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Intel's Next Paper Release - The Pentium III at 1133 MHz

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Revisiting Intel
Краткое содержание статьи: Two days ago I was supplying you with my findings and thoughts of Intel's new Super-CPU. At that time I assumed that the instability issues were caused by the lack of a micro code update. Today I received this update, but the instability remains. I also found another well-known hardware reviewer who ran into similar problems. This raises one serious question. Is Intel shipping faulty processors?

Revisiting Intel's New Pentium III at 1.13 GHz


Редакция THG,  1 августа 2000


Introduction

After the publication of the Pentium III 1.13 GHz article on Monday I was facing harsh criticism from several people who wrote off my moaning about the instability of Intel's new processors as 'obvious bias'. Now while I am tired of replying to those kinds of pathetic accusations I do understand that it is hard to believe that Intel would indeed ship a seriously flawed processor product after being world renowned as the provider of the most reliable and compatible CPUs out there. At the same time I would also appreciate however, if the sensible ones of you remember that I don't make waves of this amplitude light heartedly. My tests showed a serious instability of Intel's new Pentium III and that is what I reported.

It Was Not The Micro Code Update

In the article from Monday I assumed that the instability issues which kept me from supplying you with benchmark data were caused by the lack of the latest micro code update for Intel's new processor. I also read reviews of this processor from other publications and I was surprised to see that e.g. my respected colleague Anand Lal Shimpi from www.anandtech.com had indeed been able to run his 1.13 GHz Pentium III on different platforms without any major problems. I still guessed that Anand must have had the micro code update and so I waited patiently until this morning when I finally received several new BIOS releases from Asus that included this processor software patch.

I flashed the new BIOS onto the motherboards and started the 1.13 GHz system to finally finish my benchmark runs. The boards booted properly and this time without the error message complaining about the missing micro code update. I assumed that now my testing should be done smoothly, but it turned out that I had been wrong.

Again, each platform that I used crashed at several occasions with the new Intel processor. Often I was not even able to run Quake 3, or the system wouldn't even boot to the Windows desktop altogether. Raising the core voltage had the effect that the system wouldn't even reach POST. At the same time each system ran flawlessly with my Pentium III at 1 GHz.

It was obvious. The micro code update had never been the reason for my problems. Instead, my Pentium III 1.13 GHz sample was clearly a faulty part.

A Faulty Production Sample Pentium III 1.13 GHz

Last night I had received a very interesting email from Kyle Bennett, the man behind www.HardOCP.com. Surprisingly enough Kyle had experienced instability issues with his 1.13 GHz Pentium III as well, although he had even used the mysterious VC820 motherboard from Intel that was specially designed for this processor.

Here's Kyle's statement:

We had no severe problems with the Intel 1.13GHz and VC820 (supplied by Intel with 128megs of RAMBUS) but it would NOT run Prime95 even for one minute. I do not know if you use this program, but it has been an old standby for us when it comes to testing 100% stability. We could also run low resolution benchmarks inside of Quake3 but at higher resolutions where more bandwidth is utilized, we ran into problems with the program crashing.

As per my experience it was NOT due to a Video Card problem, but rather pointed to the CPU. Overall, we were not happy with the results on the i820 mainboard and moved to another platform.

As for the BX boards we tried, an ABIT BF6 and ABIT BE6-II, we could not even get Win98SE to load at the default 1133MHz clock. Mind you, all of this was being done with components proven to run flawlessly at the 133MHz bus specification. We did get the OS to load effortlessly at 850MHz (8.5x100MHz FSB). Once stable, we raised the FSB to the 133MHz rating of the Intel CPU and was met with a flurry of BSODs.

Heat was our first thought as to an easy culprit to fix, but the HUGE Intel Stock HSF was doing a very goof job at dissipating the heat put off by the CPU. We recorded temps under the 95 degrees F mark while under load. This seemed totally acceptable to me. Tweaking SDRam settings to minimal performance to alleviate stresses from the board in other areas proved to do nothing for the problem. The fact of the matter is that we could not get the 1.13GHz Intel PIII to run stable no matter what we tried.

We made the assumption that we had a "bad CPU" or we were making mistakes somewhere in our testing. The CPU we had was marked as a 1.13GHz PRODUCTION CPU, not an engineering sample. We made a decision NOT to publish our findings as we were unsure as to whether or not our data was correct. This is a consideration we offer EVERY manufacturer. We committed to Intel to not report our findings on the Hard|OCP until we have concluded the problems we were having were "REAL" and not simply a fluke or due to improper testing on our part. As it stands now, the part is to be sent back to Intel and they committed to report back to us on the above mentioned problems.

Of course the findings that you posted yesterday prompted me to write this mail. While we have certainly not agreed with you in the past on certain issues, I did not want to see you getting "hung out to dry" on something I think you are correct reporting on.

To sum it up, I don't think you are off base on your report about the problems with the 1.13GHz Intel PIII.

...
Kyle Bennett
WebMonger @ Hard|OCP
Purveyor of Smoothness @ Ratpadz
Hosting Ho @ Gamers|Hardware

Kyle might send his processor back to Intel, but it seems obvious that he was having serious problems as well. The one platform that performed acceptable in Kyle's testing was the specially modified VC820 board that I still haven't even received. However, even this platform did not show the complete stability one would expect from a system with 'Intel Inside'.

Intel Pentium III 1133 MHz Markings

It seemed obvious that I was not the only one with a bad 1.13 GHz Pentium III sample. Both processors were official production samples with the 'SL4HH' coding, not some pre-production exemplars. One bad sample may have been just about acceptable, but two faulty samples raise some serious questions. Could it be that Intel is shipping a major amount of buggy Pentium III 1.13 GHz to their OEM customers right now?

Contacting Intel

I had been surprised that Intel hadn't got back to me after my 'nasty' Monday article, which accused the Satan Clara based company of producing unstable 1.13 GHz processors. After realizing that my processor was obviously faulty and after finding out that another respected hardware tester had experienced similar problems as well, I considered it to be about time to get in touch with Intel. Thus I sent of the following email:

Dear Intel PR department,

as displeased as you may be with my recent review of the P3 1133 processor, as much you all know that I don't publish my findings of a highly unstable CPU light heartedly.

Unfortunately the micro code update that I just received from Asus in form of several new BIOSes for my different motherboards didn't do the trick for me whatsoever. My 1133 MHz sample is utterly unable to finish any benchmark, while my 1 GHz part finishes each test completely reliably in the same platform. I am occurring system hangs on a highly regular basis, completely regardless which software I am running or which platform I am using, although I am even using a heavy duty full copper super duper heat sink.

The other strange thing about this processor is the fact that it seems to request 1.8 V through its VID pins, not the official 1.75 V.

Altogether my Pentium III 1.13 GHz sample seems to be a clearly faulty part. While this may explain my negative findings and while others seem to have samples that might perform reliably, I know of at least one other person that is also having instability issues with his P3 1133. This is obviously raising a serious question. Is there a major flaw in the validation process of the Pentium III 1133? Doesn't it seem likely that several or even many of those processors are just as faulty as mine, and currently shipping to OEMs? On top of that, I regard it as highly unprofessional to ship a faulty part to a reviewer in the first place. I would have expected that you (Intel PR) double check the reliability of any test sample you ship.

I am sure you are aware of the gravity of this issue. It might cost Intel a major face loss if I should not be the only person with a bad 1.13 GHz processor.

I expect that you start some kind of investigation and give a rather urgent statement regarding the issue described above. I doubt that you will get away with claiming that Thomas Pabst is unable to test a processor properly. Ignorance of this issue will also most likely backfire at you. I apologize for expressing this warning, but so far I am very displeased with the lack of response from Intel in regards to my negative findings.

Sincerely,

Dr. Thomas Pabst
CEO & Editor in Chief
Tom's Hardware Guide Inc.
San Jose, CA, USA
www.tomshardware.com
CEO
TG Publishing AG
Munich, Germany
www.tomshardware.de

I copied that email to several editors of other hardware publications. The only meaningful response came from Nico Ernst, editor of www.tecchannel.de. He told me that his 1.13 GHz Pentium III production sample, while running reliably, was also requesting 1.8 V instead of the 1.75 V that it is supposed to request from the motherboard. I consider this as rather disturbing. Isn't Intel claiming that the new CPU only needs 1.75 V? Why does the processor in reality run at 1.8 V? What was going on?

Intel's Response

I actually called my reliable and very helpful Intel PR contacts in Germany before they could call me. First of all they played the issue down as a minor incident and they blamed my test motherboards and cooling. However, after I asked them to find out if there wasn't another person who might have had similar problems they got back to me and admitted that Kyle Bennett had reported problems although Kyle had been equipped with the very VC820 motherboard that was supposed to be the perfect platform for the new Intel processor. They started to admit that it might well be that my sample was faulty. Still they raised the following issues:

  • The Pentium III at 1.13 GHz is only shipping to OEMs. Those OEMs are either supposed to use the specially modified VC820 motherboard or to modify any other motherboard they prefer according to the specs of the 1.13 GHz processor. The processor is not available in retail, which is why it wouldn't have to run on any mainstream platform in the first place.
  • It is not that uncommon that Intel processors might be faulty. For end customers this would not be an issue with the Pentium III at 1.13 GHz however, since this processors would ship to OEMs only, who would have to validate their systems prior to shipping anyway.
  • Intel considers it as exaggeration if I make it sound as if a major amount of the new Pentium III at 1.13 GHz would be faulty. After all that wasn't proven yet. However, Intel admits that it is of course possible that there is a serious problem, because the opposite hasn't been proven yet either.
  • Intel requests me to send back my sample so that it can be diagnosed. I responded that I wouldn't give away my only proof. They said that they unfortunately don't have another sample that they could send me right now, but I would get one as soon as possible.

Basically I can understand Intel. Of course they want the part back so they can try to find out what's wrong with it. However, I prefer to hang on to this buggy little bugger, since it is the only thing to back up my story. Of course Intel wants to find the reason for the system crashes before they make a statement, make a new stepping, write a new micro code update or even start retracting their great new product. Still I doubt that any other journalist in my situation would have hesitated to report on this issue.

Bottom Line

Two days ago Intel has released a new high-end processor and already now two samples seem to be faulty. One of them is either still in Kyle's possession or on its way back to Satan Clara, the other one is in my possession. I doubt that much more than 20-30 test samples were shipped to the press. Two of them makes 7-10% of the lot. If the percentage of faulty parts is just as high in the shipments to the OEMs Intel has got a major disaster at hands.

I just wonder, was that really worth it? Couldn't the world have done just fine without the new Pentium III 1.13 GHz? Couldn't have Intel done without another little scandal? Let's see, maybe Intel is right and Kyle's as well as my Pentium III 1.13 GHz sample were indeed the only faulty ones. It's up to you to decide if you believe that and it's up to Intel to find out what's the reason behind those buggy parts.

The one fact remains:

Something is wrong with Intel's new Pentium III 1.13 GHz processor.

Please follow-up by reading Latest Update On Intel's 1.13 GHz Pentium III.




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