Dell, the world's largest personal computer manufacturer, negotiated conditions of the recall with the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, which called it the largest electronics-related recall ever involving the agency.
A Dell spokesman said the Sony batteries were 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 Ira Williams.
"It happens in rare cases, but we opted to take this broad action immediately."
The list of incidents ranges from smoke and minor skin burns to actual injuries and property damage, said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Consumers with affected laptops should run the machines only on a power cord, he said.
The battery packs were included in some models of Dell's Latitude, Inspiron, XPS and precision mobile workstation notebooks.
Dell planned to launch a website that would describe the affected models. Williams said the website would tell consumers how to get free replacement batteries from Dell.
Rick Clancy, a Sony spokesman, said the companies have studied problems with the battery packs intensely for more than a month, after getting reports of about six fires or smoking laptops in the US.
Lithium-ion batteries have been around for about a decade and are used in devices such as mobile phones and digital music players. Clancy said tiny metallic particles sometimes short-circuit the battery cells, adding that configuration in an electronic device can contribute to problems.
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.
The recall comes as it battles other questions about quality and customer service. Last year, Dell absorbed a charge against earnings of $338 million to repair faulty computer components.
Dell's sales have grown this year, but less rapidly, causing shares in the company to lose nearly half their value in the past year.
The worry for Dell is that such a huge recall could dampen future notebook sales.