Apple faces lawsuit over defective PowerBooks

New York man sues company for bad memory slots in now-obsolete notebooks

A New York man has sued Apple in a US federal court over flaws in the PowerBook G4 and has asked the judge to grant the case class-action status.

In a lawsuit filed last Thursday in federal court in San Jose, Giorgio Gomelsky accused Apple of refusing to repair his PowerBook G4 notebook, which he said has a defective memory slot that has prevented him from adding more memory to speed up the system.

Apple's refusal, Gomelsky charged, was particularly galling because the company had previously acknowledged problems with PowerBook G4 memory slots and had set up a free-of-charge repair program for a limited number of systems.

In 2006, Apple debuted what it called the "PowerBook G4 Memory Slot Repair Extension Program," which identified PowerBooks manufactured between January and April 2005 that might have defective memory slots. Apple documented the program in an online document and said that symptoms could include the notebook not booting or not recognizing memory in one slot. "System performance may be degraded because the memory in only one slot is not recognized," said Apple, which added that the problems may be intermittent.

Apple repaired without charge those PowerBook G4 laptops with such symptoms that fell within a serial number range. The program, however, ended July 24, 2008.

Gomelsky's lawsuit said that he had bought a PowerBook G4 in April 2004, and two years later, added another 1GB of memory to his laptop. "Computer functioning did not improve, and was in fact worse than when Plaintiff's computer had less memory installed," the suit said. "It was at this time that Plaintiff realized that his PowerBook's upper memory slot was defective."

Although Gomelsky contacted Apple and asked that his PowerBook be fixed, the company turned him down because the machine's serial number did not fall within the designated range. According to his lawsuit, Gomelsky also joined an online petition signed by nearly 4,500 PowerBook owners in similar circumstances, and filed a complaint with the California attorney general.

Repairing the PowerBook himself was out of the question, Gomelsky said. "The expense in repairing the memory slot -- upwards of US$500 -- would constitute almost half of the original purchase price of the computer," the suit said.

Gomelsky's lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, asks for reimbursement for repairs of defective memory slots, as well as other compensatory damages.

The PowerBook G4 has had a checkered history. In August 2006, for instance, Apple recalled 1.8 million batteries sold with the PowerBook G4 and iBook G4 laptops.

The model was replaced by the MacBook Pro line of Intel-based notebooks in early 2006.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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