With the launch of the 750MHz AMD Athlon processor still fresh in consumers' minds, chip maker Intel has confirmed that a glitch in its Pentium III Coppermine processors has caused computers powered by the faulty Pentium IIIs not to boot up on first attempt.
This news follows early shipping delays due to problems with the Intel 820 chip set, which allows the Coppermine-class Pentium IIIs to support Rambus memory.
The glitch -- known as "erratum", which Intel officials say was discovered by one of the company's OEMs -- lies dormant for several weeks following the assembly of the processor inside the computer. When the glitch awakens, the operator of the host computer must "hit the button twice", according to Intel officials, before the computer boots up successfully.
Intel admitted that about 2 per cent of its shipped Pentium III processors have been affected by the problem. Company officials did not go into detail about which processor speeds of the Coppermine family were affected, nor would they provide information pertaining to the window of time in which OEMs received the faulty processors.
Sources said the glitch caused a delay in the delivery of some Dell computers to corporate clients in Japan.
Dell spokesperson Ken Bissell would not say whether it was Dell that discovered the glitch, but he confirmed that Dell implemented an engineering hold on all of its Asia-Pacific market, as well as a hold on its Optiplex GX-110, which uses the Pentium III processor. Bissell said "no issues were found" during the hold and that production would be resumed by late last week.
Intel emphasised that the problem was caught during normal testing in the lab environment and that no end users have been affected.
Mario Morales, program director for semiconductors at analyst International Data Corp (IDC), said Intel's overall Coppermine strategy is largely the reason that the 0.18-micron chips have encountered problems.
"Normally when Intel introduces a product, they wrap it into one product family," said Morales. "With the Coppermine processors, Intel introduced 15 new products and four product families. That has something to do with this issue."
Officials from rival AMD said they are maintaining their focus on promoting the Athlon processor.
"There are so few of these products out there right now that it's hard to judge what this news will do," said Scott Carroll, an AMD spokesman.
"I'm sure AMD is happy about this," said Josephine Mong, an analyst at IDC. "But I don't think this glitch will affect the confidence in the Coppermines. In the corporate mind set particularly, the [Pentium III] is still very strong."
Processors with the glitch will be pulled from any assembled computers, and Intel pledged to increase its testing procedure to "minimise the issue".
Pentium III woes
Intel has had several problems since releasing the Pentium III earlier this year.
* 810 and 810e chip sets delayed
* 820 chip set not compatible with Rambus* Working 840 chip set not practical for PCs or laptops* "Erratum" glitch appears