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The continual bane of the PC market
By Jay Chong
July 16, 1999
Engineer TK Ong was in the middle of preparing a presentation for a meeting when his brand new PC crashed. It had hung previously each time he used Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Illustrator together, but did not bother him much. Perhaps it was just a memory glitch, he thought.
But this time when the Pentium 200MMX-powered PC crashed, he was upset because it resulted in him losing a large amount of data.
He complained to a cousin who had purchased a similar machine and, to his surprise, discovered that the latter's PC was also giving similar problems. Curious, Ong checked with two colleagues who had bought PCs at a computer fair three months earlier. All four PCs--three with Pentium 200MMX processors and one with a Pentium 233MMX processor--were purchased from the same retailer and were crashing without reason.
Determined to locate the cause, Ong ran checks and discovered that the microprocessors in their PCs were remarked. Investigations on the serial numbers of the microprocessors revealed that they were in actual fact Pentium 166 processors. "Being engineers we ran checks on the lot numbers through our contacts in Intel and were told that the numbers were invalid," said Ong.
The group also discovered that the microprocessors were altered and sold as higher-speed processors. "We would have never known if we hadn't investigated ourselves," he added.
Thinking that the matter could be easily resolved, the group contacted the retailer to get the problem rectified. "The retailer kept stalling and eventually avoided all calls," he revealed.
The retailer only relented after Ong and friends went to the local press. But the entire process took the group over a year to resolve.
"We want computer vendors out there to know that they cannot con all the users all the time," said Ong, his quest for justice complete.
The group's predicament apparently is not an isolated one.
Computer vendors and industry observers familiar with the illegal trade are convinced that remarked microprocessors continue to filter into the consumer market in Malaysia.
A computer peripheral distributor who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was once involved in altering speeds on processors. "As long as the practise is lucrative enough, it can be done. I will not put anything past the Taiwanese who are excellent in the field of reverse engineering and are capable of anything," he added.
Jay Chong is a technology writer based in Malaysia who has been following the remarked chips market for some time. Email us your comments.
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