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 »

Cyberattack: Was it really ransomware, or an attack on Ukraine — or something yet to come?
A day after the latest cyberattack crippled computers internationally, starting in Ukraine, expert opinions are varying widely over who was behind it and what the real goal was.
Analysis On health care, Republicans finally have it all — but can't figure out what to do with it
Despite the clear legislative letdown that came after delivery of the Republicans' much-anticipated bill aimed at dismantling Obamacare, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was certain he'd be ready this week to put it to a vote. He wasn't.
Is Prince Charles misunderstood?
Prince Charles, who arrives in Canada Thursday for a three-day visit, has been labelled an old fogey and mocked for talking to plants, but the heir to the throne has also become a keen environmentalist and social entrepreneur seen by some as well ahead his time.
more »

Canada »

'This is not their fault': Saretzky and Blanchette families support each other during murder trial
The relationship between the Blanchette and Saretzky families could easily have been one of hate and hurt, but incredible gestures of kindness and forgiveness have brought them together.
Dreams of a gender-neutral O Canada are over — for now
Canadians will not be singing a gender-neutral national anthem on Canada Day after a bill before Parliament to officially change the lyrics has stalled.
Exclusive Bidder urges overhaul of design tender in $60B navy frigate program
The Liberal government's plan plan to buy an off-the-shelf design in the $60-billion navy frigate replacement program faces "a high risk failure" unless the tender is rewritten, according to a submission by one of bidders in the design competition.
more »

Politics »

Exclusive Bidder urges overhaul of design tender in $60B navy frigate program
The Liberal government's plan plan to buy an off-the-shelf design in the $60-billion navy frigate replacement program faces "a high risk failure" unless the tender is rewritten, according to a submission by one of bidders in the design competition.
New More trouble for Canada-EU trade deal, as drug changes delay implementation video
Canada's goal to see its trade agreement with the European Union take flight by July 1 now appears grounded by a second series of concerns, this time from the pharmaceutical industry.
Ottawa spends $1.2M on travel for Phoenix training boot camp
In its ongoing efforts to fix the troubled public-servant payroll system known as Phoenix, the federal government spent more than $1 million sending new hires to the Ottawa region for training boot camps.
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»

Live Watch Michael Bublé, Michael J. Fox get Governor General's Performing Arts Awards video
Actors Michael J. Fox, Martin Short and theatre director Brigitte Haentjens are being honoured at Rideau Hall Wednesday night at the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.
New Bono, the Edge donating time for Canada Day concert, government says
U2 members Bono and the Edge are donating their time as a "birthday present to Canada" and will not be paid a performance fee for appearing at Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill July 1, a spokesperson from Canadian Heritage says.
Updated A CBC send-off: Colleagues salute Peter Mansbridge ahead of final broadcast
Just ahead of Peter Mansbridge's final broadcast as anchor of The National this week, CBC News's chief correspondent was honoured by staff at the public broadcaster's Toronto headquarters on Wednesday.
more »

Technology & Science »

Canada relatively unscathed as cyberattack continues to spread
As a cyberattack continued to spread among nations and corporations on Wednesday, the identity and motives of the attackers remain a mystery.
Cyberattack: Was it really ransomware, or an attack on Ukraine — or something yet to come?
A day after the latest cyberattack crippled computers internationally, starting in Ukraine, expert opinions are varying widely over who was behind it and what the real goal was.
Canada's top court backs order for Google to remove firm's website from global searches video
The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a B.C. court ruling that ordered Google to remove the website of a company from its global search results.
more »

Money »

Canada relatively unscathed as cyberattack continues to spread
As a cyberattack continued to spread among nations and corporations on Wednesday, the identity and motives of the attackers remain a mystery.
Boeing seeks delay in duty ruling on petition against Bombardier
Bombardier may have to wait an extra two months to find out if its CSeries commercial jets will be hit by punishing U.S. duties.
Canadian dollar tops 76 cents US as Poloz comments raise spectre of rate hike
The Canadian dollar gained almost a cent and hit its highest level in four months on Wednesday after Canada's central bank head hinted in an interview that rate hikes could be coming sooner rather than later.
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]
Oilers' Connor McDavid to sign $106M deal: reports
Connor McDavid is nearing an extension with the Edmonton Oilers, reportedly worth $106 million US over eight years. The deal, which can't be signed until July 1 and won't kick in until the 2018-19 season, would give McDavid the highest yearly cap hit in the league at $13.25 million.
Video Usian Bolt on retirement: 'There is nothing else to do' video
The Olympic champion discusses his reasoning for retiring from track and field.
Kyle Lowry, Raptors at crossroads in free agency
With Kyle Lowry set to hit free agency on July 1, both the all-star point guard and the Toronto Raptors face a fascinating decision on whether they're better off together or apart.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »