Bug in new Pentium IIIs hampers boot-up

The flaw, in computers containing the "Coppermine" chip, becomes apparent in the boot-up sequence and essentially forces computer owners to hit the "on" button twice.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
A bug that complicates starting computers based around "Coppermine" Pentium III processors has been identified, but Intel said it will soon eliminate the problem.

The flaw, or erratum, becomes apparent in the "boot-up" sequence and essentially forces computer owners to hit the "on" button twice, according to Michael Sullivan, an Intel spokesman. If a computer contains a chip with the flaw, it does not start until the second try.

"It is like starting something twice," he said.

The bug only affects 1 to 2 percent of "Coppermine" Pentium III processors and has only been observed in labs, Sullivan said.

Still, Dell Computer has put an "engineering hold" on the manufacture of new Optiplex GX110 computers, which are based around Coppermine, until testing procedures can be devised to weed out any chips containing the bug, a Dell spokesman said. The testing procedures could be completed later today or tomorrow, the spokesman added.

Intel said the flaw will be fixed in the next "stepping," or manufacturing tweak, of the processor. The company also is testing to screen out chips containing the flaw.

The latest glitch contributes to Coppermine's short but eventful product life. Although the chip has been touted for its performance and capabilities, it has endured a number of setbacks.

Coppermine was the code name for the most recent generation of Pentium IIIs. Released on Oct. 25, they differ from earlier Pentium IIIs in that, among other reasons, they are made on the more advanced 0.18-micron manufacturing process.

Chips made on this process have smaller transistors than older Pentium IIIs manufactured on the 0.25-micron manufacturing process, making the new chips both faster and more efficient. Because of earlier delays, however, Coppermine chips have been in relatively tight supply, although shipments are increasing, various sources have said.

Originally due in September, the Coppermine Pentium IIIs promised a number of benefits. It would become the first Intel chip to be used with the advanced Rambus memory technology and would come with a revamped "secondary cache," a small amount of memory near the processor, to substantially boost performance. The chip also promised to close the gap in performance between notebooks and desktops.

During the summer, however, Intel postponed its release until November because of low manufacturing yields of the fastest Coppermine chips. The Santa Clara, California, chipmaking giant eventually moved up the release of the chip to October.

But the shift forward created an inventory hiccup and lead to a shortage at Coppermine's launch. Unusually, PC makers announced products based around Coppermine upon its release but started shipping new systems later. Normally the pipeline is well stocked with new PCs.

Meanwhile, AMD released its rival Athlon processor. Despite initial shortages, AMD has been able to increase manufacturing volume and boosted the chip's speed to 750 MHz.