Intel trying to find cure for Xeon 550-MHz bug

Intel officials said it could take three weeks to find the root cause of and remedy for a bug in its Pentium III Xeon 550-MHz processor. The bug affects the performance of some eight-way servers, but observers said the problem won't affect many business users.

So far Intel has found the bug in the Xeon 550-MHz processor when the processor communicates with an Intel Saber motherboard. The bug, discovered more than a week ago, makes the computer crash.

Officials said the problem appears to be excessive voltage, or "noise," on the processor when it's plugged into the Saber motherboard. But Intel said it will continue testing to determine if other components that work with the processor are affected.

The problem has been found in 550-MHz versions with 512K and 1M byte of secondary cache. Versions with 2M bytes of cache aren't affected, according to an Intel spokesman.

The Pentium III 550-MHz processors were first shipped August 23, after months of delays.

IBM, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer are among the manufacturers that have come out with eight-way servers based on the product. But officials at the companies said they aren't concerned.

Limited scope

A Compaq spokeswoman said the ProLiant 8000 and 8500 servers are unaffected because Compaq designs and manufactures its own eight-way server motherboard.

Dell will start shipping its PowerEdge eight-way servers this week. "We just aren't going to offer it with 1M byte until they figure out the problem," said David Brandt, a Dell spokesman.

IBM will ship its eight-way servers only with 2M bytes cache. An IBM spokesman called the number of existing eight-way users a "manageable pool" to maintain.

"They're getting into their early deployment. Problems don't crop up when processors aren't taxed. Those customers can continue to use those processors until we replace them," the IBM spokesman said.

Stephen Wolfcale, director of network operations at S-B Power Tool in Chicago, has been beta-testing HP's eight-way server with 1M byte cache since May. "We haven't had any problems" related to the processor or motherboard, he said, though he acknowledged that he hasn't pushed the server to its highest performance level, where most of the crashes have occurred.

Intel said it will continue shipping the processors and recommend that users not use certain chips with Saber motherboards.

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