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Four years ago: Intel analyses flaw in Pentium

We analyse the Satan's use of the word flaw

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On November 30 last Intel released summaries of the problem in the Pentium chip. These were extracted from a white paper dubbed Statistical Analysis of the Floating Point Flaw in the Pentium Processor (1994), a 32-page document. Careful analysis of the white paper revealed the following. The word flaw occurred a total of 38 times in the first 30 pages, with particular emphasis on page two where it occurred 13 times. Sometimes it appeared with the qualifying word subtle in front of it, but for all practical reasons this adjective causes no severe dysfunction of the word following. Intel's table on page 13 caused particular problems. Even though the word flaw only appeared three times on this page, the MTBF figures created results around the world corresponding to the effect of Schroedinger's Cat suddenly becoming the British Prime Minister. Headed Typical System Failure Rates, the table estimated particle defects in a Pentium would give a MTBF of once in 200-250 years, compared to a PC user with a spreadsheet running 1,000 independent divides a day, giving a MTBF of once in 27,000 years. On page 15, the word flaw did not appear at all but the figure 27,000 made its second appearance. The table follows: This produced a furore amongst children (mainly boys) under the age of14 who suggested that the impact of their games crashing produced fits of temper and frustration likely to lead to the break up of the happy home scenario and perhaps worse. Intel's analysis was itself flawed. On page 27 it gave, in our opinion, undue emphasis to financial users of Pentium machines. "The flaw is of potential significance for a small minority of users in the financial world. These users are primarily involved in running highly numerical applications involving intensive recalculations such as path-dependent derivatives valuations and those valuations involving simulations. Depending on the circumstances, these users should employ either an updated Pentium processor without the flaw or a software workaround." The word flaw appeared 13 times on this page; an unlucky number as it turns out. It ignores the fact that many financial directors or heavy duty users of PCs are also likely to play Doom 2, Sid Meier's Colonization and a number of other applications. Under these circumstances, financial directors are bound to make many more mistakes in their jobs if the frustration of encountering the fdiv problem in their favourite games makes them tired and emotional. The issue appeared to The Register to be so important that we asked Intel what would happen to Pentium chips returned for replacement. Mike Sullivan, the charming head of communications in the UK, confirmed to us last Thursday they would be destroyed. This seems an appalling waste of resources. With winter encroaching in the Northern Hemisphere, doesn't it make more sense to give them away to central heating engineers who could embed them in walls and wire them up, thus giving a good and reliable source of heat when Father Frost arrives? And rebellious youngsters wearing leather jackets and cropped hair could embed Pentiums into their jackets and even use them as combs. It's a scandal. ® From The Register No. 10, 19 December 1994

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