Queensland is the latest hot spot to experience an upsurge of overclocked Intel Pentium CPUs. As many as 3000 to 5000 may have been put into circulation in the state since mid-December, estimates Ray Shaw, managing director of Brisbane distributor and reseller Intermedia.
The scam involves Pentium 166MHz chips in brown ceramic packages remarked as Pentium 200MHz and 233MHz MMX pro-cessors, Shaw says.
Shaw identified 22 Queensland discounters who were selling the remarked chips after end users began calling him to complain about the situation. "In two days we got more than 100 calls -- I was floored by the response," Shaw said.
In virtually every case, Shaw found 166MHz processors had been remarked.
Since Intel only uses black plastic packaging for its 200MHz and 233MHz products, the grey-brown ceramic package encasing the 166MHz makes visual verification easy.
"A few of the companies have been ethical and replaced the chips, but 90 per cent haven't," Shaw said.
Threats of violence and arson have been made against Shaw since he began pointing the finger in the reseller community, he says.
The suspect chips, which overheat and cause intermittent mach-ine hang-ups when run at higher clock rates, have their markings ground off to hide their true ratings. In some cases, importers have also changed motherboard BIOS settings so the screen display claims the slower chip is running at the faster speed.
Dealers taking part in the scam can pocket $150 to $250 for each processor -- a tempting sum given the ongoing margin pressure in reseller channels. Shaw said he was beginning to receive calls from corporate and education industry buyers who suspect they have also been taken in.
The chip switch was not the only problem many of the end users faced.
"We also came across CD-ROMs marked at 24x speed which were really 16x speed or slower plus a lot of low-grade RAM that would only be good for the toy market," said Shaw.
Intel Australia general manager David Bolt said the overclocked CPU problem is not isolated to any one region.
Intel is taking preventative steps which range from packaging and marketing initiatives to elements of internal design, blocking shipments and legal action.