Pentium 4 glitch caught at last minute

Intel Corp. yesterday confirmed that it corrected a glitch in the BIOS software for its new Pentium 4 microprocessors last week after initially starting to ship the high-end devices to computer makers.

The bug potentially could have caused data to be overwritten on PCs based on the Pentium 4 chip, an Intel spokesman said. Intel discovered the flaw during lab tests of motherboards equipped with the new microprocessor and sent a corrected version of the BIOS software to PC manufacturers, he added.

The Pentium 4 was officially released on Monday, and hardware vendors such as Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and IBM immediately announced machines built around the chip. But all of the PC makers are aware of the glitch in the original BIOS software and shouldn't have included the faulty technology in their systems, according to the Intel spokesman.

"We saw some code that could overwrite other code, so we simply patched that in the BIOS," the spokesman said. "Any users, when they purchase the systems, should have the latest BIOS upgrade."

Linley Gwennap, an analyst at The Linley Group in Mountain View, Calif., said the BIOS glitch follows several other microprocessor manufacturing snafus at Intel earlier this year, although he added that the latest incident was relatively minor and shouldn't affect end users. "On the scale of some of the other problems they've had, this one's pretty small," Gwennap said.

Last spring, Intel said it would have to replace about 1 million PC motherboards designed around its 820 chip set because of a faulty component that could cause system failures or even data corruption under extreme conditions (see story).

Three months later, the semiconductor maker stopped production of a 1.13-GHz Pentium III chip shortly after it was introduced and recalled the limited quantities it had shipped to PC makers, saying that systems based on the device could freeze under certain conditions (see story). Intel last month said the 1.13-GHz chip won't be relaunched until next year (see story).

Intel also scrapped a planned chip for use in low-cost PCs, called Timna, after technical problems led to lengthy production delays (see story). In addition, the release of the Pentium 4 was delayed by about a month. All the problems culminated last month in a reshuffling of executives in Intel's microprocessor development and manufacturing operations (see story).

Gwennap said a variety of factors may have contributed to Intel's manufacturing woes, including an overreliance on Rambus Inc.'s new memory architecture and an ongoing struggle to keep up with chip rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on processor speed. Intel has "been egged on by AMD to ship products before they were really ready," he said.

Related stories:

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon