Court papers lodged in a Californian court in a lawsuit between Fujitsu and several third-party manufacturers have confirmed that the vendor has been well aware of the defects in its MPG series of drives for more than 18 months.
For several months and in several countries, Fujitsu has remained tight-lipped after systems builders, resellers and end users began complaining of abnormally high failure rates in the drives.
In public, the company has either denied the allegations or remained silent, but it did not have the same luxury in the courts. Court documents lodged in a lawsuit between the vendor and components supplier Cirrus Logic have been found to contain official acknowledgment of the extent of the hard drive failures.
The lawsuit appears to be a rather messy affair of finger-pointing and buck-passing as Fujitsu and its various third-party manufacturers attempt to minimise their responsibility over the drives, which have robbed hundreds if not thousands of resellers and systems integrators of their customers' goodwill.
In October 2001, Cirrus Logic filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Fujitsu in California, after the vendor refused to pay for chips it had taken delivery of. Fujitsu filed a counter-claim in December 2001, alleging that Cirrus supplied it with defective chips that were responsible for the high failure rates in its hard drives. The lawsuit has since been redirected, with the parties involved agreeing to stand Fujitsu as plaintiff; Cirrus Logic as defendant and counter-claimant; third-party claims being made against Cirrus Logic's supplier, Amkor Technology; and a further third-party claim that Amkor is taking out against its supplier, Sumitomo Bakelite.
It is in Fujitsu's counter-claim that the vendor was forced to admit the scale of the problem. In all other public spaces (including its relations with Australian channel partners) the company has denied that a problem existed.
According to Keith Warburton, a representative of UK white-box assembler group The PC Association, which exposed the contents of the court documents, Fujitsu knew about the defective chips that caused the hard drives to fail as long ago as July 2001. At the time, it had requested that Cirrus Logic address the problem.
Fujitsu estimates that 4 million of the 12 million Himalaya 2.0 chips it had purchased from Cirrus Logic are defective, as are all 900,000 of the Numbur chips it purchased from the same supplier. A "significant number" of additional chips may prove to suffer from the same fault in the future, Fujitsu said. By its own admission, Fujitsu said that the failure rate of the chips in its drives is "in excess of all reasonable industry standards".
Fujitsu's main beef with its supplier was that Cirrus Logic failed to provide timely information about the chips. Such a failure, the vendor said, damaged Fujitsu's most crucial asset, its relationships with customers. However, Fujitsu makes such demands of its suppliers, but has never supplied that same information about the defects in its products to its resellers, which also lose credibility with customers.
Warburton described the contents of the documents as "a shameful reflection upon the company and its claimed care for its customers".
"By Fujitsu's own statement, potentially 5.9 million of their drives will fail [well before their intended lifespan]," he said. "This admission could provide valuable ammunition in worldwide legal actions against the company."