Watchdog: December 2007

Nathan Edwards

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.

But what if the holographic seals were intact on the box, surely that would protect you? Nope. Brown said that counterfeiters’ skills are so incredibly sophisticated that even the holographic seals can be reproduced. The most foolproof method for protecting yourself is to download the CPU identification tool from Intel and check the proc yourself.

Although it looked like Roger was going to end up with a dead P4 instead of a shiny quad core, Intel reversed its decision and swapped Roger’s chip for another Core 2 Extreme QX6700. The Dog must add that Intel’s warranty department did this independently of the Dog’s questions to the company about Roger’s case, so hats off to the company.

The Dog doesn’t necessarily hold Zipzoomfly.com to blame, as there is simply no way of knowing when the CPU was swapped. Roger certainly didn’t help matters by reporting the problem months after the return period ended.

So what are the lessons to be learned? Number one, make sure you got what you paid for as soon as possible. If you’re buying a part at a store, check the packaging. Many new packages actually put the CPU or videocard in a clear window so you can even check it without opening the box. If you buy an open box or returned item, check it in the store, or if that’s not allowed, when you’re paying for it. The cashier can be your witness and you can avoid claims by the store that you swapped the part yourself.


Running Intel’s Processor Identification Utility on a new CPU is one way to make sure the Core 2 Duo you bought isn’t an old Pentium 4.

If you purchased an Intel CPU, download Intel’s Processor Identification Utility at www.tinyurl.com/23z6mh . The utility will check any current Intel CPU and tell you if it’s actually the chip you bought. AMD has a similar tool available at www.tinyurl.com/o0n . While it’s possible to fool Windows XP, Windows Vista will identify the CPU string from the chip, so that’s another option for verification. Third-party tools such as CPU-Z ( www.cpuid.com ) and GPU-Z ( www.techpowerup.com/gpuz/ ) are also available to query your hardware. The key take-away is to check your hardware before the return deadline comes up. Woof.

No Bunny Hopping with this Keyboard

I purchased a WolfKing CS Warrior keyboard. It worked fine for about a month and then quit. None of the keys would do anything, I even switched USB ports, but to no avail. I emailed WolfKing about my problem but didn’t hear back after two weeks. I then called the support “hotline” numerous times only to get a recording that says, “We’ll get back to you at our convenience.” Which, as it turns out, is never. I sent six emails and still no response. The keyboard is under warranty but that doesn’t help if I can’t reach anyone. Has the company been skinned?

— Sgt. Bass 64


The Dog pinged WolfKing USA and heard from Bob Costlow, the company’s director of sales and marketing. Costlow told the Dog, “I’m a bit puzzled at this complaint. I’m usually copied on any defect issue (of which there have been very few). I have not received any reports of a CS Warrior... as a defect or a phone message indicating an issue. I’ll certainly look into it... [and to abide by the warranty period], I’d be happy to provide this user with a replacement unit ASAP.”
Woof.

Fix Alert!

Canon has issued a service alert for some of its new 12.1MP PowerShot A650 IS digital cameras, which may exhibit a light leak. The problem can occur when a person is shooting with the LCD display open and sunlight shining directly on the back of the camera causes a small overexposed rectangle to appear in the image.


Canon’s PowerShot A650 IS cameras could leak light when the LCD is exposed to sunlight.

Canon did not say how many of the cameras have the problem, but it did say the problem affects PowerShot A650 IS cameras that have a 0 as the fifth digit of the serial number. For example, a camera with a 4816002105 would be eligible for the fix. Canon will repair any camera with the problem free of charge. The company also said the problem can be avoided in the short term by keeping the LCD closed during exposures. For more information, contact Canon at 800-828-4040 between 8 a.m. and midnight, Monday through Friday, or 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday. Consumers may also contact Canon at carecenter@cits.canon.com .

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