Dell on the Nichicon Capacitor Issue

Direct2Dell

The Official Dell Corporate Blog

Dell on the Nichicon Capacitor Issue

Some of you may have been reading about faulty capacitors in some of our older OptiPlex desktops. Before I get into more details, I want to make some points clear:

  • This is an issue we addressed with customers some years ago. The Advanced Internet Technologies lawsuit is three years old and does not involve any current Dell products.
  • Dell did not knowingly ship faulty motherboards, and we worked directly with customers in situations where the issue occurred.
  • This was not a Dell-specific issue, but an industry-wide problem.
  • Dell extended the warranty for up to five years for customers who had affected machines.
  • This is not a safety issue.

Update: Many customers who bought systems with Nichicon capacitors during the 2003 - 2005 timeframe did not experience an issue. In other words, the overall failure rate of systems with Nichicon capacitors was dramatically lower than what's being reported.

We understand that our company’s continued success is based on a common theme—putting customers at the heart of everything we do. We’re proud of our recent strides in service, such as Gartner ranking us as the leader in global enterprise desktop PCs, No. 2 in the x86 server sector, and as the leading PC supplier across all professional segments. And just today, TBR survey results show that Dell ranked No. 1 for customer satisfaction among corporate IT users. While this reflects our progress, we understand that we must continually improve.

As noted in a New York Times article about the lawsuit, faulty capacitors were manufactured by Nichicon, a respected, long-term supplier to many industries. These capacitors were used by Dell suppliers at certain times from 2003 to 2005. The faulty Nichicon capacitors affected many manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard, Apple and others, as discussed in the initial story and several blog posts afterward. Again, this was an industry-wide problem.

Dell suspended use of Nichicon capacitors after we discovered a problem in its manufacturing process. As we routinely do with product issues, we actively investigated the failures, audited the Nichicon plants and worked with customers to fix OptiPlex computers on a case-by-case basis. Beyond that, Dell voluntarily extended the warranties on all potentially affected OptiPlex motherboards up to January 2008 to address the Nichicon capacitor problem. The capacitor failure rates varied depending on customers’ environments and the number of Nichicon capacitors in the customer’s motherboards.

It’s also important to note that AIT was using the OptiPlex systems as servers, a use for which they weren’t designed. The company also admitted in its complaint that Dell fulfilled its warranty obligations to AIT until AIT decided to stop paying for the OptiPlex computers.

We know that some of you may have questions or concerns related to this issue. We welcome your comments here.

Update: If you are a customer (US) who has questions or needs support, please use the following Technical Support numbers:

  • Small Medium Business (1 - 499 employees): 877-293-1196
  • Large Enterprise (500+ employees): 877-671-3355
  • Public (Government, Federal, Healthcare and Education customers): Go this Dell.com link, Choose Business Product, then chose Public Sector Customer, then choose the respective link to get the specific number.

Outside the United States who has questions, you can also contact your sales teams or technical support. To contact support, customers outside the U.S. can do the following:

  • Go to support.dell.com
  • Choose your country or region from the drop-down list in the top left banner of the Dell.com masthead.
  • Choose Contact Us
  • Choose Technical Support
  • Choose Call Technical Support

Update: Whle looking through Dell's case studies site, I came across one that feated the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center report from August 2008. Since it focused on how we supported a customer through this issue, I thought it made sense to include it here. I've also added the PDF as an attachment to this post.

To post a comment login or create an account

Comment Reminder

Unrelated comments or requests for service will be unpublished. Please post your technical questions in the Support Forums or for direct assistance contact Dell Customer Service or Dell Technical Support.. All comments must adhere to the Dell Community Terms of Use.

  • Lionel,

    As a frequent, and I should note satisfied, Dell customer the part of the story I find troubling is the following (taken from the same NYT article you reference above):

    ...But Dell employees went out of their way to conceal these problems. In one e-mail exchange between Dell customer support employees concerning computers at the Simpson Thacher & Bartlett law firm, a Dell worker states, “We need to avoid all language indicating the boards were bad or had ‘issues’ per our discussion this morning.”

    In other documents about how to handle questions around the faulty OptiPlex systems, Dell salespeople were told, “Don’t bring this to customer’s attention proactively” and “Emphasize uncertainty.” ...

    The quote "Emphasize uncertainty" is the most troubling. Dell knew there was a problem and rather than be open and forthcoming about potential issues, they chose to leave their customers in the dark. It's not like the failure rate was 5 or 10%, we're talking about problems occurring in 97% of the Optiplex machines containing the effected capacitors over a 3 year time span. This number comes straight from a Dell study.

    I'm sure Dell has learned from this experience. Having to write off $300,000,000+ to cover the costs might have something to do with that. Speaking as a typical consumer, I have a MUCH more favorable opinion of a company willing to fess-up to problems and do what it takes to make the situation right. That is how you earn repeat business, not by sweeping problems under the rug.

  • Lionel,

    Dell had two choices:

    1. Offer secret warrantees for a extended time to customers who had equipment that failed quickly.  Hope that other customers just replaced the bad systems without noticing the systemic problem.

    2. Notify customers that they may have equipment with a problem.

    I just had a GX270 desktop fail on me last week due to this issue.  If we had known there were problems with the systems I could have repaired them easily during the extended warrantee period.

    I suspect that when I open the cases of the remaining few systems I will see leaky capacitors.

    At this point I would be happy with the some new motherboards to install or perhaps an extra discount on replacement system (my employer needs to choose).

  • Could someone explain to me how using a PC as a server makes it more likely to fail than any other 24/7 use?  If anything, a computer room has better environmentals than an office.

  • Lionel,

    I agree with akalb.  The big problem is the loss of trust after reading about those internal emails.  The first thought I had was the experiences and problems the XPS 630i customers posted about back in 2008.  I never felt all of the big issues were fully addressed by Dell at the time and now I have to wonder how many of the technical problems that were brought up were sugar coated.  Was Dell aware of real technical defects that you kept hidden.  Defects that would have warrented engineering new parts?  Were we instead fed half thruths to save Dell money until the complaints died with the change to DCF?

    Hopefully Dell's corporate culture has changed over the past few years.   Even if the company has indeed changed, this disclosure can destroy any progress you have made in the eyes of the public.  Understandably, you are limited to what you can say about pending litigation but I feel Michael Dell himself needs to address the public on this issue.  You need to assure your customers that they can trust the company they are doing business with.

  • A little arithmetic exercise: With a price tag $300M and possibly more to come, what could Dell have done to avoid this kind of a problem in the past 20 years?

    $300M/20 years=$15M.

    $15M/$100K/year/engineer=150 engineers

    So Dell could have employed an additional 150 engineers in its Quality Control department

    to do the required tests by random sampling of various components that goes into its products.

    If each engineer could thoroughly test 1 type of component per day on average, that would be

    150x365x20=1million+ additional components tested in 20 years.

    I'd say that would have been more than enough to assure quality.

    So it's really not a question of $$$. It all boils down to dedication and commitment to quality.

    I can only wish that those internal emails and memos indicating a deliberate and systematic

    attempt at misleading the consumers are products of the imaginations of journalists.

    İf not, it's obvious what Michael Dell needs to do: Fire all employees involved in the cover-up/mislead

    plot, go directly in front of the cameras and say, "Sorry about all that folks. We've done our housecleaning,

    and we're clean now."

    Dell perhaps should investigate how Intel handled the Pentium 75 floating point bug issue, back

    in the 90's.

  • Dell "addressed with customers" the problem?

    It did not. I am sure there are many, many customers who had no idea there were any such problems until reading this article, or probably still do not know there were any problems. I had a desktop in the time period completely melt down due to overheating, never happened before on over a dozen Dell machines.

    Never heard once about a recall, any faulty parts, or any steps I should have taken to fix it. Ended up losing about 6 months and 50 events of photography. My fault for not backing everything up more religously, but Dell never really came clean with its customers.

  • > READER'S MESSAGE:

    > Thanks for your article about Dell faulty computers I had one personal desktop Dell from about that time frame and all the calls to support waiting on line for literally hours, then not being able to understand the person I was talking to in India, documenting all the different people I spoke to, replacing all different components including a motherboard, power supply, processor, RAM, video card, etc. This took over 6 months! Dell finally did send me a refurbished Dimension 9150 that seems to be working pretty well for the last few years. (Knock on wood)

    >  I don't know if I qualify for compensation but we should be. The only good thing from all that mess is that I'm sure in the end they did not save a nickel. Hope they learned their lesson.

    Below are simply the details of the computer I had.

    Dell computer bought 10/26/04

    Model Dimension 8400

    <Admin Note:Service tag removed as per privacy Legal>

    <Admin Note:Service code removed as per privacy Legal>

    >

    My costs were time, out of warranty service charge, and $120.00 for Best Buy to transfer my files from one hard drive to the others.

  • Gartner was involved in a lawsuit last year and essentially told the Judge that they make stuff up, so invoking Gartner is not a good idea.  

    Sony pays a premium for the electronic components that they themselves give an A rating and I don't see them mentioned with these capacitors in any of their consumer electronic products.  

    The F.T.C should be investigating AIT http://www.ait.com/  Anyone know of a Website hosted by them?  

  • I think Dell has bigger problems as the Optiplex 620 745 755 series have the same bad capacitos. I think that since these are the business line they should have gone to solid state capacitors long ago.

    I have a feeling this is also poor engineering and these must be over stresses. Most fail under the HD in the smaller form factors on around the CPU. Right around the 3 year mark. The place I worked for had about 3000 Dells and this was a problem that I would see at least once a week.

    I will not recommend a Dell to anyone until they get these cheap capacitors replaced with solid state.

  • JR00: Sorry to see that you're having problems. Feel free to send me a private message with your customer number or service tag #s, along with the best way to contact you.

  • For customers that have questions or need support for this issue, I updated the post with Technical Support contact numbers.

  • There is more wrong than just a capacitor.  The machine I am using now, XPS400,still running XP, is on its third hard drive and tower.  Dell replaced three towers under warranty.   The most recent machine was shipped to me with the processor not bolted to its heat sink resulting in the cooling fan roaring like a hurricane.  Once this was fixed, this Dell as been dependable. Never-the-less, the hours of time I wasted attempting repairs or restoring software has left me worring about the overall quality of new Dell machines.

  • I purchased a Dell Dimension 8300 during the 2003-2005 timeframe.

    The computer would powerdown and show a blinking amber colored light on the front and the A,B,C,D lights on back would also change to amber color in different configurations. I spent many hours attempting to fix the issue with dell support. I even purchased a new power supply directly from dell, switched memory out and purchased a new graphics card.

    None of it fixed the problem. To this day I can power it up but the computer will shut down after brief ussage and will not turn back on for hours. I have read many online forums about Dimension 8300 owners who encountered the same issues.

    I suspect the capacitor issue is more widespread than just the optiplex models but just yesterday I was assured by a dell tech associate that my computer was not effected by the faulty capacitors and that my warranty had expired.

  • I agree with most of what akalb has to say.  I could maybe forgive the quality control problem, but the indication of ongoing deceptions at multiple levels of Dell that were reported in the article are pretty distressing.  I don't imagine anyone will tell us (especially with ongoing litigation) but I really would like to know how long after Dell discovered the problem before Dell stopped selling systems equipped with the faulty motherboards.  The article I read indicated that HP stopped distributing components with the bad capacitors in 2004 but Dell continued well into 2005.  Did it really take Dell's engineers a year longer than HPs to realize that there was a problem?

    As an aside, I think we have two of those machines in our lab and I'm pretty sure we've already replaced the motherboard on one, and yet, I don't recall having heard of this extended warranty before now.  Both of the machines I'm thinking of have been dogs ever since we purchased them, and I've always blamed the particular OS that we installed for their sluggish performance, but now I have to wonder if maybe the system just slows down instead of outright failing, depending on which capacitors fail. I have one other Dell system that recently did this: functionally, there were no errors, but performance was awful, and the tech who corrected the problem told me that it was a hardware failure that caused the performance slowdown.

    In my book, there have only ever been a small handful of companies that I knew to be so superior that I would consistently recommend to my friends, employers, and family to buy their products without hesitation.  Toyota was one such company, and Dell was another; both were highly esteemed in my universe for close to two decades and both have recently damaged their reputations to the point where I will never feel quite as good again about their products as I once did.

    At the moment though, I feel a lot better about Toyota than I do about Dell, and it's not because of Toyota's latest (somewhat dubious) ad campaign.  Instead, it's because Toyota continues to find problems, fess up to them, and pay for recalls to correct them, even as painful as that must be to their whole organization to admit yet another recall.  My impression is that Toyota is honest (mostly) and knows the difference between right and wrong and values their reputation.  I've heard allegations that, potentially like Dell, Toyota sat on some of their most recent problems for too long before taking action, and what's far worse: in Toyota's case, people have apparently died from Toyota's alleged design / manufacturing defects.  Where I can cut Toyota some slack, at least until there's more information, is that it's not clear that anyone inside or outside of Toyota yet fully understands the causes of all the problems.  In contrast, Dell apparently understood them but suffered from a management organization that encouraged deception as a way to solve problems, a team that prized making quotas and financial targets over preserving the company's reputation.  In the short term that was brilliant (and I bet they all got bonuses for it).  In the long term, it was bleeping asinine!

    If Dell want's to repair their reputation, it seems pretty clear what they need to do.  1) Sack anyone who had a hand in implementing the policy of deception. 2) Pay anyone who has a legitimate claim.  3) Convince us that Dell is reinventing its customer service organization, and that Dell believes that customer satisfaction is priority number 1.  Work really, really hard to convince us of this.  Hire consultants away from organizations that really own the bragging rights in this respect (like LL Bean), train the offshore people that do customer support so that they at least seem somewhat knowledgeable, and beef up onshore support.  No customer should wait on hold for more than 5 minutes, even if that means that Dell has to call them back.  There should be a policy, prominently on display to all Dell customers, that they have a right to expect the world's best customer service, a live person or an option for a call back within five minutes of calling, a clearly defined mechanism to escalate to another group when the initial customer support representative clearly has a knowledge gap.  And then find someone like Lee Iacocca to tell us all, over and over, that you've turned over a new leaf and we really can trust you again,  honest.

    Anything short of this, and the Dell brand is likely to be as much a liability as an asset in the future.

  • hal09: Sorry to hear about the problems with your Dimension 8300. Do you still want to have someone contact you about it? If so, please send me a private message with your service tag number or order number.