The company today conceded that a glitch in its new Pentium Pro processor chipsets can cripple performance in server configurations and I/O-intensive workstations. And Intel is still shipping the flawed chipsets, company officials said today. The announcement comes a little more than a year after a public uproar over the discovery of a flaw in a previous incarnation of the Pentium chip architecture that was found to perform inaccurate calculations under rare but predictable circumstances.
Intel has started shipping Intel-branded systems with workarounds that alleviate the problem, but the actual fixed chips--referred to as chipsets--will not show up in systems until late in the first quarter or in the second quarter.
The Pentium Pro is Intel's newest class of processor and the chip designed to carry the Intel X86 architecture to the end of the decade. Intel began shipping the processor in last fall.
So far, the Pentium Pro is relatively limited. Some analysts estimate that the company has shipped only 100,000 chips. Intel declined to comment on shipment numbers.
The flaw revealed today is rooted in the 82450 chipset that forms the delivery vehicle for the processor itself. The 82450, formerly known as the Orion chipset, is currently the only chipset available for the Pentium Pro processor and works in conjunction with the processor to handle I/O (input/output) operations that can affect the speed of data flow in a computer.
There are two workarounds for the current problem, said Jerry Budelman, general manager of server engineering and tools, part of the Pentium Pro group. The simplest is to turn off certain performance features, which fixes the glitch but also significantly reduces system performance. Budelman said that people who have serious problems with performance are saddled with the simple fix.
The other workaround, which Intel is shipping now, is a more complicated hardware fix that allows the system to maintain relatively good performance.
Nevertheless, Intel is stating in no uncertain terms that current Pentium Pro processors and chipsets should not be used as servers, which tend to be I/O-intensive.
A written description of the problem, titled Pentium Pro Processor Network Server Configuration Guide, is posted on the company's Web site. This will be updated on Monday, Intel said.
The two embarrassing chip problem episodes are prompting Intel to publish all chipset and motherboard errata starting in July, the company said today.