Readers Reply With Smoke Signals

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-09-09 Print this article Print

What I really want is to know and trust the label on the outside.

I invited you all to tell me if, and why, you still prefer "intel inside." I got answers on both sides of the (pardon the expression) heated debate, with issues of temperature tolerance being high on the lists of the Pentiums proponents.

Many of the Intel fans (not to be confused with their Pentiums fans) cited the incendiary investigations of hardware wrangler Thomas Pabst, of Toms Hardware Guide, who did unpleasant things a year ago to representative Pentium- and Athlon-based PCs.

Specifically, Pabst and colleague Frank Völkel removed the CPUs heat sinks (simulating, for example, damage that might occur while a system is being shipped), with wildly different results. "Pentium 4 dealt with the thermal disaster in an absolutely perfect manner. No data loss and no hardware damage is more than most of us would expect ... ," they reported at

"The thermal unit throttles down the clock of Pentium 4 until a safe temperature has been reached. ... It is pretty much impossible to fry a Pentium 4 processor," the report asserted (with a video to prove it). By contrast, the report said, "A split second after the heat sink had been taken off the Palomino-Athlon, the system crashed. We then watched in horror as smoke clouds rose. ..."

The Athlons protective thermal diode, they determined, could not keep up with a temperature climb exceeding 1 Celsius degree per second; "That might be good enough for failing fans," they acknowledged, but "a fallen-off heat sink, however, will ensure a dead Athlon processor and possibly a damaged motherboard as well."

I received many e-mails citing these results, but I also heard from comparable numbers of value-conscious buyers who urged me to keep telling people that "AMD has always offered competitive performance for a better price." So what do we say?

My civil-engineer side says that systems shouldnt be vulnerable to single-point failures; UL safety standards also frown on such fragility. But its the job of system builders to know the characteristics of components, and thats why what I really want is to know and trust the label on the outside—not put my trust in slogans about whats inside.

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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