Intel chip trips up Linux install

InfoWorld |  Hardware

IT IS SAFE to say that this week Intel's Pentium 4 processor had a bad week.

Not only did a market report come out confirming the chip's lethargic retail sales, but a handful of top Linux operating systems distributors said their products do not install cleanly because they are unable to identify the chip upon installation.

The installation problem centers around Intel changing its CPUID (CPU identification) model numbering, catching many Linux distributors unaware. The result of this change is that shortly after users begin installation the process is suspended.

Officials at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel admit the problem and say the affected Linux distributors must upgrade their versions of the operating system to fix the glitch. An Intel spokesman said that the company told Linux distributors about the update to the chip in nondisclosure briefings before Nov. 20, but some distributors chose not to participate in those briefings.

By most accounts the only version of Linux that properly installs "out of the box" is Red Hat's Linux.

Over the past few weeks several of Red Hat's competitors, including Caldera Systems and TurboLinux, have posted multistep work-arounds to sidestep the problem.

Other top-tier Linux distributors such as SuSE, Corel, and Mandrake also do not include information in their CPUID databases to identify the chip, although all are aware of the problem.

The other bad news for the chip, which started shipping in OEM systems on Nov. 20, is its sluggish retail sales. According to PC Data, a Reston, Va.-based researcher, the chip accounted for only 1 percent of all retail sales in the United States for the month of December. Those numbers, however, do not include electronic or direct sales.

Intel officials this week did not appear worried, saying that only about 10 percent of all PC sales go through retailers, with the bulk going through direct channels. They expect sales to significantly ramp up over the next few months.

"We just brought out a 1.3GHz Pentium 4, which should bring prices down. We are just now getting near $1,500 price points on Pentium 4s," an Intel official said.

He added that Intel has plans to aggressively market the chip during the next several months. The company believes the push should add some measure of sales momentum.

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