Chip bugs hobble Toshiba laptops

Intel and Toshiba confirm circuit board disabled 400MHz mobile chips -- but 'we found a workaround'

Intel has confirmed it uncovered a design problem involving processor packages using the company's 400MHz Celeron and 400MHz Pentium II mobile chips that effectively made the chips unusable. The problem was brought to Intel's attention in late February after buyers of notebooks from Toshiba America Information Systems began complaining about CPU failures.

The trouble was initially reported to Toshiba by owners of its Satellite 4100-series and Tecra 8000-series laptops featuring the 400MHz chips.

In the last two weeks, Toshiba and Intel engineers narrowed the problem down to a circuit board, known as Mobile Module One, on which the CPUs were affixed, according to Intel spokesman Manny Vara in Santa Clara, California Intel has several types of mobile modules, Vara said. "Basically, there's something called over-voltage tripping (on the circuit board), and there's a component in there that would trip the over-voltage protection so that it would disable the CPU," Vara said.

He stressed that the problem was related to a component on the chips' daughtercards and not to the processors themselves. Intel and Toshiba officials said the problem was limited to a small percentage of all 400MHz mobile processors produced from late December 1999 through February. Vara said the corrected chips began shipping this month. "We found a workaround, we implemented the workaround, and we've been shipping the products already with the workaround implemented," he said.

While Intel believes Toshiba received the majority of the flawed packages, Vara said other OEMs (original-equipment manufacturers) may have received some in small quantities. However, he stopped short of disclosing the names of the other OEMs. Mark Tanguay, Toshiba's director of mobile product marketing, said the company has been working to resolve the problem for its customers. "We are proactively contacting our customer base and are working with them to resolve any issues that are uncovered," he said.

"We're going back right now, working to see not only what the total volume was, but where the products ended up," Tanguay said. "Since these products usually end up with corporate customers, they are somewhat concentrated into select accounts, and we're talking to those accounts right now to see if we can isolate the problems."

According to Toshiba, Satellite notebooks are generally purchased by small and midsize businesses, while Tecras are most often bought by large-scale corporate accounts. "We're working very closely with Intel," Tanguay said. "We've already identified the fix for this; we've already implemented repair work as well in our factory so that new products coming out will not face this issue.

"Our remedy is just like with every product. We'll go ahead and repair or replace any component under warranty," he said.

Intel's Vara also vowed that the chip maker would continue to offer Toshiba assistance to address the problem.