UPDATED March 17, 2000 10:58 AM PT
Corp. has confirmed it uncovered a design problem involving processor
packages using the company's 400MHz Celeron and 400MHz Pentium II mobile
chips that effectively made the chips unusable. The problem was brought
to Intel's attention in late February after buyers of notebooks from Toshiba
America Information Systems Inc. began complaining about CPU failures.
The trouble was initially reported to Toshiba by owners of its Satellite
4100-series and Tecra 8000-series laptops featuring the 400MHz chips.
In the last two weeks, Toshiba and Intel engineers narrowed the problem
down to a circuit board, known as Mobile Module One, on which the CPUs
were affixed, according to Intel spokesman Manny Vara in Santa Clara,
Calif. Intel has several types of mobile modules, Vara said.
there's something called over-voltage tripping (on the circuit board),
and there's a component in there that would trip the over-voltage protection
so that it would disable the CPU," Vara said. He stressed that the problem
was related to a component on the chips' daughtercards and not to the
processors themselves. Intel and Toshiba officials said the problem was
limited to a small percentage of all 400MHz mobile processors produced
from late December 1999 through February. Vara said the corrected chips
began shipping this month. "We found a workaround, we implemented the
workaround, and we've been shipping the products already with the workaround
implemented," he said.
While Intel believes Toshiba received the majority of the flawed packages,
Vara said other OEMs (original-equipment manufacturers) might have received
some in small quantities. However, he stopped short of disclosing the
names of the other OEMs.
Tanguay, Toshiba's director of mobile product marketing, said the company
has been working to resolve the problem for its customers. "We are proactively
contacting our customer base and are working with them to resolve any
issues that are uncovered," he said. "We're going back right now, working
to see not only what the total volume was, but where the products ended
up," Tanguay said. "Since these products usually end up with corporate
customers, they are somewhat concentrated into select accounts, and we're
talking to those accounts right now to see if we can isolate the problems."
to Toshiba, Satellite notebooks are generally purchased by small and midsize
businesses, while Tecras are most often bought by large-scale corporate
accounts. "We're working very closely with Intel," Tanguay said. "We've
already identified the fix for this; we've already implemented repair
work as well in our factory so that new products coming out will not face
this issue. "Our remedy is just like with every product. We'll go ahead
and repair or replace any component under warranty," he said. Intel's
Vara also vowed that the chipmaker would continue to offer Toshiba assistance
to address the problem.
Toshiba has been one of the leading notebook manufacturers for years.
This embarrassment will not kill the product line, especially since the
fault seems to lie with Intel. Although the foul-up will likely not cause
Toshiba to "reevaluate its relationship" with Intel (euphemism for considering
whether to dump Intel), we expect Toshiba (and any other vendors affected)
will pay closer attention to products and components they receive from
Intel, this is the "Nth" in a string (growing longer all the time) of
Intel problems/issues. Dell seems to be standing firm (at least in public)
in its support of Intel, but other computer vendors may start to realize
that Intel is no longer unassailable. Compaq, NEC, HP, and Toshiba are
already using Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) processors in some of their
notebooks; continued problems may cause those vendors to form stronger
ties with AMD.
Intel has always recovered from embarrassments in the past, at some point
the "problem quotient" may reach critical mass - especially if Intel management
fails to take these problems (and their root causes) seriously. We believe
a string of issues is a symptom of deeper problems, so Intel management
might want to investigate for more signs.
should respond to this issue by highlighting their performance. In addition,
if they can positively compare their mobile systems' reliability to Intel's,
they should milk it for all it's worth.
For current Toshiba Tecra and Satellite customers: find out from Toshiba
if your laptop is one of those affected. (Of course, some of you may have
already found out the hard way.) Toshiba says it will be proactive in
contacting customers, but we always recommend that users also be proactive
when computer problems are involved. If your laptop is one of the soon-to-be-dead
ones, you can either get it fixed for free (if still under warranty),
or have it bronzed for posterity.
customers with 400 MHz Celeron and Pentium II (PII) should also check
with the manufacturer to determine if they are at risk. Based on Intel's
statements, Toshiba received the majority of problem boards, so the probability
of a problem will be less for those from other manufacturers.
new customers, the occurrence of this particular problem should be near-zero.
Of course, we cannot predict whether new issues will crop up at some point
in the future. Prudent customers should also investigate competitive offerings
with AMD processors, with the comparison focusing on reliability. (AMD's
processors can match Intel for price and performance, so the remaining
key issue is reliability.)