Intel swats Pentium 4 bug

Chip manufacturer delivers a fix before processor ships in PCs, tweaking a glitch related to how the chip handles certain instructions

Intel got its first Pentium 4 bug fix out of the way just before the new chip reached consumers.

The chipmaker acknowledged Tuesday that it updated its Pentium 4 BIOS code, fixing an erratum, or glitch, related to how the chip handles certain instructions.

Intel worked with PC makers -- who had already received the chip with the glitch -- to update the BIOS software before they began shipping Pentium 4 PCs to customers. "In our evaluation process we saw that our [Pentium 4] BIOS needed an update. We worked with our OEMS last week to get it updated," said company spokesman George Alfs.

This particular Pentium 4 erratum, seen only under lab stress tests so far, created a certain sequence of instructions that would overwrite other data inside the processor.

Alfs said the glitch was not seen in commercial applications. However, it was important enough to fix.

Errata are fairly common, and most processors have at least a few.

Generally, Intel detects them in its own qualification tests and develops software-based work-arounds.

These workarounds are then incorporated into the BIOS software before a new chip is shipped or added later on through BIOS software updates.

BIOS -- or Basic Input/Output System -- serves as a bridge between the hardware and the operating system of a PC. Among other things, it controls several basic functions of PCs, including power management.

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including interactive roadmaps for AMD, Intel and Transmeta.

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