The problem occurred with some of Intel's SE440BX-2 motherboards in conjunction with certain power supplies, said spokesman Daniel Francisco. The SE440BX-2 is used in desktop computers with Intel's Pentium II processor.
Unfortunately, seeing if your machine has the problem could leave you with a dead computer: "You'll know you have a board with this problem if you unplug [your computer], plug it back in...and it won't turn back on," Francisco said. It's not enough to merely hit the power switch on the computer; the machine actually has to be completely unplugged.
People who think they have this problem should contact the place where they bought the computer, Francisco said.
The motherboard is home to the core pieces of a computer, including the main processor, its memory, and slots to plug in expansion circuit boards.
Intel began shipping the faulty motherboard to computer companies on October 1, and Intel discovered the problem October 23. The Intel motherboards shipping now don't suffer the problem, Francisco said. He said it affected a "relatively small number of boards," but declined to say exactly how many motherboards suffered the problem.
Intel has notified computer manufacturers and can send those companies a test kit that will identify motherboards with the problem, Francisco said. The problem can be fixed by adding some additional circuitry to the motherboard.
The problem comes from the interaction under certain conditions of the motherboard with certain power supplies--the box in the computer that converts electricity from a wall socket into a form useful to the computer. Some power supplies emit an electronic signal that actually reprograms the motherboard's flash BIOS, the device where the computer looks for the first instructions it needs to boot up.
To fix the problem, Intel attaches new capacitors, electronic devices that prevent the power supply's signal noise from affecting the flash BIOS.