Non-Y2K PCs spark hot debate

Non-Y2K PCs spark hot debate

Controversy has erupted over a Melbourne company's claims most PCs currently sold in Australia do not comply with the Standards Australia Year 2000 compliance rating.

Richard Smythe, managing director of IT service provider PC Resq, alleged that PC hardware from major manufacturers such as Acer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Compaq, fails to meet the SAA/SNZ MP 77 HB 121 Level 3 compliance standard.

The HB121 standard ensures a PC's operating system, basic input/output system (BIOS) and real time clock (RTC) will function correctly during the rollover from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000.

"Some of the machines that are sold in Australia, mainly from major manufacturers, don't have fully compliant RTCs. They rely on software or a BIOS correction to remedy the real time clock non-compliance," Smythe said.

"You can test machines sold at major retail stores and you'll find that most of them are not fully compliant to that standard. They claim to be Y2K compliant in accordance with the NSTL standard, which is a US-developed standard by National Software Testing Laboratories (NSTL), but NSTL does not test the functionality of the real time clock, so the RTC could be non-compliant and the computer will still pass the test of Y2K compliance."

While Standards Australia Level 3 compliance is not crucial for tasks typically required by home users, mission-critical applications cannot afford any time and date instability that RTC non-compliance is likely to cause.

"We've got examples here where the health network in Victoria has been supplied PC machines under contract to Compaq and got machines that are NSTL compliant, which is only Level 2 compliance," Smythe claimed.

"They are mission-critical and they have potentially life-threatening situations to think about, so they should be Level 3 compliance, because they cannot simply reboot their machines at the rollover or experience the time and date instability."

PC Resq has lodged a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which is expected to investigate the matter further.

Meanwhile, conducting our own investigation in order to assess levels of compliance of PCs sold at four Sydney CBD stores, ARN made a curious discovery.

Not only were all the computers sold at Tandy Electronics, Chandlers, Dick Smith and Broadway Computer World stores only NSTL compliant, but none of the sales staff surveyed were aware of the existence of the Australian HB 121 standard, assuming NSTL certification was based on the inter- nationally agreed upon Y2K readiness assessment.

Broadway Computer World, for instance, said all of their motherboards were NSTL certified and, while they were regularly conducting further Y2K compliance tests using Vet 2000, they have never heard of Standards Australia HB121 Level 3 compliance.

"We just presumed VET 2000 was testing for real time clock compliance as well," the spokesperson for the store said.

The question the IT channel and general public would probably like to have answered, then, is how effective has the Australian Government's Y2K awareness campaign been, if it takes a Melbourne reseller to discover that no one really knows how ready (or unprepared) Australia is for the Y2K bug.

"No one knows exactly what will happen when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 1999," Smythe said. "And the whole point of ensuring that Level 3 compliance criteria are met is to minimise potential damage."

But, has the damage already been done?

Catch up on Y2K compliance

To be precise

A real time clock (RTC) is a battery powered clock that is able to operate for up to 10 years without being powered by a computer.

A year 2000 capable RTC is a clock with a two-digit year counter that needs software intervention to determine the correct year at the turn of a century.

A year 2000 compatible RTC is a clock with the four-digit year counter. The Y2K compliant RTC does not need software intervention to calculate the century as it already has all four digits represented.

Mission catastrophical

According to the PC Resq-conducted tests based on the use of Micro2000 software that tests the real time clock (RTC), BIOS and leap-year compliance, no PCs included in the survey passed the RTC compliance crucial to mission-critical operations.

PC Resq conducted the survey at a major retail store in Victoria, testing a Compaq Presario, three Hewlett-Packard and three IBM PCs for RTC compliance.

All seven machines passed BIOS and leap-year compliance tests.

SAA HB 121 - 1998 Year 2000 compliance standardLevel 1. For this level, the 21st Century Enabled Test and Reboot Date Retention Test are successful, but the BIOS Century Roll Over Test is not successful. This implies that the DOS Clock is compliant, but the BIOS is not and may require an upgrade. Level 1 Compliance is sufficient for computers being used for non-critical home and office duties where they can be rebooted at the change of the century.

Level 2. In addition to the Level 1 test, the BIOS Century Rollover Test is successful, but the RTC Century Rollover Test is not. This implies that the DOS and BIOS Clocks are compliant, but the CMOS RTC is not. Level 2 Compliance is sufficient for most computers used for office purposes where they can be rebooted at the change of the century.

Level 3. This level of compliance is achieved when all compliance tests are successful, indicating the CMOS RTC, BIOS and DOS Clocks are all Y2K ready. Level 3 is a required level of compliance for critical 24-hour operations and where non-compliance may cause significant risk of loss or personal injury.

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