Intel Faces 820 Chipset Problems (Again)

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Intel Faces 820 Chipset Problems (Again)
C. McNulty - June 1, 2000

Event Summary

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - May 10, 2000 - Intel Corporation [NASDAQ:INTC] announced that it would replace motherboards that have a defective memory translator hub (MTH) component that translates signals from SDRAM memory to the Intel 820 chipset. The MTH is only used with motherboards utilizing SDRAM and the Intel 820 chipset. The MTH began shipping in November 1999; therefore systems shipped before that time are unaffected by this issue.

Intel has identified system noise issues with the MTH that can cause some systems to intermittently reset, reboot and/or hang. In addition, the noise issue can, under extreme conditions, potentially cause data corruption. In some instances the company has been able to induce data corruption under synthetic stress testing in its laboratories.

Market Impact

The 820 chipset was conceived as a performance-oriented component. The key differences between the 820 chipset and the "value oriented" 810 are the addition of AGP4X graphics support and RDRAM in the 820. RDRAM provides a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 1.6GB/s, twice the access speed of SDRAM. On the other hand, it costs about $100 more.

This is another black eye for Intel, and a market opportunity for rival chipmaker Advanced Micros Devices [NYSE:AMD]. SDRAM on 820 was a "margin saver", and Intel won't have a working SDRAM compatible 820 chipset until Q3 2000. AMD is unaffected by the problem.

The major PC vendors have different exposures on this issue.


According to Dell [NASDAQ:DELL] Vice Chairman Kevin Rollins, Dell engineers discovered the problem early, and committed instead to Rambus technology. Dell users are unaffected.


TechnologyEvaluation.Com spoke with senior Compaq [NYSE:CPQ] officials, who confirmed that Compaq had not used the MTH in its 820-based motherboards.


IBM [NYSE:IBM] has stated that they are "unaffected", since only RDRAM is used on IBM's 820-based motherboards.

Hewlett Packard

Unfortunately, Hewlett Packard [NYSE:HWP] has used the 820/SDRAM combination is some of its systems, such as the Kayak XM600. HP has not yet announced a repair/replacement policy.


According to Gateway, although Gateway uses SDRAM extensively, it has never deployed the 820 chipset and customers are unaffected.


The systems builders with the most exposure are the so-called "white box" vendors - the small local "screwdriver shops" that assemble systems to order. Many of these use SDRAM with the 820 to shave costs. Intel expects its forthcoming 815 chipset, with SDRAM support, to debut in Q2 2000, sooner than the "fixed" 820 chipset. We forecast a 70% likelihood that the 815 will quell demand for SDRAM support on the 820.

User Recommendations

This issue only affects Intel 820-based systems shipped between November 1999 and May 2000. Intel has provided a free downloadable utility that tests for the defective MTH component. However, in testing at TechnologyEvaluation.Com, we found this utility generated the dreaded Windows NT "blue screen of death". We recommend contacting your vendor directly to confirm your status. Insist on onsite system board replacement, rather than a refund.

Intel will be replacing defective 820-based SDRAM motherboards with its VC820 motherboard and 128MB of RDRAM. However, they are directing customers to contact their vendor directly for replacement or refund. Since Intel has sold over a million of its original, defective motherboards, it's going to take awhile for vendors to determine their final policies.

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