Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

In Depth

Technology

Summer of the exploding laptop!

Last Updated August 15, 2006

CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. Links will open in new window.

To hear some talk about it, you'd think laptops around the world were exploding left and right.

In April, an 11-year-old's unattended Apple iBook in Solon, Iowa, melted the carpet it was sitting on and subsequently caught fire.

Then in June, a Dell laptop exploded into flames at a conference in Japan.

And Wednesday there was a front-page article in the Globe and Mail about the perils of exploding laptops, featuring these two incidents.

But, as mentioned in the Globe article, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has reported only 43 laptop fires in the United States since 2001, or about 10 every year.

That's the same number of fires caused every year by nightlights.

(Which reminds me of that classic "Summer of the Shark" bit Stephen Colbert did on the Daily Show.)

And given that there are an estimated 60 million laptops in the U.S., that's a pretty good ratio of non-exploding units to exploding units.

Still, to err on the side of caution, Dell has now decided to recall 4.1 million laptops and replace their Sony-made lithium batteries.

This was the third recall of Dell batteries in the past five years and the computer maker launched a Web site, http://www.dellbatteryprogram.com, which described the affected models and how to get an exchange.

In announcing the recall, Dell reported six incidents of battery overheating in its recent line of notebooks, resulting in property damage but no injuries.

Linda Nazar, the University of Waterloo chemistry professor interviewed for the article, later posted a comment on the Globe's site saying the risk had been overblown.

"When I was asked by the reporter to comment on the frequency of incidents involving overheated batteries bursting into flames, I specifically stated that such incidents were extremely rare, and almost always due to battery abuse," she wrote.

When I called Nazar to confirm that she was the one who wrote the comment, she was reluctant to speak to the media again about the chemistry of lithium-ion batteries, the type used in laptops and many cellphones as well.

She did talk a bit about the new, safer batteries she mentioned in her post. Such batteries are not yet widely available for laptops, but could be in a year, she said.

However, manufacturers may not consider it worthwhile to make the switch.

"Frankly, the laptop concern … has been sufficiently low that I'm not sure that these new materials will be used in laptop batteries, because they don't have quite the same capacity as current materials," she said.

Sky-high fears

The original report on the Japan laptop fire suggests, "It is only a matter of time until such an incident breaks out on a plane." This is a fear echoed by many bloggers reacting to the photos, although it raises the question of whether, of all the components on a passenger jet, the laptop is the most dangerous.

But laptops don't have to catch fire to make news. Just getting hot is enough, especially if fertility is invovled.

When Apple introduced its MacBook computers this year, there was a lot of concern online about how hot they were getting.

Some laptop owners found that a piece of plastic was blocking the vent at the rear of the computer. Another opened up his Mac and, he said, found that the thermal grease, intended to conduct excess heat away, hadn't been applied properly.

The user manual (PDF file) for the Apple laptop does warn that it may get too hot to put on carpet, a pillow or, of all things, your lap:

Do not leave the bottom of your MacBook Pro in contact with your lap or any surface of your body for extended periods. Prolonged contact with your body could cause discomfort and potentially a burn.

Do not place your MacBook Pro on a pillow or other soft material when it is on, as the material can block the airflow vents, in particular the rear vents, and cause the computer to overheat.

More features, more heat

The problem is hardly unique to Apple laptops, though. Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple have all recently recalled thousands of batteries for overheating and electrical shorts. And it's possible to find complaints of overheating laptops for just about every manufacturer.

Laptops are getting more compact, meaning there's less room for ventilation to disperse heat. They're getting more features, such as DVD players, that generate more heat. And they're getting more popular, meaning more people are using them as a primary computer.

According to some research, laptops have been outselling desktops in the U.S. for about a year now. Last week, British computer retailer PC World said the same is now true in the U.K.

In Canada, the ratio of laptop computers being sold is smaller, but growing. Market research firm IDC Canada says 35 per cent of computers sold in the last quarter of 2005 were laptops, but projected that would break 40 per cent this year.

Go to the Top

Menu

Main page

Technology

Green machines
Disk drive: Companies struggle with surge in demand for storage
Open season: Will court decision spur Linux adoption?
Analogue TV
Video games: Holiday season
Video games: Going pro
Guitar Hero
Parents' guide to cheap software
Working online
Laptop computers for students
Technology offers charities new ways to attract donations
The invisible middleman of the game industry
Data mining
Two against one
The days of the single-core desktop chip are numbered
Home offices
Cyber crime: Identity crisis in cyberspace
Yellow Pages - paper or web?
Robotics features
iPhone FAQ
Business follows youth to new online world
A question of authority
Our increasing reliance on Wikipedia changes the pursuit of knowledge
Photo printers
Rare earths
Widgets and gadgets
Surround Sound
Microsoft's Shadowrun game
Dell's move to embrace retail
The Facebook generation: Changing the meaning of privacy
Digital cameras
Are cellphones and the internet rewiring our brains?
Intel's new chips
Apple faces security threat with iPhone
Industrial revolution
Web developers set to stake claim on computer desktop with new tools
Digital photography
Traditional film is still in the picture
HD Video
Affordable new cameras take high-definition mainstream
GPS: Where are we?
Quantum computing
What it is, how it works and the promise it holds
Playing the digital-video game
Microsoft's forthcoming Xbox 360 Elite console points to entertainment push
Online crime
Botnets: The end of the web as we know it?
Is Canada losing fight against online thieves?
Malware evolution
Money now the driving force behind internet threats: experts
Adopting Ubuntu
Linux switch can be painless, free
Sci-fi projections
Systems create images on glass, in thin air
Power play
Young people shaping cellphone landscape
Digital cameras
Cellphone number portability
Barriers to change
Desktop to internet
Future of online software unclear: experts
Complaining about complaints systems
Canadian schools
Multimedia meets multi-literacy age
Console showdown
Comparing Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 networks
Social connections
Online networking: What's your niche?
Virtual family dinners
Crackdown
Xbox 360 console game
Vista and digital rights
Child safety
Perils and progress in fight against online child abuse
Biometric ID
Moving to a Mac
Supply & demand
Why Canada misses out on big gadget launches
Windows Vista
Computers designed for digital lifestyle
Windows Vista
What's in the new consumer versions
Cutting the cord
Powering up without wires
GPS and privacy
Digital deluge
RFID
Consumer Electronics Show
Working online
Web Boom 2.0 (Part II)
GPS surveillance
Hits and misses: Best and worst consumer technologies of 2006
Mars Rovers
Voice over IP
Web Boom 2.0
Technology gift pitfalls to avoid
Classroom Ethics
Rise of the cybercheat
Private Eyes
Are videophones turning us into Big Brother?
Windows Vista
Cyber Security
Video games: Canadian connections to the console war
Satellite radio
Portable media
Video games
Plasma and LCD
Video screens get bigger, better, cheaper
Video games:
New hardware heats up console battle
High-tech kitchens
Microsoft-Novell deal
Lumalive textiles
Music to go
Alternate reality
Women and gadgets
High-tech realtors
The itv promise
Student laptops
Family ties
End of Windows 98
Bumptop
Browser wars
Exploding laptop
The pirate bay
Stupid mac tricks
Keeping the net neutral
PS3 and WII at E3
Sex on the net
Calendars, online and on paper
Google, ipod and more
Viral video
Unlocking the USB key
Free your ipod
In search of
Xbox
Sony and the rootkit
Internet summit
Electronic surveillance
[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Nice attack investigation reveals attacker led multiple lives
A 31-year-old father of three obsessed with fitness and sex, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel led multiple lives. His darkest side appears to have been his best-kept secret: a calculated, committed jihadi ready to kill scores of people in a French Riviera rampage.
Syrian refugee denied asylum responsible for apparent bomb attack in Germany
A man who blew himself up and injured 12 people outside Ansbach, Germany, after being turned away from an open-air music festival was a 27-year-old Syrian who had been denied asylum, Bavaria's top security official said early Monday.
Sanders supporters, Clinton protesters hit Philadelphia streets ahead of DNC
Thousands of demonstrators took to Philadelphia's sweltering streets Sunday, chanting and beating drums in the first major protests ahead of the Democratic National Convention, as the city wilts during a heat wave.
more »

Canada »

Davud Hanci, Calgary man detained over Turkey coup plot, is innocent, family and friends say video
Friends of a Calgarian man detained in Turkey on accusations he was a leader of the recent coup attempt say Davud Hanci is innocent — and they're worried for his safety.
Oil-drenched birds treated near site of Husky pipeline leak in Saskatchewan video
Three birds drenched in oil have been brought in for treatment at an animal shelter near the site of a pipeline leak that spilled 200,000 litres of oil and chemicals into the North Saskatchewan River on Thursday.
Inuit press claim for co-ownership of Franklin artifacts
Inuit have asked the new Liberal government to ensure they have co-ownership of artifacts recovered by divers from the sunken wreck of HMS Erebus, a Sir John Franklin ship discovered in 2014. In the meantime, Canadian negotiations are in discussions with the Royal Navy about which of those objects Britain will own permanently.
more »

Politics »

Analysis Donald Trump's lessons for Canadian politics
We should perhaps not regard the roiling American political scene with great smugness. By comparison, Canada is a sanctuary of pleasant reasonableness. But we are not quite an invulnerable place of perfect enlightenment.
Inuit press claim for co-ownership of Franklin artifacts
Inuit have asked the new Liberal government to ensure they have co-ownership of artifacts recovered by divers from the sunken wreck of HMS Erebus, a Sir John Franklin ship discovered in 2014. In the meantime, Canadian negotiations are in discussions with the Royal Navy about which of those objects Britain will own permanently.
CBC IN PHILADELPHIA Diehard Sanders backers descend on Democratic convention vowing 'Bernie or Bust'
Some loyal Bernie Sanders voters have organized multiple events and rallies in support of the failed Democratic presidential nominee in Philadelphia to coincide with the party's convention. "Bernie or Bust" adherents say there is no way they will vote for Hillary Clinton.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

From Justice League to Captain Marvel: the latest film news from San Diego's Comic-Con
San Diego's Comic-Con is a colourful mix of dedicated comic fans and a treasure trove of upcoming film trailers and new projects in the works.
Viggo Mortensen talks Captain Fantastic and Canadiens' P.K. Subban trade
Viggo Mortensen stars in the moving new drama Captain Fantastic, which is getting rave reviews for its portrayal of a family living in isolation off the grid.
Room's Brie Larson confirmed as Captain Marvel
Disney and Marvel announced Saturday in San Diego at fan festival Comic-Con that Oscar winner Brie Larson will star in Captain Marvel as the butt-kicking air force pilot Carol Danvers who gets special powers after an alien encounter.
more »

Technology & Science »

Ursula Franklin, renowned Canadian scientist, dead at 94
Ursula Franklin, one of Canada's most accomplished scientists and educators, died Friday in Toronto at age 94.
Global deal on cutting greenhouse gases could be reached this year
A global agreement on cutting the use of hydrofluorocarbons — potent greenhouse gases used in aerosols, refrigerants and air conditioning — seems within grasp, delegates said on Sunday after 10 days of talks on climate change in Vienna.
'Heat dome' blamed for sizzling temperatures in Ontario, U.S.
Extreme heat and humidity has engulfed southern Ontario and much of the U.S. Meteorologists are blaming the "heat dome." Here's what you need to know about it.
more »

Money »

Verizon to announce $5B Yahoo takeover Monday, reports say
Verizon has agreed to buy online portal Yahoo Inc. for roughly $5 billion US, according to multiple media reports, each citing a single unnamed source, with the deal expected to be announced Monday morning.
'You're pretty much hosed': Air Miles rewards lacking for expiring points, customers complain
In the race to redeem their Air Miles before they expire, collectors are expressing frustrations about limited rewards options. Many are upset they can't access cash rewards like gift cards.
G20 finance leaders vow to lift growth, dampen Brexit shock
The world's biggest economies will work to support global growth and better share the benefits of trade, policymakers said on Sunday after a meeting dominated by the impact of Britain's exit from Europe and fears of rising protectionism.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
No relief for Milos Raonic with Murray withdrawal from Rogers Cup
Canada's Milos Raonic doesn't feel any type of relief now that world No. 2 Andy Murray won't be in attendance at this week's Rogers Cup.
Jhonattan Vegas shoots 8 under on Sunday to win Canadian Open video
Jhonattan Vegas rallied to win the Canadian Open on Sunday for his second PGA Tour victory, birdieing the final three holes at Glen Abbey for an 8-under 64 and one-stroke victory.
Canadian women's soccer team leaves for Rio Olympics, 'bloody excited to get there' video
Canada, ranked 10th in the world, left on the heels of a 1-0 win over No. 12 China last Wednesday and a 1-0 loss to No. 3 France on Saturday. Herdman thought his players deserved a better fate against the French.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »