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Difficult Math

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In what could be termed the least surprising news of late, The New York Times reports on recently disclosed internal documents which show that Dell shipped close to 12 million doomed machines between 2003 and 2005. The problem: leaky capacitors. The excuse: difficult math calculations.

That's right. According to Dell, their computers can't be used for math. Since every operation performed by a computer comes down to binary arithmetic, that would pretty much make Dell's useless—which is why this ranks as some of the least surprising news of late.

It gets better.

Dell's own lawyers bought a thousand of the problem machines. In a refreshingly egalitarian act, Dell refused to replace their computers as well.

Of course, Dell can't replace the dying motherboards: that would require replacement parts. The entire Dell model was built around an on-demand supply chain with minimal inventory. As such, it's ill equipped to deal with an extinction level event. Even under the best of circumstances, customers are unlikely to get replacement parts for a three year old system from Dell. Given failures of this magnitude and Dell's propensity for proprietary, non-standard parts, there was simply no way that Dell could source and replace all the failed motherboards.

Just how many of the Dell's failed? Given three years, 97 percent failed. Sure, on a long enough timeline the life expectancy of every computer drops to zero, but 3 years for a solid state component is entering disposable camera territory.

If you were lucky enough to 1) get Dell to admit that there was a problem and 2) replace the computer, you may have just ended up with another bum machine. A third party contractor hired by Dell found that Dell replaced the dead with the dying.

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