A Dell spokesman said the batteries were made by Sony Corp. and placed in notebooks that were shipped between April 1, 2004, and July 18 of this year.
"In rare cases, a short-circuit could cause the battery to overheat, causing a risk of smoke and/or fire," said the spokesman, Ira Williams. "It happens in rare cases, but we opted to take this broad action immediately."
The battery packs were included in some models of Dell's Latitude, Inspiron, XTS and precision mobile workstation notebooks. Dell planned to launch a Web site Monday night that described the affected models. Williams said the Web site would explain how consumers can get replacement batteries.
There have been numerous recent news reports about Dell laptops bursting into flames, and pictures of some of the charred machines have circulated on the Internet.
Dell, the world's largest maker of personal computers, confirmed that two weeks ago, one of its laptops caught fire in Illinois, and the owner dunked it in water to douse the flames. Other reports have surfaced from as far away as Japan and Singapore.
Monday's move was at least the third recall of Dell notebook batteries in the past five years.
Dell recalled 22,000 notebook computer batteries last December after symptoms that were similar to those that prompted Monday's recall. The company also recalled 284,000 batteries in 2001.
For Dell, the recall comes as it battles other questions about quality and customer service.
Dell operates its largest manufacturing facility for desktop PCs in Winston-Salem, N.C. It also manufactures servers at the site.
Dell's sales have grown this year, but less rapidly, causing shares in the Round Rock company to lose nearly one-half their value in the past 52 weeks. The shares closed Monday _ before news of the recall _ at $21.24, up 17 cents on the Nasdaq Stock Market. They fell 24 cents in after-hours trade.