Watchdog: December 2007

Watchdog: December 2007

Hank, watchdog of the month

Quad-Core Pentium 4?

In January, I purchased $3,000 worth of PC parts from Zipzoomfly.com, including a boxed retail Intel QX6700 Quad Core processor. I had numerous instability issues with my new rig spanning several months. After replacing literally everything else, I finally contacted Intel for warranty replacement of my boxed retail proc only to be told that the markings on my CPU were not that of a quad core! To make a long story short, Intel told me that my warranty was void because the proc is an “illegal re-mark” and that I should pursue a replacement with the vendor.

I have contacted Zipzoomfly.com more than a dozen times and the company has tried everything under the sun to dodge responsibility, including saying that I was beyond the 30-day return policy, and finally saying it has no way to recoup its money. So, in a nutshell, Zipzoomfly.com won’t replace my CPU because someone is going to get shafted and the company prefers that it be me.

—Roger Westbrook

Your problem is a disturbing one, Roger, as CPU re-marking has long been a bane of the industry. For those who don’t know about it, CPU chip pirates take slower CPUs which are capable of overclocking and “re-mark” the surface to say it’s a faster CPU. The profits come from selling the cheaper chip as a more expensive one. Re-marking isn’t the problem it was five years ago—and we would hate for this to be a sign of its resurgence.

The Dog pinged Zipzoomfly.com to hear its side of the story. The company said the situation is unfortunate but it doesn’t assume responsibility since Roger waited several months beyond the return policy period before contacting its support center. The spokesman said CPU orders are checked to see if the tamper seals are intact before they go out the door. The company also said they learned through their conversations with Roger that the machine did identify itself as a quad core during boot. The spokesman said that at one point, Roger told Zipzoomfly.com’s support center that he had taken his machine to a local shop where a tech examined the machine out of Roger’s view. So, although the company has sympathy for Roger, it has no plans to take the processor back because it believes the CPU was swapped after it was shipped to him.

The Dog went back to Roger who told the Dog that, yes, he had taken the machine to be checked, but he denied ever telling Zipzoomfly.com that the machine was out of his view. “I was talking with the tech the entire time and watching what he was doing,” Roger told the Dog, “and as I’ve said, the symptoms continued after I got the rig back home, until it died completely, that is.” Roger also said that he did not examine the tamper seals when it arrived but later noticed that one of the seals had been cut on the opposite side of the box he originally opened.

Oy, what a mess. A picture Roger sent the Dog clearly shows that the heat spreader says “Pentium 4,” but Roger says it boots as a Core 2 quad core. Roger said he believes the heat spreader said P4 from the very beginning but admits that he did not look at the chip’s markings until he spoke to Intel months later.

So is it a P4 or Core 2 quad core? The Dog spoke to David Brown, a senior engineer in Intel’s security department and was told that there are no known hacks to make a Pentium 4 identify itself as a Core 2 chip. Brown said Roger’s case doesn’t sound like a classic re-marking problem but rather a “swapping” issue. Somewhere in the chain of custody, the CPU in the box was swapped out.

Intel’s security department has seen re-marking problems drop off to almost nothing in recent years because newer CPUs are identified at the die level and are thus beyond remarking electronically, Brown told the Dog. You could, say, re-mark a cheap Core 2 Duo to physically say it’s an expensive Core 2 Extreme, but it’s impossible to make the OS or BIOS recognize it as a Core 2 Extreme­, unless they were themselves hacked.

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