Having a laptop (Dell XPS M1330) equipped with an NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GS, I was understandably curious about the reports of widespread defects in the die packaging of the G84 and G86 discrete video chips. That means all 8400M, 8600M and 8700M video cards are included in this issue. NVIDIA reported they would be taking a $150 to $200 million charge related to the repair and compensation to hardware manufacturers for the defects. It was that number along with some more recent reports that really put the extent of the problem into perspective.
A couple days ago, Dell officially acknowledged the problem with a post to the Direct2Dell blog. Along with the acknowledgment were ‘fixes’ for the problem for various affected laptops, in the form of BIOS updates. Now I say ‘fixes’ in quotes because these aren’t fixes. The defect centers around weakness in the die packaging. Packaging material is failing at a higher than expected rate due to both temperature variations and high temperatures. For laptops, poor thermal conditions and temperature fluctuations are a sure thing and Dell’s solution is to run the fan longer and harder, in an attempt to maintain a more constant, lower temperature. However, this has the side effect of degrading battery life and increasing noise. These are hardly things we, as customers, should have to bear due to a known manufacturing defect. Why should we be the ones to pay for their faults? The BIOS updates are mere bandages designed to control the amount of problems encountered.
We’re not talking about early adopter issues like with the Phenom’s TLB bug. These NVIDIA mobile chips have been selling for more than a year and it has only recently become apparent that the problem is quite extensive. Whether NVIDIA and/or the manufacturers were aware of the problem earlier is a whole other can of worms I’m not quite ready to open yet.
Dell says they’re going to work with each issue on a case by case basis. From my point of view, that means if you’re out of warranty, you’re screwed unless you complain a lot. But I don’t want to have to jump through hoops to get service on an acknowledged issue. After learning of the problem, I preemptively called into Dell, with the goal of extending my warranty. My standard 1 year warranty is up in a couple weeks’ time and to save myself the hassle of a possible issue down the road, I wanted to cover my bases. However, after being quoted $300 for a single year’s extension or the ‘promotional price‘ of $550 for 2 years, I decided to take the chance and go warranty-less from here on out. If I have to fight tooth and nail for the issue I hope I never have, you can be certain I’ll do so.
I applaud Dell for acknowledging the issue that NVIDIA’s been somewhat cryptic about, but at the same time, I cannot condone the ‘solution’ that’s beeing offered to customers. Running the fans more is not a solution to a hardware problem. How about offering warranty service for customers who run into the problem down the road, even if it’s outside of the standard warranty period? It seems to me the level of defects are outside of normal levels and that would be a fair tradeoff. Read: Xbox 360.
Lionel over at Direct2Dell has made it clear that there will be more updates as they become available; I’m certainly interested in seeing what more Dell is willing to do to address the issue.