Nvidia, a major manufacturer of graphics processing units (GPUs), has settled a class action lawsuit involving faulty GPUs installed in over 50 laptop models.

The lawsuit concerned the GeForce 8600M, the short-lived graphics processor with an unfortunate tendency to overheat.

The settlement marks the end of a long and bumpy road for Nvidia, which first acknowledged the problem back in July 2008. In a statement then, the company said the defect was due to "weak die/packaging material set in certain versions of its previous generation GPU and MCP products," and agreed to set aside between $150 and $200 million to pay for "anticipated warranty, repair, return, replacement, and other costs and expenses, arising from a weak die/packaging material set in certain versions of its previous generation GPU and MCP (multi-chip package) products used in notebook systems."

Nine class actions

At that point, litigation was already inevitable, and by September 2008, nine class action lawsuits had been consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suits claimed, among other things, that Nvidia knew of the GPU defect long before it became public, with one action alleging that "Nvidia began troubleshooting these problems with major computer manufacturers beginning in August of 2007."

The problem mostly affected Dell, HP, and Compaq laptops, along with several MacBook Pro models.

A Dell blog posting from 2008 said that the problem led to, among other problems, "multiple images, random characters on the screen, lines on the screen, [and] no video."

At the time the defect became known, Dell issued a BIOS update that changed machines' fan speeds in an effort to regulate GPU temperature fluctuations. HP had issued a similar BIOS update in November 2007, which one lawsuit said was evidence that Nvidia knew about the problem long before it acknowledged it in mid-2008.

Other models, like the Sony VIAO owned by Andrew of Ramonda, Calif., were also affected. "The NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GT Graphic Card on my Sony Viao laptop(model VGN-FZ283BN) has failed twice in the two years following purchase," Andrew said. His extended warranty covered the cost of repairs but Andrew said he suffered much inconvenience as a result.

Not everyone was as lucky as Andrew. "Currently out of warranty, graphics card forcing blue screen of death on HP Pavilion dv900 laptop which was the GeForce 8M series graphics card which is giving a nvlddmkm.sys error which is associated with the Nvidia graphics card," said Jarrid of Concord, N.C., in one of hundreds of complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com.

Settlement provides replacement, reimbursement

Under the terms of the settlement, eligible class members will be entitled to a replacement GPU chip and/or reimbursement of previous expenses related to the defect, including previous chip repairs or replacements.

Among the affected models are the Dell Insprion, Dell Latitude, Dell Precision, Dell Vostro, HP Pavilion, Compaq Presario, 15-inch MacBook Pro, and 17-inch MacBook Pro. Consumers who wish to exclude themselves from, or object to, the settlement must postmark their request by November 5, 2010. The fairness hearing is scheduled for December 20. At that time, the court will decide whether the settlement is fair and adequate and, if it is, will issue final approval of the settlement's terms.

Consumers can visit the settlement website for more information, or to sign up for e-mail notifications. Consumers can also check here to see if their model is included in the settlement.

In court papers, Nvidia says that it "continues to deny ... all allegations of wrongdoing or liability."

Nvidia is the second-largest GPU manufacturer by market share, ahead of rival AMD/ATI but still well behind Intel, the clear market leader.

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