NVIDIA’s mobile graphics failure woes are increasing, as Dell’s BIOS fixes, which mitigate the chance of graphics chip failure in its laptops, come at the cost of noise and battery life.
NVIDIA has already admitted that at least a portion of the rumors involving graphics failures were true, and announced a $200 Million one-time set-aside to cover costs related to the failures. The fault was not, says NVIDIA, in the silicon pattern of the GPUs themselves, but caused by the packaging, which was sensitive and could fail under heat. It took pains to deny rumors of a broad pattern of failing chips, including problems with desktop cards.
Now, Dell is releasing new firmware for a huge number of laptops including Inspiron, Latitude, Precision, Vostro, and XPS lines. The new firmware makes fan control more aggressive, spinning fans more to keep the GPUs cooler on systems with potentially affected NVIDIA GPUs. Dell emphasizes that failed GPUs won’t be fixed by the new BIOS, but systems with it will fail at a lower rate. According to Dell, the fans on the laptop may run more frequently, but will not spin up as often-users are essentially trading short periods of full fan usage for longer periods where the fan might run at 25-50 percent. Despite these drawbacks, Dell urges everyone with the potentially affected laptops to update, and has announced that all new laptops will ship with the new BIOS.
The move by Dell is interesting. It’s possible that Dell knows more than we do and more than NVIDIA cares to admit, and is shipping the new BIOS to forestall a massive wave of failures. It’s also possible that the explanation is significantly less sinister; Dell could simply want to minimize the number of warranty service calls they get. It could also be worried about triggering a CPSC product recall or product liability lawsuits, and view it as due diligence if it fixes as much as it can, so that the recall or lawsuit never materializes.
The full extent of NVIDIA’s difficulties with G84 and G86 won’t be known for a while, but Dell is being proactive about minimizing it as much as possible. Owners of potentially affected laptops should cross their fingers.