intend any generalized statement on the overall quality of any computer brand or model. This essay is subject to error.] (Written 12/16/10: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2010 Natalia J. Garland