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How to remark

Marking processors is part of the chip manufacturing exercise. A former engineer with a semiconductor company explained that wafers are first sliced up to into individual chips and graded by quality. "The chips are divided into different bins according to its quality. The best quality is normally reserved for high-end customers," he revealed.

After they are cut, these chips are attached to a piece of metal to be bonded, wired, heated and sent for moulding, he added. "Once they are moulded, these chips are marked according to their speeds and serial numbers. Then they are tested again. If they are faulty in anyway, even cosmetically, the processor would be rejected."

The best quality chips end at OEMs such as IBM, Dell, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard which buy processors in bulk.

He pointed out that the excess OEM chips, and chips that don't pass quality requirements end up in the gray market where they are brokered. "These processors normally carry only a one-year warranty and don't come with a fan/heat sinks," he added.

Once they enter the gray market, it would pass through several distribution tiers before ending up at the consumer's hand. "So you can never tell if these processors are new, used, overclocked or remarked as there is no guarantee from Intel," he said.

Typically, "professional" remarkers normally erase the original markings of the rejected processors and mark it to a higher speed. "For instance, a P133 processor can be overclocked to run at a maximum of 166MHz. Some unscrupulous vendors might alter a P133 to P200 or P233," he revealed.

While he reckoned that most of the processors that end up in clone PCs are likely to be remarked, he claimed that the majority do not pose a problem as they are altered within limits.

Intel fights back

The world's largest chipmaker Intel Corp claims that the number of remarked chips floating in the market is very small and declined to disclose figures. "If you look at the totality of the market, most users either buy from well-known branded PC companies or from Genuine Intel Dealers (GIDs). As these users make up the majority of the market, the remainder is relatively small. Of that, we estimate that the number of remarked processor products is relatively few," reasoned Intel Electronics (M) Sdn Bhd country manager Yohani Yusof.

She added that Intel is continually improving its packaging technologies to prevent remarking of its processors. "We do a lot of this but don't divulge technical enhancements as doing so would provide information to the remarkers."

Intel also encouraged consumers to buy their systems from its chain of 750 GIDs nationwide to avoid being duped. "Consumers must be wary and should buy from an authorized reseller and insist on a certificate to verify that it is authentic," she added.

Boxed processors come with a three-year warranty from Intel and are complete with a heat sink, fan and a certificate of authenticity.

However, the four users that were conned had brought their PCs from a GID. The company, ATEC Computer Sales and Services, has since been stripped of its GID status and is now defunct.




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