Intel works on cure for Xeon 550MHz bug

Intel Corp. was working feverishly earlier this month to find the root cause of and remedy for a bug in its Pentium III Xeon 550MHz processor. The bug affects the performance of some eight-way servers, but observers said the problem won’t affect many business users.

The bug in the Xeon 550MHz processor causes computers to crash when the chip communicates with an Intel Saber motherboard.

Officials said the problem appears to be excessive voltage, or “noise”, on the processor when it’s plugged into the Saber motherboard. But Intel said it will continue testing to determine if other components that work with the processor are affected.

The problem has been found in 550MHz versions with 512KB and 1MB of secondary cache. Versions with 2MB of cache aren’t affected, according to an Intel spokesperson.

The Pentium III 550MHz processors were first shipped Aug. 23, after months of delays.

IBM, Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Computer Corp. are among the manufacturers that have come out with eight-way servers based on the product. But officials at the companies said they aren’t concerned.

A Compaq spokesperson said the company’s ProLiant 8000 and 8500 servers are unaffected because Compaq designs and manufactures its own eight-way server motherboard.

Dell was scheduled to start shipping its PowerEdge eight-way servers earlier this month. “We just aren’t going to offer it with 1MB until they figure out the problem,” said Dell spokesperson David Brandt.

IBM will ship its eight-way servers only with 2MB cache. An IBM spokesperson called the number of existing eight-way users a “manageable pool” to maintain.

“They’re getting into their early deployment. Problems don’t crop up when processors aren’t taxed. Those customers can continue to use those processors until we replace them,” the IBM spokesperson said.

Stephen Wolfcale, director of network operations at S-B Power Tool Co. in Chicago, has been beta-testing HP’s eight-way server with 1MB cache since May. “We haven’t had any problems” related to the processor or motherboard, he said, alhough he acknowledged that he hasn’t pushed the server to its highest performance level, where most of the crashes have occurred.

Intel said it will continue shipping the processors and recommend that users not use certain chips with Saber motherboards.