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To Tell The Truth

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April 20, 2001 12:13:23 PM

Over the past 20 months, we have seen some serious changes in the computer industry as many new products promising previously undelivered features have been rushed to market. The Internet has given us new, faster ways of communicating and hundreds, if not thousands of sites have popped up offering us ways of not only seeing these products, but also buying and evaluating them. We’ve seen Intel go from having a stranglehold on the Industry to eating crow as they struggled with the technical and political implications of the 8xx series of chipsets and RDRAM.

Following closely has been AMD with rising sales directly attributable to the problems at Intel and Rambus. The dramatic growth at AMD comes as they were finally able to demonstrate the first viable example of an Intel platform alternative in the PC market, although even then, with problems of their own.

This entire furor hasn’t hurt VIA either, whom many of us in the industry considered to be a second rate chipset maker (while some still do). VIA’s growth actually came on two fronts as they helped motherboard makers present a more cost effective (and available) if not somewhat more stable chipset solution for the Intel platforms that didn’t require RDRAM. On the AMD front, VIA was “bonding” to help AMD sell CPUs while the 760 chipset was still in development. Still AMD has had to deal with Irongate, the politics and technical quandaries of two separate manufacturing types (Aluminum in Texas and Copper in Dresden) and the fact that their own chipsets weren’t (aren’t) ready to deal with ATA-100 and other new technologies that arose while they were gearing up for Alpha testing for 3 new chipsets.

To make matters worse (as if they could be) the demand for PC’s was at an all time high, so OEMs from A to Z were literally pushing untested boards out the door while worrying about revisions and dealing with the problems later. This resulted in a glut of angry dealers and consumers alike as everyone rushed to the web every day looking for BIOS revisions and driver updates to fix existing problems. Of course this didn’t help everyone. Any Intel 820 Chipset owner can attest to that, never mind those with early KT133 and KM133 chipsets.

Unfortunately, the “rush to market” practices haven’t stopped. The DDR quandaries we see now are a direct result of early hype from memory and chipset makers promising RDRAM performance at half the cost, again causing premature releases of boards from just about every manufacturer. AMD hasn’t helped by breaking their own rules regarding certifying motherboards using strict standards. In fact at least half of the motherboards on AMD’s “approved” list don’t qualify if you read their own documentation regarding certification requirements. In the rush to make money, quality has suffered and consumers are the ones paying the price. Ethics? Forget it, the almighty dollar is hard at work and if you were looking for a stable configuration over the past year, your only real solution was the 6-year old Intel 440BX chipset.

Bulletin boards (like this one) haven’t helped either, as anxious users gather on mass to demand these new products without really understanding just what it is that they are asking for. Usually, they have been reading OEM propagandized specification sheets and “theoretical benchmarks” that show what a mature product COULD do, eventually, MAYBE. This can be a pretty rude wake up call when the user discovers that real-time performance is anything but what was promised, never mind the stability and compatibility issues that arise from such a short conception to production time.

Finally, we’ve seen some dramatic political shifts at the manufacturers themselves. Some have simply just given up doing any support whatsoever. It’s easier for them to continue pushing defective boxes and raking in the cash than it is to admit there is a problem. When they do admit it, they simply say that they will fix it in the next revision. So where does that leave you and the rest of the people with what you bought? Nowhere.

As a good example, Asus, once known for having the fastest, most reliable products on the market has become a second-rate white box supplier with unannounced board revisions in every (yes, every) shipment to the United States. If you are an Asus dealer, you are certainly aware of the “You have to open the box to see what you got” syndrome. Unfortunately, some reviewers have failed to mention all of the bad news at Asus like the fact that they have lost two major distributors because of support issues alone. We are also aware of another distributor that until last week was in negotiations to carry Asus products. They finally gave up citing questionable business and support practices on the part of Asus and the potential negative impacts to their dealers and thus, negative impacts on them. (No distributor wants to lose business because of bad situations with a manufacturer). Asus rushed the A7M266 to market so fast that literally every aspect of the board had bugs. The AMR slot compatibility, the USB compatibility, the memory compatibility, the CPU/BUS speeds, the chipset/BIOS, the AGP4xPro, and so on. And if you are looking for the integrated 3Com 10/100 Ethernet controller, don’t bother because it isn’t there. A quick trip to the FAQ’s for the A7M266 should tell you something. There aren’t any. Does anyone actually believe that nobody is asking questions?

As for other support issues, Asus has different information on every county’s web site. The U.S. Site has different information than Taiwan; the Germany site is different than either of those, and so on. What’s more, Asus has completely halted dealer support telephone or otherwise and has offered no web updates to the VAR areas since October of last year. If you call California with questions, they tell you that they don’t have any information and that you have to call Taiwan; the reverse applies if you call Taiwan. So where do people go for support? Tom’s Hardware is one of the major sites offering user to user and dealer to user support as even the Asus bulletin boards are too difficult to maneuver in and offer little useful information.

Of course Asus is not the only culprit in this bottomless pit of greed. Just about every OEM out there is too busy pounding out defective product to waste time supporting it. To make matters worse, OEMs don’t even bother showing up for conferences that they produce.

At Tuesday’s AMD OEM “Tech Tour” conference in Boston, AMD represented a person as an “Asus Factory Representative” who went on stage and talked briefly (and incorrectly) about Asus products. Immediately suspicious, (Because he was an Anglo and didn’t know the product line) I approached him in the hallway after his speech and asked him, “Do you work for Asus?” to which he replied, “Yes”. When I inquired about channel relationship issues he immediately stopped me and said, “Oh, I can’t address those issues.” When I asked why, he leaned closer and covered the side of his mouth saying, “I don’t really work for Asus”. As it turns out the guy is Elliot Shear, a sales rep. With Max Group in Boston. Yet, he himself and AMD were representing him to everyone as an Asus employee. When I made inquiries with the AMD reps at the show they at first stuck to their guns that the guy was an Asus employee until confronted with the truth. Then the three reps at the table change their story suddenly admitting that at the last minute Asus backed out of the show and this guy was sent to rep for them. Can anyone say fraudulent representation?

Next up? MSI. Inside the nice shiny booklet produced by AMD for the show is a full-page promotion of the new K7Master-S motherboard with a great picture of the board, a spec sheet and in bold letters a quote from the Tom’s Hardware review! In fact, this is the ONLY MSI board to get a full page in the booklet. Only trouble is, the board shipping doesn’t look anything like the board that Tom reviewed!

We went to the MSI booth and met with Vincent Yang, the Branch Manager of the MSI office in Edison, NJ. Immediately noticeable were the 6 motherboards laid out neatly on his table. When we inquired as to the whereabouts of the touted K7Master and K7Master-S motherboards what we heard shocked us. “Those came into California last week.” I replied, “Great, where are they?” to which he said, “We didn’t bring any.” So in other words, they came to the AMD show without the AMD based motherboards! When I asked why they didn’t bring them (after one of my engineers made a wise-crack about the wonders of Federal Express) we were given no explanation other than, “They weren’t available for us.” To which I could only reply, “Yeah, we know, we’re having the same problem.” He then told us that Avnet had plenty in stock, which really surprised us as our Avnet representative has been calling us every day telling us that MSI won’t give them a delivery date yet.

Being the smart guys we are, we headed for the Avnet booth. Avnet was a major sponsor of the show and were actually the ones that invited us. We arrived at their table and found a cardboard table tent saying simply, “Avnet”. But wait, no tablecloth, no people, no nothing. As it turns out, Avnet didn’t bother to attend the show. Go figure.

Next we spent an hour listening to AMD talk about how great their sales were last year and how great their company is while they tried to fix the failing overhead projections and audio problems. Then they marched up the major sponsors so they could all tell us how great they are and the wonders LAST YEARS products and sales. I was especially impressed to hear all about the GeForce2 and the TNT2. Oh yeah, this is why we went to the show.

We finally gave up and walked out in the middle of the AMD new products speech when the engineer from AMD told the crowd (of mostly end-users as there was no screening at the show at all) that, “All Thunderbirds have copper cores.” I actually interrupted his speech from the door and asked, “So you are saying that all Thunderbirds have copper cores and you aren’t making them in Texas” to which he replied, “Yes”. I figured that it was time to leave, so I pointed to my crew and we all walked out. Since everyone that works here has been to the Texas plant and has watched them make the things, I had heard enough.

The bottom line of this little rant is that you can’t trust anything from the OEMs anymore. We all know that for the past couple of years (okay, maybe longer) they have been saying one thing and doing another. AMD may want you to think there is, “absolutely no differences between a T-Bird and a Duron other than cache size” (which was also stated by this engineer to the crowd at the show) but if you believe that you must also believe that there is no difference between copper and aluminum, the CPU’s respective power consumptions, fire and water, air and vacuum, etc…

In retrospect, I only wish we would have eaten some of their mashed potatoes and Mexican food that was laid out about 2 and a half hours into the show, never mind sticking around long enough to see if we had won any door prizes. Frankly, it was just too frustrating to listen to. It’s a real good thing nobody from AMD has made a follow-up call to us, I would have to tell them that we will be doing a lot more with the 815 Chipsets until AMD can re-earn minimal levels of trust once again.

The real reason behind writing all of this out is just to show everyone that the circle of lies, exaggerations and hype from the OEMs isn't over. If you are looking to buy a new product you should do your own extensive research and buy products from a dealer that you trust.

The days of the quick sale need to end and to be honest, your best bet is to buy something that has been on the market and SHIPPING for at LEAST 4 months. This way you will have an opportunity to see how the product has been shaking out, what the problems are and what is being done to rectify them. It is more and more apparent that the new products have many hidden problems and YOU will be the one that suffers from them. Don't believe everything you read or hear or even see, because it might be different tomorrow. Stick to proven technologies that may not be the "fastest thing available", but will save you many headaches, tons of money and maybe save you from being lied to by people that think money is more important than ethics and doing IT right.


Steve Benoit


Stable Technologies
'The way IT should be!'

More about : truth

April 20, 2001 1:33:15 PM

Steve, glad you're back! I took your prior advice and waited for a retail boxed 1.2/266 Athlon and low and behold, it oc's to 1.46 Ghz with no problems and is stable as a rock on a ver 2 KT7A-RAID. Having read everyone else's problems with oem chips and the advent of the axia coded chips I feel indebted to you ofr your advice.
Again, thanks for the advice and commentary.
FLINT
April 20, 2001 2:42:38 PM

Steve Benoit, I too would like to thank you for your time and effort and extremely helpful posts. I also built two identical machines with boxed AMD 1.2/266 cpu's based on the information you provided and they are both overclocked (with no increase in temperature!) and running perfectly. Your valuable information and informative posts have eliminated a ton of headaches that I would have otherwise had to deal with. This might sound strange, but thanks for your spelling and grammar skills. It’s amazing how much credibility something like that can add to a post. I actually have some of your information clipped and saved for future reference.

Thanks,
-s
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Anonymous
a b V Motherboard
April 20, 2001 3:19:22 PM

Thank-you for that post. It must have taken you a long time to write, but it was very informative and well written.

Falwynn
April 20, 2001 3:23:43 PM

I'd like to say that this was good reading, but it's hard to use the word "good" after reading an expose of this sad state of affairs.

<b>This should be a featured article - not just a forum post!</b>
April 20, 2001 5:04:20 PM

Nice comment. It doesn't end there either. When have you bought a brand new released game or software & not had to download a patch? I feel ripped off! Tribes 2 is the latest. Bought that on the 29th of Mar., the day it came out & it wouldn't even hookup to the web to run. This is a on line only game. They patched it the same day & said they had tried every combintion in beta testing & just hadn't uncovered the problem. This is after a year of delayed launchs & the strategy guide was out 6 months, in print, at the computer stores before the game (what's up with that???). I paid $49.95 for the first release. Mar. 29th was on Fri. In that Sundays paper (April 6th), Best Buy had it for $39.95 & Circut City had it for $29.95. Last week Target had it for $29.95. What happend to my $20.00 for being a loyal fan & buying the latest greatest they put out. IT WENT INTO THEIR POCKETS & GONE!!!! There has been 4 or 5 patches so far & not all the things work yet that were built in the game. Last night in the News section of Tribes 2 the developer that has been putting out the patches had a post to transfer his work to 2 other devolpers because he had to go to Korea to introduce Tribes 2 as quote ("Koera is a game starved country"). So Tribes isn't really workning in the US yet so now we'll go grab some more money from Korea!! I work for GM & that's like us selling a car that has the wrong tires on it. Bring it back & we'll up grade them to your car so you can drive. Then you got Micorsoft with windows XP, that isn't going to support any Windows 95 or dos applications. What's up with that???? Bill Gates has decided what's best for us again & oh guess what, you all need brand new Microsoft OS's & software. I'll bet my bottom dollar that Windows XP will need a patch before it's out a month. Here again, You bought a pre 95 car??? Well we don't support the parts that are in prior to 95 in GM vehicles, go to junk yard & good luck. I've never in my life witnessed the ripoffs that are going on currently in the computer induustry now. That's only some of it & thats why I feel riped off by software vendors as well as hardwear vendors. It seems to me just like the old west, no laws, no consumer protection & let's just get the money & run. The other thing is when you register any computer software on the web have you seen what they steal from your HDD??? I'm just a hobbiest builder & not at the level in the Industry that you are, however as a consumer it flat out leaves me to wonder who actually owns the computer thatI have built & paid for that is sitting omn my desk????

Skinny
April 20, 2001 8:49:44 PM

Hi Everyone

Thanks for the positive feedback, we are VERY glad you took our advice and bought the boxed 1.2+GHz CPUs with the copper cores. We too have been hearing the fallout about the OEM CPU debacle, but have stayed away from making further comments due to our desire to avoid adding insult to injury.

Overclocking the boxed units has worked out great for our customers too. While we ship them out configured for standard speeds, our customers have been telling us basically the same things reported here, at least 1.46GHz (up to 1.67GHz) with no measurable temperature increase on the 1.2's. The 1.33’s have performed basically the same, but we are seeing higher increases in the 1.2’s.

As I’ve spend the last month touring other support sites offering help where I can, I’m happy to say that I will be trying to spend more time proving free support here at Tom’s (as well as elsewhere) now that the initial rush of orders for the new 266MHz based systems has slowed down to a more reasonable (and manageable) level.

Again, thanks for your comments! Additionally, please feel free to send us your benchmark data, measured by any of the common analysis software. We would love to add your reports and configurations to our library. We are really trying to build up a good database of configurations and benchmarks and should have some information soon on when this data will be available via our web site. We are still running the public site in reduced mode due to the failures of AMD, Asus, MSI and Tyan to meet delivery dates, but hopefully that will change soon. We have our web-team working on removing all of the AMD promotional materials to get the site back up to full strength so we can at least put the web-store and new bulletin boards back in the public area instead of them being available only in the existing customer sections. I’ll keep you posted when these changes are implemented.

Steve Benoit


Stable Technologies
'The way IT should be!'
April 21, 2001 3:49:44 AM

I'm suprised that you didn't out right tell the AMD rep that he was wrong. I would have.

- Tempus fugit donec vestrum relictus tripudium. Autem amor praeterea magis pretium.
Anonymous
a b V Motherboard
April 21, 2001 2:25:35 PM

What's this about retail vs. boxed Atahlons and AXIA?
April 21, 2001 3:16:19 PM

I think you mean retail vs. oem (retail and boxed are the same) well it seems that the retail are made in the dresden plant (copper core) and the oem are not all made there (AL or copper core) so you may not get the copper core if you go oem but if you go retail/boxed you will. As for your post stable very informative and well though out.

SANDMAN
LEAN MEAN KILLIN MACHINE
April 22, 2001 12:15:54 AM

If you want to get a better understanding of the differences, please read the post entitled: "Steve Bonoit, Please Help" I went back and found it and reposted it to explain all of the details.

Steve Benoit

Stable Technologies
'The way IT should be!'
April 22, 2001 2:56:27 AM

Very good read. I didn't know about stuff going on in the background. As usual.. all I saw where glittering benchmark numbers and drooled. At least I had enough sense to do my research and wait until most of the bugs had been worked out before I got my Tbird.

I got myself an 1Ghz OEM Tbird with an AVIA stepping. It has a blue tinted core, which according to Tom's, is from Dresden and is copper. Am I wrong? I've been able to get this thing up to 1200+ (plus because I haven't pushed it very hard) without any special cooling or voltage ups.
It runs idle around 36C. It has to be copper to do that right?
April 22, 2001 6:17:41 AM

Unfortunately, we have seen aluminum CPUs coming out with the blue tint. This has been verified not only by our lab but by other sites too, as well as by AMD. The temperature is the best way to tell if the CPU is using Copper or Aluminum. If you have no temperature increase when overclocking the CPU to 20+%, then you have a copper core. If you see an increase in temperature than chances are excellent that it is aluminum. As a heads up, we have 4 CPUs here that are aluminum with the blue tint. We figured this out by taking two of them apart. While we are being assured that AMD will not be making any more 266MHz CPUs in Texas, we are the "we'll believe it when we see it" types here. I would suggest waiting until AMD changes their web site to say that all 266MHz CPU's are manufactured in Dresden. Of course you will still have to wait until all of the older CPUs are out of the channel and this could take a while depending on the vendor.

Steve Benoit


Stable Technologies
'The way IT should be!'
Anonymous
a b V Motherboard
July 8, 2001 6:53:05 AM

Thanks for the post, it's some good reading.

Super Fancy Splendor - Script Here
July 8, 2001 7:28:55 AM

It's funny that you mention Elliot, I work for a small company not even a real job really, do work 2 times a year or so. Anyways I used to buy hardware for my self using the companies account and Elliot was our sales person.

He's a very good BS artist, he could sell crap to you and you would buy it. I can't beleive he represented asus, lol.

I don't need to buy thru Max group anymore as I can find items on the net for just as cheap if not cheaper.

Long ago maybe 5+ years ago it was cheaper for me to go thru max group.
!