Bright side of Pentium flaw

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The Independent Online
IBM's decision to end shipments of Pentium microprocessors after a flaw was discovered has blown a fuse in its once cosy relations with Intel, the world's leading chip-maker.

The computer colossus stopped shipping Pentium PCs, the latest generation of personal computers, on Tuesday because a fault in the maths processor meant that it would give the wrong answers to some division calculations. Intel said the error would normally occur only once in 27,000 years, but IBM said problems could happen as often as every 24 days.

Executives at Intel are wondering whether Big Blue's motive for ending shipment of personal computers containing Pentium chips was influenced by its role as a backer of the competing Power PC chip.

The Power PC is technically superior to Pentium, but is hitting the market later. If Pentium gets too much of a market share lead, software developers might ignore the Power PC, reducing its chances of catching up.

Intel's suspicions are shared by analysts who think IBM had much to gain by casting doubt on Pentium's performance.

Insiders at other computer companies, which have overwhelmingly backed the chip- maker, are also questioning whether IBM's dramatic move was necessary. No other computer manufacturer has halted Pentium deliveries.

When it revealed it was halting shipments, IBM insisted it had no desire to embarrass Intel or take advantage of the situation. Intel countered that IBM's move was "unwarranted", but has since spoken diplomatically about its largest customer.

Intel has grown mighty by supplying processors for IBM personal computers and "clones" made by other manufacturers, which now dominate the market. It was almost unknown until the giant selected the Intel chip in the early 1980s.