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Got a Defective Computer?
Part II

Part I
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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I am not alone. Many people have had overheating and blank screen problems with their laptop computers, most especially with the Hewlett Packard and Dell models which were manufactured with defective NVIDIA graphics chips. There are articles and forums on the internet that witness to a massive yet almost uncommunicated problem with these computers. That is to say, uncommunicated to the general public and to potential customers. Unless you are an expert or enthusiast who keeps up with the latest details on technological issues, you might not have heard or read about the NVIDIA problem. Even if you experienced the problem yourself, if your computer was out of warranty, you might not realize what had happened to it.

Below I have quoted material from others who have experienced or who seem knowledgeable about the NVIDIA problem. This material may or may not be accurate: each reader is responsible for making his or her own assessment for validity and reliability. The material is taken from forums at the websites of Cnet and World Law Direct, respectively. I selected these excerpts because I was able to relate the remarks and information to my own experience. (I made a few grammatical changes which did not affect the content.) The final excerpt is from a Cnet article written by Michael Horowitz.


Why Do Notebooks Crash?

Why do notebooks crash? The cooling vents are incorrectly placed under the notebook instead of at the side or on the top (such as above the keyboard). Even when placed on a hard surface, like a table desk, the air flow is reduced too much.

HP (like other notebook vendors) is trying to make stupid economies in the CPU and GPU mounting processes: they use sub-quality heat pipes, the vents are much too small and, in general, all the cooling is extremely bad. They even forget to interconnect all the heat pipes to the vents: you can see glued aluminum surfaces going to nowhere except to the plastic surface behind the PC, notably for the North Bridge. And, there's absolutely no heat pipes for memory chips.

Only the Intel CPU is correctly piped to the vents. But, the fans are running too slowly, and are too small and do not dissipate enough air.

Many PCs (most notebooks, in fact) are affected: you can't use them to run any 3D application for more than 1 minute. Almost all common games are causing the PC to crash.

And there's not even a way to reduce the GPU frequency in the BIOS settings so that it will not overheat too fast and so that software thermal regulation will effectively work as expected. The overheat, starting at time t from the internal cores of the GPU or from the CPU or from the North Bridge, takes about 1 minute to reach the surface of the chip. Even the best cooling systems will not be able to dissipate this heat. Clearly, the thermal sensors within the NVIDIA GPU chips are badly placed if they can't rapidly detect the overheat condition and immediately (and automatically, by hardware automation, rather than depending on external softwares) regulate the working frequency.

NVIDIA asserts that it makes fast GPUs, but even the GPUs for notebooks (M series) are affected, because they use incorrect thermal material for their casing. But PC manufacturers are also not respecting the thermal requirements.

This is scandalous. PC makers are just lying: their notebooks cannot work reliably with the supplied 3D chip. What is even worse is that they don't even allow users to reduce the frequency of the GPU directly in the BIOS for safe operation.

Because the overheating can seriously damage your PC, it can die suddenly after running a basic demo or some rich-media ad banners when browsing the web. The GPU is also overheating when viewing some videos with the standard codecs supplied with some media players (including windows Media Player, Real Networks, QuickTime, or Adobe Flash).

Isn't there some independent test labs that will clearly indicate to consumers: don't buy this PC; and that will inform all online PC shops so that they stop delivering them?

Why put a GPU on a notebook if it's unusable for something else than just basic office applications, and if it can even fail to boot Windows, if the initial temperature is above 40 degrees Celsius or the room environment is just above 20 degrees Celsius and still below 40 degrees Celsius with normal hygrometry? If these notebooks are made for office apps, then remove the accelerated GPUs, or use less accelerated chips.
[End of quote.]

If you think you are fairly computer literate because you understand some things about hard drives and RAM--think again, because that is no longer sufficient. You must also develop an understanding of processors, graphics chips, and general computer construction. I can relate to the above excerpt because it made me question the purpose and capacities of a laptop computer, and whether changes in design reflect usefulness or cost of production (i.e., cheaper parts and construction shortcuts).

Having owned three laptops over ten years, I can do my own compare and contrast of these machines. My first laptop, an IBM ThinkPad i Series 1480, purchased in 2000, has a cooling vent at the side which wraps around to the bottom of the machine. The ThinkPad tended to run warm, but never to the point of malfunction due to overheating. My second laptop, a Toshiba Satellite 1905, purchased in 2003, has a cooling vent at the side. The fan comes on frequently and it is noisy, but there has never been any overheating. My third laptop, an HP Compaq Presario CQ60-210US, has a cooling vent underneath the machine: the vents are comparatively small. However, the machine never overheated. It actually ran quiet and only slightly warm. Then, suddenly, within a week, one year and eight months after purchase, it overheated severely and the screen went blank and black.

Although I think the placement of the cooling vents is significant (and certainly the BIOS settings as well), that alone cannot rescue a part that is defective from the beginning. Proper placement of vents and an adequate fan may help to prevent or reduce overheating in a machine in which all the other parts are good, but it cannot compensate for a bad part. The defective NVIDIA chip, for example, was destined to deteriorate, stop working, and possibly do irreversible damage.

My IBM and Toshiba laptops are heavy, well-constructed machines. Compared to the bulky desktop computers of those days, however, they were quite portable. The lids even shut tight with a latch. And, if you bought a sturdy aluminum case, accidental dropping probably would not have broken anything. Laptops nowadays are lightweight--partly due to thinner plastic and a more streamlined design. And, laptop cases are made from padded nylon. The emphasis in on lightness, thinness, speed and power. Yet, as noted in the above excerpt, proper construction adaptations to these preferences are possibly neglected.

Recently, when I went shopping for a new computer, I asked the salesman about the store's extended warranty policy. He said: Be sure to get accident coverage. There are two parts to the policy and you can purchase one or both: repairs and/or breakage from dropping. The salesman assumed that I would be carrying my laptop around with me--perhaps to school or to the job. He must have known that, due to thin plastic and possible inferior construction, the laptop would easily break if dropped.


HP Is Well Aware.....

HP is well aware that my HP Pavilion dv9230us Notebook PC with Intel Core 2 Duo processor T5500 and NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 has stopped working due to a known manufacturing defect of the NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 graphics card. NVIDIA publicly released information in 2008 describing this defect as a weak die/packaging material used in their graphics processors and that replacement chips now utilize Hitachi underfill packaging materials that improves product quality and enhances operating life by improved thermal cycling reliability. HP knew about this back in 2007 and later provided firmware updates to increase fan use.

My notebook became very, very hot to the touch, and would not reboot. During startup, the display initially shows vertical green-checkered lines on a black background. Then the display locks up in a blank black screen before completing the start-up process. The only way to get the computer on is to reboot in safe mode and disable the NVIDIA driver and use the laptop in VGA mode which provides a screen that is heavily pixilated (unreadable). These are the same symptoms described by many, many other customers who have had their computers repaired and confirmed that the problem was the defective overheating NVIDIA graphics processor.

My Rejected Request: I have asked HP to repair my notebook (at no cost to me) by replacing the defective NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 chip with a non-defective equivalent performance graphics processor and repair any other damage the defective video chip overheating caused to my computer.

I have talked to HP Total [Care] case manager, executive case manager, Corporate Office, and Executive Customer Relations Office. I sent e-mails to the Board of Directors and corporate compliance office. It is ridiculous to claim that customers got what they paid for as long as the computer made it past the 12 month warranty period (24 months for a few lucky models). Wow, is that the position HP wants to take with their competitors (HP Notebooks have a 12 month shelf life)?

The number of people reporting NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 defect failure in notebook models that are not in the extended warranty list is growing larger every day (any internet search digs up huge amounts of information). Requiring that customers pay to repair a defect in light of this clear and growing body of evidence is quickly showing that HP has not shown good faith to correct a known manufacture defect and intends to double-charge customers for the same product. This clearly tells everyone that we should not trust HP! If they are not going to acknowledge and resolve a well-known manufacture defect right now, then how can people trust that there is no defect in the new models on the market right now?

I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection for non-compliance with a known defect. It appears some executive has decided that the cost of a potential lawsuit is less damaging than repairing all these defective notebooks. What about the cost of sending us to buy a competitor's product? What will legitimate proven customer complaints sent to various consumer protection and product review agencies do to the reputation of the HP product quality and customer service? How much money is all that going to cost HP in the long run?

The main reason I replied to this post was that I wanted to let the author [of the previous post] know that the HP Pavilion laptops not only make good paper weights, but if you open them up and tie a rope to them they make great boat anchors. The opened laptop hangs on all the rocks on the bottom of the lake and stops your boat in it's tracks. If HP would just lower their price of their laptops by around $1600 they might have better luck in the boat anchor business.
[End of quote.]

Who is responsible for the defective NVIDIA graphics chip? Is NVIDIA responsible for having manufactured the part? Is Hewlett Packard responsible for having manufactured and distributed computers with the defective part? Are the stores responsible for having sold these computers? Particularly, who is responsible if the defective part does not manifest malfunction until after the warranty expiration, or if the computer manufacturer offers fixes which are not conclusively effective but which seem to serve to move the computer beyond the warranty expiration? Is the consumer then solely responsible for repair or replacement?

Since I regard a computer as a major investment, I can relate to the above excerpt. If you bought one of the defective laptops--and your model is not listed in the NVIDIA lawsuit settlement or you are unaware of the settlement--and if HP refused to repair or replace your laptop--perhaps because it was out of warranty when the malfunction occurred--then you must spend more money to solve the problem. You have to do something because you need your computer. This means, in essence, that you are paying double for your original purchase. Whether you try to have your laptop repaired or you decide to purchase a new one--none of this would be necessary had it not been for the defective NVIDIA chip. You are making the same purchase twice--at twice the profit to the computer manufacturers and the office supply stores and electronics stores, and to your financial loss.

My computer was out of warranty when the NVIDIA overheating problem occurred. I purchased my computer in 2009, and the NVIDIA settlement only covers, in the case of HP Compaq computers, certain models purchased between 2006 and 2008. (There are some HP Pavilion models and Dell models purchased in 2009 which are included.) Even if I, as a consumer, am responsible because the computer is out of warranty, should I ever trust HP or NVIDIA again? Should I ever trust the office supply store again? Or any computer salesman?

When I did my recent shopping for a new laptop, I went back to the office supply store where I had purchased my defective HP. I was curious. I soon discovered that all the display computers were blocked for certain features. For example, you could not access the Control Panel or the registry. The salesman explained to me this was because too many people were fooling around with these features and messing up the computers. Next, I went to an electronics store. All the display computers were fully accessible. I could not help wondering. Did other people also purchase defective computers from the office supply store. Did some customers return and destroy the display computers out of revenge?

By the way, the office supply store was offering one-hundred dollars for any computer brought in as a trade-in for a new computer. The only requirement was that the trade-in start up. I decided to take in my old IBM ThinkPad. I even telephoned the store the night before to make sure they would accept such an old computer. However, when I got to store, I was told that the trade-in offer was only good toward Hewlett Packard computers. I just did not feel comfortable purchasing another HP, even though they seem no longer to be using the NVIDIA chips. In fact, if you have been computer shopping lately, you might have noticed that most of the new laptops come with ATI or Intel graphics chips.

The next excerpt is taken from an article which Michael Horowitz wrote for Cnet, "Summarizing Nvidia Problems." It was not dated, but I think it is from 2008.


Summarizing Nvidia Problems

Last month NVIDIA disclosed that due to a manufacturing flaw, some of their laptop computer graphics processors and chipsets are overheating and failing. This is a brief summary of the story for those that missed it.

All of the flawed processors and chipsets are not failing but the frequency of failure is unclear. NVIDIA put it this way: "Certain notebook configurations with GPUs and MCPs manufactured with a certain die/packaging material set are failing in the field at higher than normal rates. To date, abnormal failure rates with systems other than certain notebook systems have not been seen.":

The day after the announcement, Humphrey Cheung at tgdaily noted that "significant quantities" of Nvidia chips are overheating and failing.

Two ways that failures manifest themselves are not being able to start the computer and, of course, a blank screen. Dell said that failure symptoms include multiple images, random characters on the screen, and lines on the screen. HP lists not detecting wireless networks as a sign of failure along with the wireless adapter not appearing in the Windows Device Manager. They also note that if the "battery charge indicator light does not turn on when the battery is installed and the AC adapter is connected," it may be due to this NVIDIA problem.

The problem has existed for a while. CNET blogger Brooke Crothers says that HP knew about this since November 2007. At The INQUIRER Charlie Demerjian wrote about this problem back in April of 2007. Last month, Mr. Demerjian offered a fascinating explanation of what's going on in his article, "NVIDIA Plays the Meltdown Blame Game." In it he says, "...this problem hasn't cropped up in desktop parts yet, but it most assuredly will."

Today, the Wall Street Journal had a story about dissatisfaction with the way NVIDIA has dealt with this issue, "Chip Problems Haunt NVIDIA, PC Makers." The article notes that "NVIDIA hasn't recalled the affected chips or identified which models have problems." NVIDIA's failure to publicly identify the problematic hardware, strikes me as inexcusable. According to The INQUIRER, All NVIDIA G84 and G86s are bad.

Are You Affected?

The only laptop vendors to step up to the plate so far have been Dell and HP.

Owners of 24 HP laptop computer models need to be concerned. See HP Pavilion dv2000/dv6000/dv9000 and Compaq Presario v3000/v6000 Series Notebook PCs--HP Limited Warranty Service Enhancement and HP Limited Warranty Service Enhancement. I can't tell which of these two items is the most recent since HP doesn't date stamp them.

Owners of 15 Dell laptop computers are affected, including models in the Inspiron, Latitude, Precision, Vostro, and XPS lines. Dell owners should read "NVIDIA GPU Update: Dell to Offer Limited Warranty Enhancement to All Affected Customers Worldwide."

What To Do If You Are Affected:

The solutions offered by both HP and Dell boil down to running the fan all the time to prevent the NVIDIA hardware from getting too hot.

Both companies offer a BIOS update. HP seems to have an updated BIOS for all affected machines, Dell has one for 10 of their 15 affected models.

HP describes the BIOS update thusly:

"HP has identified a hardware issue with certain HP Pavilion dv2000/dv6000/dv9000 and Compaq Presario V3000/V6000 series notebook PCs, and has also released a new BIOS for these notebook PCs... The new BIOS release for your notebook PC is preventive in nature to reduce the likelihood of future system issues. The BIOS updates the fan control algorithm of the system, and turns the fan on at low volume while your notebook PC is operational."

A very different perspective on the BIOS update is offered by Charlie Demerjian in The INQUIRER:

If you look at the HP page, the prophylactic fix they offer is to more or less run the fan all the time. Once again, for the non-engineers out there, fan-running eats a lot of power, so this destroys the battery life of notebooks. Basically, people bought a machine with a battery life of X, and now it is Y to prevent meltdown from a bum part. It doesn't fix anything, it just makes the failures take longer, hopefully past the warranty period, at a huge battery life cost. Fire up your class actions people, you got shafted."

Both Dell and HP have extended the warranty on affected machines by one year.

Other Steps To Take

If you own a laptop computer with NVIDIA chips and you haven't registered it with the hardware vendor, I suggest doing so. This way they can contact you if need be, and it can only help grease the wheels should you need warranty repair.

Some motherboards have thermometers for measuring and reporting the temperature. Try to contact the hardware vendor to see if they offer software that you can use to watch the internal temperature. I use the free HD Tune to watch the temperature in hard disks but the hard disk might be nowhere near the NVIDIA chips. The System Information for Windows program can also display some temperatures. Still, the best monitoring is probably with software from the motherboard or computer manufacturer, if they offer it.

Be aware of where the vents are and make sure they aren't blocked. Also, check for dust on the fan and remove any that's there. Go to the Power Options in the Control Panel and make sure that all the available power management facilities are being used. They include powering down the hard disk after a period of inactivity as well as CPU power management. The Thinkpad T42 that I'm writing this on also offers PCI Bus power management.

And, of course, the most important advice of all, backup your important files to someplace outside your computer. Locally resident backups on an external hard disk or a USB flash drive are a great starting point.

Update August 20, 2008: A reader with a ThinkPad T61 laptop computer wrote to tell me that the fan runs all the time. I haven't seen anything about Lenovo in terms of this NVIDIA problem but the computer in question has an NVIDIA Quadro NVS 140M.

Update September 10, 2008: A lawsuit broke out. See Lawsuit alleges NVIDIA hid chip defects.
[End of quote.]

Regarding the above excerpt, I agree that the fixes offered by HP and Dell were probably, at best, temporary. It is just a matter of logical thinking. It is like telling a person with a broken left leg to hop around on his right leg. That might work for a while, but it does not heal the broken leg and eventually the whole body is going to suffer. I can relate to the suggestions about computer maintenance: I also manually manage the Power Options and check the system's performance regularly, and I keep two backup copies of all software downloads, documents, photographs, etc., on flash drives. My next purchase will be to get an external hard drive for storing photographs.

I believe that the reason my Toshiba has lasted so long (I am typing this essay on it and did the bulk of my website work with it), is that it was a good machine from the beginning and I maintained it well. I added extra RAM to it, as well as to my IBM, regularly checked for disk errors and performed defragmentation, downloaded essential Windows updates and performed virus scans, kept the hard drive and registry free of junk, and...I have my personal rule to keep the hard drive 80 percent free. What that really means is to put a limit on the types of and number of games, and on screensavers and desktop backgrounds. Even my old IBM, with only a 6.4 GB hard drive and 64 MG of RAM (192 MG after I added more) had enough room and power to manage basic office or school work as well as my website. Again, it goes back to the question of the purpose of laptops. Are they simply glorified typewriters, or should they and can they dependably (and dependably is the key word) do much more if they are built right?


[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 sypmptoms 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 12/18/10: bibliography available.)

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

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