Did Toshiba flub notebook fix?

A handful of frustrated Toshiba Corp. customers say the vendor’s attempt to fix a known flaw has created performance issues with their 5005 Series Satellite notebooks.

Toshiba executives, however, maintain the company effectively solved an isolated shutdown problem occurring in a small percentage of 5005 models with a BIOS upgrade several months ago. Any subsequent performance problems are anomalies, unrelated to the fix, Toshiba says.

Slow Going

In February, Toshiba acknowledged a problem with “less than 0.5 percent” of its popular Satellite 5005-series notebooks, models S504 and S507. According to the company, a BIOS glitch was causing a redundant cooling system to power down the notebook’s processor before its fan had a chance to cool it. The result: Notebooks sometimes shut down during normal use.

Toshiba released a BIOS upgrade to correct the problem, saying the fix would turn the CPU fan on first, allowing normal usage.

The company also noted that under extreme circumstances the chip– a desktop rather than a mobile processor–could reduce its frequency by 25 percent to keep the heat down. Days later Toshiba amended that statement, saying that instead of simply reducing the frequency during CPU-intensive work, the processor was actually increasing the number of times it went into a sleep state, reflecting a feature inherent in most processors, not just Toshiba products.

This process might look like a frequency drop on some benchmark tests, but it isn’t, Toshiba contends. Besides, most notebook users wouldn’t notice a performance difference, officials said.

Some Satellite owners claim otherwise. They complain that the fix caused a noticeable hit to their notebooks’ performance. So, while they paid for a notebook with gigahertz-plus speed–both the S504 and S507 use a 1.1-GHz desktop Intel Pentium III–many suggest their 5005s now run considerably slower, and they’re not happy.

No Go Sports Car

Michael Shane Bivins of Indianapolis likens the fix to owning a sports car that can no longer go a mere 65 miles per hour. “Once you reach this speed for a few seconds, your engine slows down to half the speed on a good day. So you’re stuck on the highway only going 30 miles per hour,” he complains.

Owners have taken to posting the sluggish benchmark results of their newly fixed notebooks. Many suggest the well-reviewed notebooks, advertised as high performance, now fail to measure up to even entry-level notebooks.

“Next semester, I will be taking classes with projects that will demand a lot of CPU power” says Chan E. Kyu of New Orleans. “I will need this educational investment of mine to perform up to par with the amount of money I spent on it.”

Few notebooks are perfect, and Kyu says he can accept his notebook’s other problems. But at the very least, his Toshiba should run at its advertised speed of 1.1 GHz, he says.

“I don’t mind putting up with the short battery life, the clicking hard drive, the loud fan, all of which afflict this 5005-S504 laptop,” he says. “But a 650-MHz CPU for a $2000 machine (advertised as 1.1 GHz)? This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Toshiba executives continue to stand by their statement that the BIOS fix in no way causes the notebooks to run slower.

“That cannot be the case,” says Oscar Koenders, Toshiba’s vice president of product marketing manager. “It should not run slower after the BIOS update.” Under normal operating circumstances, with the notebook’s fan clear of obstructions, there’s no reason for the processor to fall into that state, he says.

How Many Complaints?

If Koenders is right, then quite a few 5005 owners are assembling online to discuss a nonexistent problem. Some of the most vocal Satellite 5005 owners meet in the Toshiba Computer Forum (an official Toshiba forum), and in the Toshiba5005 group in Yahoo Groups.

Toshiba maintains that less than half a percent of S504 and S507 owners encounter the original shutdown problem, and after installing the BIOS update about 0.2 percent have complained about further shutdown issues. Overall, Toshiba’s call center has received performance problem calls from just 0.08 percent of all 5005 series owners, Koenders says.

However, the hundreds of messages online seem to indicate that the performance issue could be more widespread. Some owners suggest Toshiba is ignoring the problem because it would cost too much money to correct.

“Toshiba’s accounting department must be doing all their tech support now, as the reason I was turned down for a refund or replacement was that they said it was a software issue,” says Michael Copeland, in an e-mail to PCWorld.com. “Any fool can plainly see that this is not only a hardware issue, but a hardware issue due to poor design.”

Copeland says he has returned his 5005-S504 notebook to Toshiba for repairs three times, most recently on June 2. Now he says he’s “waiting for his ‘fixed’ $2300 desktop ornament to return.”

Losing Patience

While Copeland may be waiting patiently for his repaired notebook to return, some 5005 owners say they won’t wait much longer for the company to do the right thing. Some are even discussing a class-action suit.

“To the other members of this mail group who might be reading this message, if I do not get a satisfactory response from Toshiba, I will look into legal options,” says one angry poster. “In fact, even this week, while the letter is in transit, I am going to verify any legal potency that may exist regarding this case.”

From another: “Only a class action lawsuit, or multiple bad press articles in the PC rags will get Toshiba to take any action. From what I have seen over the past five months, Toshiba is a totally irresponsible company which I will never do business with again.”

Legal action or no, a frustrated Michael Shane Bivins says he has lost interest in doing business with Toshiba.

“This whole experience has taught me a lot about the quality of Toshiba products and the effort they put into standing by customers when something goes wrong,” he says.

Meanwhile, Toshiba’s Koenders says he will further investigate the users’ complaints. “What I want to do is find out what these issues are,” Koenders says. “We continue to review every customer’s concern to understand their unique issues and work toward resolution.” He encourages owners of the popular notebooks–phased out in March when Intel introduced the mobile P4–to contact Toshiba at 800/457-7777 if they experience problems. “We don’t like unhappy customers,” he says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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