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America seeing Pentium II fakes

Although fake 300-MHz Pentium IIs were believed to be confined to Europe, most of the occurrences so far have turned up in the United States.

Although the existence of counterfeit 300-MHz Pentium II chips was believed to be largely confined to Europe, the majority of occurrences so far have turned up in the United States.

A software program created by the German publication c't to detect whether a computer contains one of the dubious chips has turned up more problems domestically than anywhere else. In the first three days of testing, c't has confirmed 72 instances of counterfeit--or "remarked"--300-MHz Pentium IIs worldwide. Of those, 42 were found in the United States.

Germany had the second largest number of fake Pentium IIs, with 21 confirmed reports, according to Christian Persson, the magazine's editor. Fake chips have also been reported in Israel, the Netherlands, Russian, Spain, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates.

In all, 595 cases have been reported in Russia, but Persson believes that many of those claims are bogus.

The 300-MHz Pentium II chips in question are actually 266-MHz Pentium II chips that have been repackaged to look like their fast brethren. Shady brokers change the chip's package while tweaking the speed of the chip so they can sell it for the higher price. Typically, the processors end up in computers from third- and fourth-tier manufacturers or as "house brand" machines built by computer resellers.

While remarking was a problem with the Pentium processor, many believed that Intel had solved the problem on the Pentium II. But remarking apparently has resurfaced, as c't first reported in March.

"You can't tell the difference" from a quick physical examination, said Wade Chen, an employee at Winnovate, a computer vendor and reseller in Anaheim, California. "We weren't aware of the problem." Chen's company accidentally bought some of the remarked chips and incorporated them into its computers.

The company has since replaced a remarked Pentium II reported by a customer and narrowed the sources for its processors. In addition, Winnovate has switched from buying Pentium II processors running at 266 MHz and faster speeds in bulk to buying the "retail" version of these chips. The latter come in an original manufacturer's box and offer a three-year guarantee from Intel. Retail chips are around $20 to $30 more expensive.

U.S. users have reported 16 other outlets where the remarked Pentium II chips have emerged.

Reports of bad chips are not the result of faults in the c't test, Persson asserts. The magazine sent the serial numbers of some of the questionable processors to Intel. They did not match a 300-MHz part, he said, confirming the test results.

Pentium II processors are manufactured with an Error Correction Code (ECC) feature that is only enabled on the 300-MHz version. The c't test determines whether ECC has been enabled on the processor being tested and thus determines its true speed.