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Compaq Admits Data-Eating Glitch in Computers

After months of denying that its computers had problems similar to those that forced Toshiba Corp. into a $2.1-billion settlement last year, Compaq Computer Corp. has begun notifying as many as 1.7 million Presario desktop PC owners that they may have a data-eating glitch.

Compaq said it posted a software “patch” for the problem on its Web site Friday. It also has begun sending out postcards to PC owners, according to a spokesman for an owner who is suing. But Houston-based Compaq, the world’s largest personal computer company, said that it has received no consumer complaints traceable to the problem, that the fixes are unnecessary, and that it has no intention of settling a class-action lawsuit filed against it in federal court in Beaumont, Texas.

Recent testing by Texas lawyer Wayne Reaud and other lawyers for the plaintiffs, conducted as part of early settlement talks, found problems in several models of the Presario. The problem is in the computers’ floppy drive controllers, which can erase data without warning if several devices are operating simultaneously. The designer of the chipsets called the computer industry’s attention to the problem about 10 years ago, but Toshiba and others continued to use the devices.

A spokesman for the plaintiffs said that Compaq’s free software patch will not be enough, and that the lawyers will push for a combination of hardware repairs or replacements and cash reimbursements like those offered to owners of Toshiba laptops.

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