Burn, baby, burn

When is a burning notebook PC no longer newsworthy? When all major manufacturers admit they have a problem? We've talked about Dell and Apple recalling millions of lithium ion notebook batteries. And if there's a widespread problem, we want to make sure people know about it.

Which is why we bring a couple things to your attention. In the blogosphere right now is a report that a passenger at Los Angeles International Airport recently darted off a plane with a smoldering ThinkPad notebook, which allegedly then caught fire in the waiting area.

The incident was first chronicled on a site called Something Awful, but we point you first to CNET's PC Blog, where Tom Krazit evidentally contacted Lenovo for comment. Apparently Lenovo has heard the report and dispatched folks to L.A. to look into matters. But the company wouldn't confirm that the notebook was a ThinkPad, nor that the battery was the cause of the fire. [Update: Last week a Lenovo spokesperson told Computerworld that, indeed, the notebook PC that caught fire at LAX was a ThinkPad with a Sony battery. The company continues to investigate.]

You can read the original post here (there are even pictures, though we don't necessarily claim they definitely depict what they say they depict--time will tell), but be warned, bloggers on Something Awful sometimes tend toward, er, colorful language.

Whatever the case with the LAX notebook, notebook batteries--and Sony in particular because it made so many of the batteries now in headlines--have problems.

This week, according to Reuters, Toshiba joined the cadre of vendors recalling Sony batteries. The company has offered to replace about 340,000 batteries, not because they'll catch on fire, but because they could simply stop working. The batteries in question were manufactured between March and May (on a personal note, I've got a Toshiba notebook at home that's several years old and its battery doesn't work either--the notebook always has to be plugged in to the wall).

Want more? Panasonic issued a tiny recall (about 6,000 batteries) for notebooks in Japan. The company reportedly said the recall had nothing to do with fire or Sony.

Heck, let's be fair to all. You may remember that in June, the Consumer Product Safety Commission worked with Hewlett-Packard to recall some 679,000 digital cameras because they could catch fire when using non-rechargable batteries. And it appears Canon plans to rein in some older personal copiers because, you guessed it, they might go up in flames--and they don't even run on batteries.

The lithium ion battery industry has fought off concerns about overheating for years. And many would say the rash of recent problems has more to do with manufacturing processes and system integration than the underlying power technology. Whatever the case, it appears clear there's a lot of room for innovation here, especially considering portable devices will be called on to do more than ever in the future.

We're not sure what to make of flaming copiers.

Posted by Brad Grimes

NEXT STORY: Toshiba Tecra M5-S433

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