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Consultant Recommends Companies Hold Back on Pentium Purchases

December 16, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ An influential technology consulting firm Friday recommended companies hold off making any large purchases of personal computers with the Pentium chip until a corrected version becomes widely available.

The consultant, Gartner Group of Stamford, Conn., said clients who buy PCs now with the flawed version of the Pentium might decide to replace the chip later, and that could cost $30 to $200 per machine.

″We want to help our customers save money and not spend money unnecessarily,″ said Kate Berg, a Gartner spokeswoman.

Corrected chips are expected to be widely available in a month or so, the firm said.

The recommendation heightened the problem confronting Intel Corp. over its flagship product, which can botch some obscure division calculations. Intel’s belated admission of the defect and its refusal to replace the problem chips have caused bad publicity for the world’s leading chipmaker.

Gartner said companies should not make any large-volume purchases of PCs with the flawed chip but can continue small-volume or individual purchasing.

The statement is significant because the firm’s roster of 4,000 clients includes many of the nation’s largest companies.

Gartner also chastised Intel and IBM for confusing customers with different assessments of the flaw’s severity. IBM, which is developing a chip to rival Pentium, this week said it would stop shipping Pentium-based PCs because Intel understated the trouble.

″While Gartner Group believes that the probability of errors occurring is low, it is nevertheless impossible to fully gauge or anticipate the impact of an error,″ the firm said in a statement.

″The statistical spitting match that has ensued fails to allay user fears or address the issue that errors can in fact occur.″

Intel has said the flaw could produce the wrong result once in 27,000 years. IBM said it could happen once every 24 days.

Gartner’s statement was the second independent assessment in two days to confirm that, in general, the Pentium chip flaw presents a risk to some businesses but not individual users.

On Thursday, PC Week, an industry newspaper, said its tests found the flaw can produce the wrong result, depending on usage, from once every two months to once every 10 years.

The flaw generally changes a digit four to 19 spaces to the right of the decimal in the result of a division problem. It happens only with about 1,700 combinations of numbers and does not affect other math functions, word processing, games or communications.

The error was disclosed by a mathematician on the Internet last month. Intel then acknowledged that it had found the problem last summer and corrected it recently.

Some customers have criticized Intel for not disclosing the flaw at once and for not offering to replace the chip with no questions asked.

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