Suspicious PC owners who believe they may have been sold a fake 300-MHz Pentium II processor can now run a simple test to find out whether they've been duped.
While the problem is not widespread in the United States, there have been reports that forgers abroad increasingly are repackaging 266-MHz Pentium IIs as 300-MHz chips.
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 discerns whether ECC has been enabled on the processor being tested, and thus determines its true speed.
"We've heard rumors, but we haven't seen any concrete examples of forgeries," said Mercury Research processor analyst Dean McCarron. "But it's happened with every single processor ever. It's not an unusual occurrence."
The principal reason for the counterfeiting of Pentium II chips is the difference in price. In quantities of 1,000, 300-MHz Pentium II chips cost $375 per processor, while 266-MHz Pentium II chips cost $246 per processor, according to Intel.
An unscrupulous reseller can make money off the price difference if it takes chips designated by Intel as 266-MHz processors and then resells them as 300-MHz chips. These then go into computers sold as 300-MHz boxes.
Because both speeds of the Pentium II are manufactured on the same silicon wafer, the lower-speed chips will run at a higher speed for a limited time, explained McCarron. The processors are tested for speed after being manufactured and are then separated and labeled.
"If you run a 266 at 300, it will run, but the issues are reliability," the analyst added. "If it failed the factory speed test it will run hotter, and it will give the wrong answers to its own instructions. It won't happen every time, but it's a gamble."