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Soldering irons at dawn for lucky Intel 820 owners

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Intel's chipset from hell, the i820, has projectile vomited in Chipzilla's face yet again. The cursed Cape Cod mobo hit the headlines again this week, this time Intel blaming memory manufacturers for problems with the Serial Presence Detect (SPD) chip included on new SDRAM DIMMS. The SPD holds information about the speed and size of the memory and passes it to the system BIOS. If the data is missing or unreadable, the system either hangs or fails to boot at all. Older BX boards don't need the SPD chip at all - progress, eh? But memory manufacturers point to a couple of issues: firstly there isn't a firm standard for exactly what format the data in the SPD should take, and secondly, this is a BIOS issue, and therefore Intel's problem, not theirs. In light of the fact that memory costs more than the motherboard itself, then it is surely sensible to modify the cheaper component. Intel is now looking at producing a revised BIOS for the CC820 which will take a rather more relaxed attitude to SPD data. Intel has a list of recommended memory for the 820 on its web site, but there is now an issue even with approved memory requiring a hardware modification to the mobo. A product change notification was issued for the CC820 by Intel on March 28, advising users to replace a capacitor with a resistor. This change prevents a problem occurring where the capacitor - which is supposed to smooth out the power going to the DIMMS - occasionally discharges itself, sending a spike to the memory which is interpreted as a data corruption, hanging the system. Adding a 150 ohm resistor between the Memory Translator Hub (MTH) and the SDRAM eliminates the bug. While this component change is hardly rocket science, it will be way beyond the technical capabilities of most users, so the dreaded phrase 'product recall' is looming large on the horizon. And as if this was not enough, there is now an issue with certain AGP graphics cards hanging the system because the mobo doesn't supply enough voltage to the AGP slot. The mobo has to support either 1.5 or 3.3 volts to the AGP slot, depending on whether the card is a 2X or 4X device. The Asus Geforce DDR card requires 3.3 volts, but the CC820 only supplies 3.07 volts, causing the uncharitable to wonder if the CC820 was designed on the back of a napkin by the janitor at Satan Clara. Intel points the bony finger of blame at the power supply manufacturers here, recommending changing to a more expensive switched power supply. So here we have a mobo that only works with some memory, doesn't work all the time even with that, requires that you put the DIMMs in a specific order, needs component changes and a new power supply. Engineers have a technical term for such a product - crap. Not too long ago, Chipzilla had a reputation for solid, reliable (if not particularly high-performing) mobos. The 820 with its slug-like MTH certainly maintains the modest performance part, but has undoubtedly permanently damaged Intel's reputation for quality motherboards. ® Related stories Intel i820 sales flap weakly towards flop Fresh Intel i820 chipset close to completion Further memory problems dog Caminogate Intel Cape Cod mobo stinks Caminogate IV -- We have no idea what you did last summer

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