In the latest of a long string of embarrassments, Intel Corporation was forced to recall its 1.13GHz Pentium III microprocessor yesterday, confirming complaints by hardware enthusiast Web site Tom's Hardware that the chip is unstable and unreliable. Thomas Pabst of Tom's Hardware first complained publicly about the Pentium III 1.13GHz on July 31st, when he called off benchmarking tests of the new chip because it was so unstable. Concerned, he contacted Intel, which has been responding more quickly to problems with its chips since the embarrassing "divide" error that plagued early Pentium designs turned into a PR nightmare, ultimately costing the company over $450 million. But Intel was initially unconcerned about the problems, and when Pabst discovered that other reviewer's chips were having similar problems, he realized something was really wrong. So Pabst issued a second article about the PIII 1.13 GHz, this time accusing Intel of supplying faulty processors to customers.
"It is hard to believe that Intel would indeed ship a seriously flawed processor product after being world renowned as the provider of the most reliable and compatible CPUs out there," Pabst wrote in early August. "\[But\] I don't make waves of this amplitude lightheartedly. My tests showed a serious instability of Intel's new Pentium III and that is what I reported."
By this point, Intel was doing its best to silence the criticism, but the shipment of a specially tuned PIII motherboard to Pabst did nothing to alleviate the problems. At this point, Pabst decided against publishing yet another damning article about the Pentium III 1.13GHz and instead allowed his earlier reviews to stand on their own, despite criticism from other sites that were concerned that Pabst was on some sort of a tirade against Intel. And according to Pabst, Intel took Tom's Hardware "out of the loop" when it announced the Pentium 4 microprocessor just a few weeks later, denying the site any information about the new chip. Pabst says this is the first time that Intel didn't brief him on a new design, though it had briefed similar sites.
Last weekend, however, Intel's internal testing finally confirmed what Pabst had known all along: The Pentium III 1.13GHz has a serious internal flaw and it advised its OEM partners, such as Dell Computer, to halt shipment of any systems based around that chip. In an emergency meeting over the week, Intel also decided to halt the production and shipment of the processor. Unfortunately for Intel, fixing the problem will take some time and the chip will be unavailable in the meantime. And with the release of AMD's 1.1GHz Athlon "Thunderbird" processor Monday, Intel has once again lost the microprocessor speed throne, under increasingly embarrassing conditions. Intel says that it acted "swiftly" to protect customers and its Pentium III brand name. Pabst, who first reported the problem a month ago, doesn't see it that way.
"Intel has shipped a buggy processor for four weeks," he says, "which is finally being recalled now. Intel has also made a chain of mistakes that delayed the recovery of the bug as well as deliberately taken the risk to disgruntle me, being the first to suggest that the Pentium III 1.13 GHz processor should be recalled some long four weeks ago." Intel says that the recall won't be prohibitively expensive, as the limited-supply chip has only shipped to a "handful" of customers. Pabst guesses that Intel shipped 10,000 to 20,000 Pentium III 1.13GHz chips. Coincidentally, Intel introduced deep price cuts into its other Pentium III microprocessors Monday as well.
For more information about the Pentium III 1.13GHz debacle, please refer to Tom's Hardware