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More ‘Palm ate my PC’ cases emerge

Cradle power fluctuations and static electricity blamed

Palm's line on the 'Palm ate my PC' affair is clear-cut: "Palm is not aware of any HotSync operation that will cause damage to computer motherboards," said a company spokeswoman late last week.

However, comments from Register readers in the PC repair and tech support business suggest otherwise and that we were perhaps hasty in our conclusion that the lawsuit launched against Palm alleging full knowledge of the mobo-mashing problem might be specious.

"I have a client whose Palm blows the serial port on a regular basis," claims one correspondent. "He has a generic PC with an additional serial card for the palm cradle connection. Every few months he has to change the serial card as the ports are blown.

"We have probably a hundred customers with Palms and this is the only one who has the problem, [but] it is definitely the Palm. There are some references in the newsgroups and on the Web to the problem."

Two possible issues may be causing the problem: power fluctuations and/or a build up of static electricity.

Says reader Dan: "I can tell you from experience exactly how [the Palm] ate the PC: static Electricity. There's a screw at the top of my Palm IIIx, normally your hand is on that screw when you insert the palm into the cradle. On my work PC if I insert the Palm into its cradle, I sometimes shock the computer through the cradle. I've blown out three serial ports before I got smart and put a surge protector on the serial port.

"I'm not sure it's a design flaw on the Palms or not but... All it would have taken is a piece of plastic or tape over the screw to solve that particular problem."

And this from reader Kelly: "Unlikely as it sounds, Palm Pilots have a history of being hard on serial ports, and not only on Dell computers. I'm not sure how the HotSync feature is supposed to tie into it, but the problems I've experienced and seen documented in my time as a tech involved power surges from the (continuously powered on) cradle to the serial port when the handheld is removed or inserted into the cradle.

"This has happened with different motherboards, different flavours of handheld, etc. Out of thousands of computers, the only serial ports I've personally seen go bad were attached to handheld cradles."

Is there a solution - apart from recourse to law? There is: USB. Another correspondent, who "recently worked for Dell tech support through an outsourcer" tells us "the only connector which would cause the motherboard to become non-functional was the serial connector. Not USB!"

Indeed, that seems to be what Palm itself is saying. Macworld UK cites one Palm user who contacted the company late last year about the problem and was told "to purchase a USB cradle which would not have such issues".

Palm tech support apparently blamed the problem on a "floating voltage" generated by the power supply connected to a Palm V cradle and which could physically damage serial ports on some mobos.

Which is, of course, why the Palm spokeswoman referred to HotSync - the problem relates to the device's cradle and not the HotSync operation per se. She appears to be correct, there isn't a problem with HotSyncing - but there does seem to be a power and/or static issue.

Worse, it may not be restricted to Palm. Reader Kelly again: "I think Palm is taking the hit for the whole industry on this one, but static discharge frying a serial port is a legitimate issue. Probably spending a little more dollars on grounding would be a nice move on the industry's part." ®

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