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Ten Dell models have defective Nvidia GPUs

Analysis NV is still stonewalling customers and analysts
Mon Jul 28 2008, 09:32

IT LOOKS LIKE Nvidia wasn't entirely truthful when it last talked to analysts. The outfit's G84/G86 statement about problems being confined to only HP was just blown out of the water. Dell has now unofficially admitted to the same problem in ten models.

The G84/G86 story is just getting messier, and NV is refusing to come clean, mainly because the problems just might sink the company if it does. The short story is that all G84 and G86 chips are bad, period.

Nvidia isn't owning up to it, and worse yet, it is telling different stories to many different people, none of which seems to be anything close to the whole truth.

At first, the firm told an analyst (note the singular) that it was only a small batch of chips sent only to HP.

Dell has admitted that ten models are affected through the time honoured channel of buried BIOS updates.

Note the date and the fixes

The Dell problems, coupled with the fact that we know that all of the G84 and G86 chips are bad, blows the 'HP only' story out of the water. Several analysts we talked to all gave a completely different story about what they were told by NV IR/AR. This gave us some food for thought

In any case, since Dell came out with a BIOS that 'fixes' the non-existent problem almost two weeks before the disclosure in the Nvidia 8-K on July 2. They knew HP laptops were bad, they knew Dells were bad, and we know the chips are all bad, but NV keeps stonewalling and spinning very different stories to analysts. They haven't mentioned Apple and Asus yet, but if you look at their forums, they both seem to have a high rate of early Nvidia GPU related failures.

That brings us to the next problem, namely full and fair disclosure. Dell and HP know the extent of this, as presumably do other OEMs. Is it collusion when they do not disclose an event likely to be material to both them and Nvidia? Not a peep from Apple and the others yet though. Apple never admits to even crippling failures of its products, it might damage its halo. When the first lawsuit hits, the documentation of who knew what, when is going to be REALLY interesting.

Next on the list of questions is when is NV going to come clean over this? We know there are at least four manufacturers having failures, and the damage control, stonewalling game is being played out to almost masochistic levels. Nvidia has utterly failed damage control 101, and now they are moving into territory where investigations are born. We wonder how deep this rabbit hole is going to go, and how many zeros are on the end?

Moving on to another problem, this one is owned by the consumer, and that is the alleged 'fix'. First of all, it isn't a fix, it simply delays the problem to the point where the warranty is (hopefully) expired, then it isn't the problem of the OEM, and therefore not Nvidia's problem. Basically they are trying to delay the failures until they can disclaim liability.

The 'fix' simply turns on the laptop fan much more than usual. We hear it is basically on all the time, but we don't have an afflicted laptop to test. If anyone has one of the affected models, can you comment below or write directly and tell us the effects of the BIOS 'upgrade'?

The problem with this 'fix' is that it degrades the functionality of the laptop retroactively. Instead of a theoretically quiet machine, you get one with the fan screaming away 24/7. Who would enjoy that? Even if your tastes in music lean toward the loud and obnoxious like your correspondent's.

Also, laptops have batteries and fans take power to run. This means when the fan is running, your battery is being drained. The 'fix' keeps the fan on much more and destroys battery life. Once again, if you have put in the 'fix', can you write and comment on battery life before and after?

In essence, the 'fix' is not a fix at all, it is a delay that actively degrades the user's laptop in both acoustics and battery life. Both HP and Dell are hurting the customers to avoid a recall and to protect Nvidia until they can disclaim responsibility. If Ford had a problem with engines blowing up, people would not stand for a 'fix' that halves your gas mileage simply to keep the engine from grenading until the warranty ran out. That would result in a class action coupled with a torch bearing mob in Dearborn, Michigan. Why this isn't resulting in the same treatment for Santa Clara is beyond me, buyers are directly and provably damaged by the 'fix', and there is no restitution offered or even hinted at.

Last week, Nvidia was claiming that desktop parts are not affected, contrary to our information that they are. Given their utter lack of disclosure, and how often they have been proven wrong so far, it is not surprising to see that desktop part vendors are demanding a recall as well.

Now, Digitimes is a news organization with a bunch of excellent sources in Taiwan. If they say that this is the case, they likely have gotten it directly from the manufacturers. The manufacturers have either been given engineering information from Nvidia and know the extent of the problem, or they have not. If they know the extent of it, and it will not affect them, this story would never have been leaked, they would have no reason to complain through the back channel. If it does affect them, Nvidia would likely have taken care of it silently to prevent stories like the one you are reading. So far, this has not been the case.

The other option is that Nvidia is stonewalling its partners, and given the number of them who have told me that they don't have a clue what is really happening, this appears to be the case. If NV is not telling them the whole truth, there are two options, there is no problem, and there is a big problem.

The no problem scenario is not a likely one because if it was, Nvidia would just give them the engineering docs and be done with it. It is a relatively simple matter to clear the air, and there is no downside to doing so. The only reason to not give your NDA partners the all clear is that they have a big problem, and you are trying to hide it until your responsibility, aka the warranty, runs out. Given Nvidia's behaviour, and the fact that Digitimes is being used to out grumblings, it is pretty clear what is happening in old Taipei.

So, in the end, we have the largest PC makers in the world giving a very muted mea culpa, very muted indeed. Nvidia is telling different analysts different stories and not publicly disclosing either what they are saying to the analysts, or what is really going on. The OEMs are also not disclosing the problems, even though some of them have cut deals with Nvidia to pay for half of the recall cost. All of this is material to investors, and quite possibly runs afoul of some pretty serious laws.

The saddest part is the people left holding the bag are the customers. They get flaky laptops that are popping like zits when they are used. To them, they have the pain of dying machines that are out of service for an extended period of time without compensation, and the not dead (yet) machines are given a fix that actively degrades and devalues their machines.

Nvidia needs to come clean, ASAP. The firm needs to tell all the analysts what they told some of the analysts. They need to tell customers who are adversely affected by their defective products, and make things right. They just need to come clean. Fat chance, but they need to. µ


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