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Laptop Explodes at Japanese Conference 531

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the glad-it-wasn't-on-a-lap dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A laptop reported to be a Dell burst into flame and was caught on camera during a recent Japanese conference. Guess this laptop could be a poster child to prove that laptops really can cause sterility if they are on your lap."
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Laptop Explodes at Japanese Conference

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  • by EnderGT (916132) <endergt2k@[ ]izon.net ['ver' in gap]> on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @10:33AM (#15576075)
    While it's never caught fire, my Latitude D600 can get quite hot after several hours of World of Warcraft/Call of Duty/etc.

    The hard drive is right under the left palm-rest area, and it has quite literally burned my hand several times. It's not suprising to me to see one on fire.

  • by Psykechan (255694) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @10:51AM (#15576228)
    I was going to make a joke linking this story and a recent story about an iBook catching fire [wcco.com] (on video as well) with Dell now listing Apple Mac OS X [tuaw.com] as a choice on their driver download page. This is serious though.

    People, do not use your laptop on carpet or in situations where it may not get ample ventilation. It can burst into flames and harm people or property... well definitely the laptop at least. Read your manuals and follow the disclaimers.

    Warning: Do not place your iBook G4 on a pillow or other soft material when it is on,
    as the material may block the airflow vents, in particular the rear vents, and cause the
    computer to overheat. -Apple iBook manual (Page 70)

  • The Fresh Maker (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @10:52AM (#15576244)
    Rule 1: Do not put Mentos in laptop.
  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @11:07AM (#15576381)
    That exists already on any reasonably modern mobile CPU (e.g. SpeedStep). Just go into the power management settings and select "max battery life" instead of "max performance" or whatever.
  • by jdray (645332) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @11:07AM (#15576386) Homepage Journal
    It's not just Dell. A friend of mine bought his son a tricked-out HP laptop last week as a graduation present. The brick (external PS) was making a gurgling sound the whole time it was plugged in. He took the whole kit back and bought a Toshiba, which seems to be performing better.
  • Re:On a plane (Score:2, Informative)

    by codemaster2b (901536) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @11:17AM (#15576473)
    They would notice because the automated fire / smoke detection systems would notify them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @11:23AM (#15576520)
    Dude, this is not the National Enquirer. This is a British technology webiste.
  • by dawnzer (981212) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @11:55AM (#15576747)
    Agreed. My boyfriend's notebook gets so hot, that he puts it on a pillow if he wants to use it sitting in the recliner. I finally bought him a "chill pad" from Target that plugs into a USB port to power a couple of fans that draw the heat away. He loves it. =)
  • by usmckozmo (984056) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @12:12PM (#15576880)
    This seems to be a old modle Dell X200. I'm thrilled, cus' guess what im typing on right now?! Ohh well, I need a new comp anyway. http://notebook.cz/__/,aktuality,predstaveni,2002, dell_x200.html [notebook.cz] (I love how yahoo though I could read Czech)
  • Re:I wonder... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @12:19PM (#15576935) Homepage
    A number of the bullets would obviously rupture the aircrafts fragile hull, and as a result of the altitude, the entire plane would begin to depressurise and disintegrate.

    no it wont. popping several holes in a pressurized plane even a window will not destroy or even cause major damage to a plane.

    Anyone into avionics and avaiation knows this as well as mythbusters also proved it. the only way they did any major damage was lots of primercord and shaped explosive charges.
  • Not batteries (Score:3, Informative)

    by a_pseudonym (953467) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @12:48PM (#15577173)
    Note the bright white flash, and light colored smoke. That is not a battery fire (don't ask how I know) The metal is magnesium http://www.hydro.com/en/about/history/1946_1977/19 50.html [hydro.com] International challenges Despite Hydro's leading role in developing magnesium technology, the company decided in 2002 to close its production plant at Porsgrunn and instead concentrate on further developments of its facility in Becancour, Canada, built in the early 1990s. It also established access to metal in China. http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/chem03/chem0 3547.htm [anl.gov] www.cabrillo.edu/~rroland//CHEM1A/JoshLabManual/11 -HeatofCombustion(Magnesium).doc Bet it was nearly this model: http://laptopmag.com/Review/Dell-Latitude-D620.htm [laptopmag.com] Magnesium, a silvery white metal of atomic weight 24.32, ignites at 632C and burns at 1982C, with magnesium oxide (MgO) as its combustion product. In an exothermic reaction, metallic magnesium can ignite to produce magnesium dihydroxide (ie, Mg(OH)2) and hydrogen. Magnesium is used in either powdered or solid form as an incendiary agent for both illumination and antipersonnel purposes. Various alloys of magnesium (eg, aluminum/zinc/magnesium alloy found in US M126 round) are mechanically sturdier but also can be ignited easily. Thermite is a mixture of powdered or granular aluminum and powdered iron oxide. When combined with other substances, such as binders, the material is termed a "thermate." All such materials react vigorously when heated to the combustion temperature of aluminum. This reaction produces aluminum oxide, elemental iron, and sufficient heat to melt the iron. The reaction temperature is approximately 2200C.
  • Apparently... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@optonlin[ ]et ['e.n' in gap]> on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @12:54PM (#15577237) Journal

    ...this happens more often than Dell admits [consumerist.com].

  • battery explosion (Score:2, Informative)

    by itdood (938270) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @01:28PM (#15577503)
    Lithium Ion batteries are known to explode in a run-way charging cycle. The organic (therefore flammable) electrolyte will begin to boil at ~180F and develop voids. If this goes on long enough the battery case will rupture and vent the now gassed organic electrolyte which will probably ignite. It's basically an explosion.

    There's a lot of protective circuitry built into Li-Ion batteries and laptops to prevent this. It's very rare that all those fail at once, but it's possible.

    Charging any sort of battery (Li-Ion, MiMH, NiCad) is usually done with peak detection. A controlled current is applied to the battery. As it charges the measured volts in the charge circuit continues to rise. When the batteries reach full the voltage will actually go down a bit. Chargers are designed to detect this "peak" and shut off charging current or go into a trickle charge mode to prevent the batteries from being overcharged. When this doesn't work right and other safety features fail you can get a run-away charge cycle and explode the battery.

  • by dawnzer (981212) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @02:02PM (#15577798)
    It is made by Targus. They make a lot of notebook accessories.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000AKA8Y/104-16 03678-2242319?v=glance&n=172282 [amazon.com]

    Oh... and the boyfriend says to use a FIRM pillow to prevent blocking the chillpad vents in the back (he still uses a pillow sometimes to prop it up. ;)
  • by NoTouchie (964724) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @02:04PM (#15577811)
    This topic hits home or should I say hits work, as we actually had a similar incident happen with someone's laptop. It has nothing to do with water or food spilling...it's the battery overheating and going out with a 'bang', so to speak. The following link gives a summary of which Dell products may have this problem:

    http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml06/06056. html [cpsc.gov]

    For those who don't want to RTFA (it's pretty dry, but has some pictures). Dell products impacted consist of:

    • Latitude(TM) D410, D505, D510, D600, D610, D800, D810;
    • Inspiron(TM) 510M, 600M, 6000, 8600, 9200, 9300, XPS Gen 2;
    • Dell Precision(TM) M20 and M70 mobile workstations
    • Any of above: Purchased around: October 5, 2004 through October 13, 2005 and Made in China/Japan

    Check if your battery is affected: https://www.dellbatteryprogram.com/Default.aspx [dellbatteryprogram.com]

  • by Afrosheen (42464) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @02:20PM (#15577932)
    Never, ever put something with VENTS and FANS on pillows or carpeting or anything else that will clog the air flow. Check the bottom of your laptop, I'm betting it has some vents there to suck cool air over some heat sinks.

      My wife was the worst about this. I finally brought her a thick magazine (Glamour or some crap) every time she used it. Eventually she had a fat magazine everywhere she went to use it, and stuck it under the laptop so the thing didn't spontaneously combust.

      They really should eradicate the term 'laptop'. First of all I haven't used too many notebook/portable computers that sit comfortably on my lap. Second, it's extremely bad posture. Third, these days computers just get way too hot. One of my clients bought a 15" MacBook Pro and I swear you can cook eggs on the left side of the thing near the speaker, and that's on the TOP of the unit where you rest your palms.
  • by gweihir (88907) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @02:25PM (#15577969)
    I hope nobody tried to extinguish a chemical fire in an electrical device with water.

    Actually I would expect this being a Lithium-Air fire. Nothing electrical in it, except for the activation energy. The explosions would have been the other cells rupturing.

    This type of fire cannot be extinguished in practice. You put sand or maybe foam on it if you need to protect what is around it and let it burn out.

  • Overexposed (Score:5, Informative)

    by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @03:33PM (#15578422) Homepage
    The flame in the fist photo is saturated. The parts around the periphery that you can see properly are orangish. The flame may have been white, or it may not have. There's no way to tell conclusively from that photo. It could have been virtually any color that has significant red, green and blue components.
  • by NotQuiteInsane (981960) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @03:41PM (#15578463) Homepage
    Must have been a pretty catastrophic failure. There are usually at least three levels of protection on any lithium-ion battery:
    • PTC cutoff switch - there's an overtemperature cutoff switch inside each Li-ion cell. If the cell gets too hot, the resettable cutoff switch disconnects the battery from the others. If it gets really, REALLY hot, then that cutoff becomes permanent. This is a last resort protection device, and should NOT be relied on to work. It's there to try and limit damage if everything else fails.
    • Protection circuit - monitors state-of-charge, voltage, temperature and input/output current of the battery. If the battery voltage is too low or too high, or if you try to overcharge or over discharge the pack, the circuit disconnects the battery pack from everything else until the voltage, etc. returns to its normal 'safe' range. If you REALLY piss off the protection circuit, it will literally blow a fuse - most packs are fitted with an "SC-Protector", which is basically a fuse that can be blown by an electrical signal (a "self destruct input" if you will). Not only do you get the overcurrent characteristics of a fuse, you also get to blow it if something bad happens. SC-Protectors are not readily available in quantities less than a thousand or so, so once it's blown your battery pack becomes a brick.
    • Charge controller - the charging circuit should continuously monitor its output, and shut down if it goes out of range. Not all of them do...

    The problem with Li-ion (and to a greater degree, Lithium Polymer) cells is that they're so sensitive - charge them over 4.2V or discharge them below 3.2V and the cell will be damaged. Abuse it a lot and it will blow up. To get that to happen in a properly designed circuit, you'd need a chain of failures:

    • First, the protection circuit would have to fail in some way that would prevent it from protecting the battery pack. A shorted switching transistor (usually a MOSFET) and a dead SC-Protector drive transistor would do that nicely. The protection IC can see something's really, really wrong, but it won't be able to do anything about it. Bear in mind the switching transistor has to handle the power of charging and discharging - it takes quite a beating. Shorted MOSFETs really aren't that rare.
    • Next you'd have to have a failure in the charge circuit that causes the battery to be overcharged. For the sake of argument, let's say the charge IC has latched up. It no longer regulates its output voltage properly and - again, for the sake of argument - we'll say that there's 5V over each cell instead of 4.2V.
    • Now that fault condition has to exist for long enough that the cell electrolyte will break down (usually into hydrogen and other miscellaneous nasties). When that happens, the safety vent will fire and the battery ejects a hot stream of gas.
    • Now the final act. A little spark (say, from the PTC switch) and that hydrogen catches fire. That flame heats up another cell to the point where the vent fires, and you have a second cell joining in the explosive fun. In a few seconds, that cell will set fire to another, and the process will keep on repeating until the cells burn each other out, and the fire runs out of fuel.

    The big problem with Li-ions is that they're inherently unstable. The nickel-based batteries tend to be much more forgiving of abuse. They usually don't blow up unless you really, really abuse them. You might damage them and reduce their capacity a bit, but you usually won't be able to make them explode or spontaneously combust without some serious work. They do have a lower energy density and terminal voltage than Li-ion and Li-Polymer, though, which might partially explain why they're more stable.

  • by dpaton.net (199423) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:57PM (#15578925) Homepage Journal
    Specifically, LiPoly packs explode in a shower of burning electrolyte propelled by gas (O2). This is a pretty well known phenomenon among the model airplane and helicopter guys that fly the little electric 'park flyers'. Overcharge a pack by even 200mV, and they start to heat exponentially. Keep going, and kabang, no spark needed (see overcharge explosion videos here [google.com] or here [google.com].). Something as innocuous as a bad aftermarket charger (with the charger and pack management in 'fast charge' mode) or a partially failed onboard charge controller (seen plenty of those...due to bad chargers no less) can do that, if the charger ignores the charge meter data coming back from the computer for too long, and the local controller in the computer is designed to use a smarter or higher quality external supply (I've seen it happen before). The thing I've seen that distrubs me the most is the increasing use of LiPoly cells in packs that only contain a thermistor and a series PTC resistor for temperature monitoring and protection (like the old NiMh packs), relying on external circuitry to manage current and voltage protection. All it takes is a paperclip to turn one of those into a hazardous device. And for the record, most LiPoly cells use LiCoO2 or LiMn2O4 chemistry, without the OH-s we all loved from the NiMH and NiCd days (aka, no hydrogen, only oxygen, which is still very explosive in it's gaseous form)

    I dearly love the power desnity of Li-XX batteries, but damn, be careful with them. They're nasty when you cross them.

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