Intel Corp. has stopped production of its 1.13GHz Pentium III (PIII) chip, and is recalling existing chips after tests revealed certain conditions can cause systems with the processor to freeze up. The news came Monday, the same day chip rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) began shipping its 1.1GHz Athlon processor in volume.
Intel technicians have been able to replicate a problem brought to the company's attention by outside testing sources, said George Alfs, an Intel spokesman. In some units, under certain temperatures, speeds and code, a glitch occurs that causes the test system to hang, he added.
Based on those test results, Intel has stopped production of the chip, and won't resume production until the problem is identified and corrected, Alfs said. It may take several months before the chip is back in production, he added.
Intel announced July 31 it would begin shipping limited quantities of the chip to major vendors. Alfs said Intel sells the chip in 1,000-unit quantities for US$990. The number of chips shipped since the end of July has been "very small," according to Alfs, and Intel is working with the vendors who bought the chip to resolve the problem. Consumers who own one of the rare 1.13GHz PIII systems should contact their vendor, and not Intel, to find out what to do, Alfs said.
Dell Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. announced support for the new 1.13GHz PIII processor at its launch. Dell was taking orders for systems powered by the chip, but had yet to ship any machines to consumers, said Maria Krinsky, company spokeswoman. Dell has stopped taking orders for the system, she added.
Dell will contact consumers who have ordered a 1.13GHz system and will offer them a 1GHz system instead, Krinsky said.
IBM pulled its high-end Aptiva featuring the Intel 1.13GHz processor from its Web site after learning of the problem, said Tim Blair, a spokesman for IBM's personal systems group. Big Blue had shipped some desktops with the chip, but sales so far have been limited, he said.
"The volume was very light because it's brand new," Blair said. IBM will contact customers who have already received systems containing the 1.13GHz chip, he said.
Intel's announcement came as a surprise to Nathan Brookwood, a principal analyst with Insight64 in Saratoga, California. He said it was rare for the chip maker to have a problem with its products, but he noted rumors were circulating last week on online chip bulletin boards that there might be a problem with the processor.
The 1.13GHz processor speed was pushing the limits of the Pentium III design, Brookwood said. Intel developed the chip as a public relations strategy to state that the company had the fastest chip, he explained.
The faulty chip may be a public relations blunder, but it will not hurt Intel's pocketbook, he said.
"It (the 1.13GHz chip) was not targeted at high-volume sales," Brookwood said.
"I can't imagine it would have any substantial financial impact."
Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at the Linley Group, said he also was surprised by Intel's recall, as the company typically tests its products thoroughly before bringing them to market.
"It has been becoming more of a problem lately," he said, however.
Back in May, Intel announced it would replace PC motherboards designed around its 820 chip set due a faulty component, a MTH (memory translator hub), Linley said. [See "Intel to Replace Defective 820 Motherboards," May 10.] He suggested that Intel is perhaps experiencing a run of bad luck and also may be dealing with pressure from chip competitor AMD.
Linley said Intel had a short turnaround time to get the 1.13GHz chip to market and position the company back out front again with the fastest chip.
"The immediate consequence of this is pretty minor," Linley said about the chip recall. "If you stack it all up with the other miscues, it just reduces confidence with PC makers and makes them look elsewhere for (supplies)."
Intel, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at +1-408-765-3484 or at http://www.intel.com/. IBM, in Armonk, New York, can be reached at +1-914-499-1900 or http://www.ibm.com/. Dell, in Round Rock, Texas, can be reached at +1-512-338-4400 or http://www.dell.com/.(Tom Mainelli writes for PC World.)