Intel will take a couple of months to review and refine its speediest chip before the company continues its production and begins shipping it again, the company said Tuesday.
Howard High, a spokesman for the Santa Clara, California-based chip maker, said the next couple of months are needed to address why the 1.13GHz Pentium III chip was freezing under certain test conditions and to reconfigure the chip so it meets the company's standards. High said Intel learned a few days before the chip's July 31 public debut from two hardware testing sites, Tomshardware.com and HardOCP.com, that the chips were not performing properly.
Initial speculation was that the chip was running too hot, so Intel testers worked to duplicate the testing conditions of the test sites, High said. That speculation was confirmed by Intel's testing. The 1.13GHz chip should run at about 35 degrees Celsius and should have some latitude to run a bit hotter, High said.
In the past couple of weeks, Intel intensified its testing and determined the temperature problem was related to certain circuits on the chip and not the manufacturing process. He said, in general, two tests are done on chips to make sure they run properly. One test requires that the processor recompile Linux code to test that function and the performance of the chip. The second test, called Sysmark 2000, requires the chip to run a bank of standard desktop application suites. The chip, on occasion, failed to complete both tests, High said.
As a result of the halt in production and shipments, High said Intel has contacted each OEM (original equipment manufacturer) about the problem. The chip was selling in 1,000 unit lots for US$990 a piece. Thus far, only a "very small" number of the chips have shipped, according to Intel.
IBM Corp. on Monday said it had shipped a few of its high-end Aptivas with the new chip and would be working with customers on the problem. Dell Computer Corp. had taken orders for its Dimension XPS B desktop machine with the 1.13GHz chip. However, no shipments had been made before Monday's chip recall. Dell will contact consumers who have ordered a 1.13GHz system and will offer them a 1GHz system as an alternative.
Analysts Monday said Intel has been feeling pressure to put itself back out in front of the chip-speed race and that the 1.13GHz chip speed was stretching the limits of the Pentium III's capabilities. That speed is at the high end of the range for the Pentium III, High said. The Pentium IV chip that ships later this year will start at speeds of 1.4GHz.
Some analysts also suggested that Intel felt pressure to get the new chip out, as rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) had its 1GHz chip claiming the top position in the speed category.
"We feel pressure to get every product out," High said. Intel has to balance pressures to get a product to market with maintaining tough standards for the company's products. So now, High said, engineers will begin to review the chip and get it ready to ship again in a couple of months.
"We take it pretty seriously when we don't meet (our) standard," he said. "We would rather take the short-term to admit the (product) mistake ... and make sure customers feel they can rely on our products.