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Non-Intel Processor Serial Numbers around for 20 years

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Chipzilla's much-maligned PSN is not the first system serial number. Sun has had a hardware serial number coded into each system (as have most Unix hardware vendors) since the early 80s. Most large (aka expensive) Unix software is usually locked to a certain system serial number to prevent piracy. "Sun puts a serial number -- termed a 'host ID' -- on the non-volatile ram (NVRAM) chip on all its motherboards. It's roughly equivalent to a PC's BIOS, but easily removable just in case some part of the motherboard craps out. The host ID is rather short, but the chances of having two systems with the same host ID in the same state or province are small," writes reader Larry Knox. Chipzilla's PSN isn't guaranteed to be unique either, but -- as Intel is at pains to remind world + dog -- the main benefit of a PSN is to system administrators in large corporates where the chances of two chips sharing the same number are pretty remote. And since this was first posted, readers have supplied us with some more non-Intel PSNs for you. First: "The earliest 'serial number' implementation I've heard of is by Alpha Micro. Each system had a unique SSD chip which software interrogated to check it was on the licensed system. When upgrading, the SSD chip would be moved to the new system." Second: "Apart from UNIX boxes - Acorn machines since the RiscPC all had a 48-bit unique (guaranteed unique, and not just because so few of them were ever made ;)) serial numbers, used for copy protection. In fact, companies like Dallas Semiconductor make a huge range of ID chips to be put into electronic products, all with guaranteed unique numbers laser-etched into the silicon. A lot go into dongles, but many also go into machines - we serial number our products electronically so we can track support better... but as they're car radios, I don't think this is much of a problem. :)" So there we have it -- government departments, the military, hospitals and suchlike have been using Unix boxes for years now, and each one has had a CPU serial number on them all that time and civilisation doesn't appear to have come to an end. So will you please all stop banging on about PSN now? The only risk it poses is to make the use of illegally copied software more difficult -- but of course, that was what the 'privacy' protestors were really worried about all along, wasn't it? ®

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