| A class-action lawsuit
against Toshiba was settled in October for over 2 billion dollars, without
going to trial. Similar lawsuits have been filed against Hewlett
Packard, Compaq, Packard Bell and eMachines. What are these lawsuits
about, and why should you care? Well here is the subtitle on a
$2B settlement of a suit over a floppy disk controller bug has the PC
industry sweating. Products are riddled with glitches, flaws and
The simple fact of the matter is that PC
hardware has been getting cheaper and cheaper due to demand at the
low-cost end of the spectrum, and this "cheapification" is
having repercussions on overall hardware quality. Rather than going
into details about the suit, I'll just summarize, but you can read the
whole article at the link above.
Basis for the lawsuit: NEC came up with one
of the first floppy disk controller chips for motherboards back in the
early 1980s. This chip had a serious bug that could lead the
controller to erase data on the floppy disk accidentally. NEC
eventually fixed the bug, but Toshiba had reversed engineered the original
NEC chip design for it's floppy disk controller in the mid 1980's.
Toshiba continued to produce the flawed controller chip to be incorporated
onto motherboards throughout the 1980's.
Side note: This particular computer flaw
is not a perfect example of what I am talking about, since it occurred
back when computers were astronomically expensive, and it did not cause
many actual problems that were reported to computer companies. In
fact, this particular case is a better example of Lawyers getting a tip on
a product flaw, and going after the company like sharks for chum. These
Lawyers made almost $150 million on the deal. But I digress.
The point of that article, and my
editorial, is that the constant pressure to make less and less expensive
computers is adversely affecting hardware quality (which was already low
compared with other "appliances"). The problems with
Compaq Presario 5800s freezing and having very poor performance has been
well publicized over the last few weeks. In part, this was due to
Compaq using the lowest-cost hard drives they could possibly get.
Since Windows 98SE is a real resource hog, data is often cached to the
hard drive, making drive performance very important.
How many computer crashes have you had
recently? Is it due to fast-and-dirty programming by Microsoft?, or
poor driver programming? or maybe it's one of those "errata"
(bugs) in one of your hardware components? There are just oodles of
reasons why a computer might crash nowadays. In fact, the three
categories of problems listed above (OS bugs, driver bugs and hardware
"errata") act together to produce virtually all computer hangs
As computer hardware continues to drop in
price, expect many more rushed-to-market components to have bugs and
flaws. This will even affect more expensive components and systems,
because hardware is cobbled together quickly from electronic parts
produced by many different manufacturers, increasing the chance that at
least one part will have problems. The life-cycle of a new computer
part, like a video card, is so short now, that by the time the newest
version of a card is in stores, the company is already hyping the next
version, which is only one or two months from release.
With the market forces the way they are
now, this trend will continue for some time. Eventually, the
computer industry will mature, and product cycles will become more
realistic. Computers will inevitably become more like TVs and
toasters, and the quality will be regulated to some degree, like other
appliances, automobiles, etc. So the Toshiba law suit, and others
like it, may be the looked back upon as the start of quality-regulation in
the PC industry.