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ATI/HP accused of fraud, sells Radeon 9000 as 9200

Last response: in Mobile Computing
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January 3, 2004 6:42:02 PM

I have been a longtime reader of Tom's Hardware, and respect this community of enthusiasts tremendously. I want to bring the issue below to the fore here at Tom's becuase I strongly feel it deserves greater awareness and scrutiny. Below I am reposting something I wrote for the x1000 Forums (www.x100forums.com), the unofficial forum to discuss the Compaq/HP x1000, nx7000, and zt3000 notebooks.

The issue that has dominated the boards there for the past couple weeks centers around the discovery and consequent response from ATI that HP was using Radeon Mobility 9000 chips in their notebooks, while marketing them as having Radeon Mobility 9200's - all with ATI's explicit consent. For a variety of reasons, this has angered many owners of these laptops.

To be overly brief, the core (no pun intended) issue at hand is the claim by ATI's Chris Hook that the 9000's found in HP's notebooks are "functionally equivalent" to real 9200's which justifies HP selling them as true 9200's. This claim is supported by the fact that all of the systems involved (Centrino) do not support AGP8X, the only feature which distinguishes the 9200 from the 9000. Many, myself included, reject that analysis. Again, for a more complete background of the issues, please see the thread link below to the x1000 Forums.

Please let me know what you think of this issue in general, and I encourage anyone with more than a passing interest to read the thread at x1000 Forums started by Chris Hook of ATI's marketing department in response to situation (http://www.x1000forums.com/viewtopic.php?t=3567&highlig...). The degree of technical sophisitication and generally high level of intellignece evidenced by this community here should make for enlightening commentary. So, if you have any thoughts, technical, legal, or otherwise, I encourage you to join the discussion.

---- My post from the x1000 Forums ----

As an x1000/MR9000(!), owner I feel compelled to add my voice to the growing chorus.

Before I begin, I want to commend ATI in dispatching a marketing rep to address the specific concerns of a (very) small group of unhappy end-users. This kind of direct, involved, and highly-personal attention should indicate to both hardware-enthusiasts and "simple" consumers how attenuated ATI is to our needs, and to our opinion of their product. Mr. Hook's participation in this thread is laudable and he deserves our respect and gratitude for it. Indeed, it is this (formerly stronger) perception of ATI as an attentive producer that makes me even more unhappy about not having a true MR9200 in my x1000.

Unlike most people who bought this notebook, I was completely aware of the AGP4X issue before I made my purchase, and decided to buy it anyway. As discussed elsewhere, the performance repercussions are conclusively minimal. However, I had read at both Anandtech and several other hadrware sites (links available upon request) that the MR9200 offered both core speed and other (arguably less significant) architectural enhancements not available in the MR9000. If this was not true, ATI marketing should have stepped in and demanded corrections to these statements immediately. While I am impressed with Mr. Hook's willingness to come here and address these issues, his arguments that the MR9000(HP) and MR9200 are equivalent - functionally or otherwise - fail to be convincing.

It is hard to believe the claim that the RV250 core is functionally identical to the RV280 core minus the AGP8X support. As others have supposed, ATI surely used this core revision to make thermal enhancements and include other general design efficiencies, most likely to allow for higher clock speeds (more on this below). While this may not matter to 99.9% of the consuming public, it DID matter to me AT THE TIME OF PURCHASE. I *was* aware of the core revision, and expected a revised core for exactly these reasons.

To state in a press release (http://www.ati.com/companyinfo/press/2003/4621.html) that "the MOBILITY RADEON 9200 mobile visual processor...offers improved performance over the award-winning MOBILITY RADEON 9000, and includes support for AGP 8X" (my emphasis) leads consumers to believe that there are other enhancements in addition to AGP 8X. To withdraw that claim only now is duplicitous. If these enhancements really do exist, as ATI claimed all the way back on 3/6/2003, WHAT ARE THEY?

If the answer is not significant feature enhancements, then the answer is clearly clock speed. Mr. Hook's claim that clock speeds are OEM derived and not a function of the graphics chipset is an easy way to ignore the biggest real-world issue in all of this for most end-users. Almost all MR9200 chips reviewed around the web have been clocked at 270/270, while the MR9000 has been clocked at 250/220. While HP may be "free" to clock their graphics chipsets/memory at whatever speed they like, it seems awfully hard to believe that we have a "performance-equivalent" MR9200 when our chip is clocked like almost every other MR9000, and almost every other true MR9200 is clocked substantially higher. Oh, and our chips just happen to say "Radeon 9000" on them. Who are they kidding?

ATI's official response to this issue is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and they should be called on it.

In doing so, they make the claim that it is sheer coincidence - and our bad luck - that most other MR9200's are clocked higher than our own, and our MR9000's (that-run-just-like-a-MR9200, promise!) are clocked like most of the MR9000's on the market.

Coincidence my ass!

The bottom line:

ATI got to unload a huge backstock of soon-to-be replaced MR9000 parts on HP in exchange for allowing HP to call them MR9200's simply because the Centrino chipset doesn't support AGP8X anyway. Those "supply chain issues" are not HP's issues, but ATI's! That's why HP is still using 9000's as 9200's - because ATI hasn't cleaned them all out yet. In the end ATI/HP both benefit (inventory cleaing / marketing advantage), we got screwed, and Chris has to clean up the mess.

Unless he can provide convincing technical data to prove that the RV280 core includes no technical differences from the RV250 core, then his greater defense cannot succeed. As far as I am concerned, the only potentially acceptable answer is that the RV280 is simply cheaper to produce in some way, but in all other respects(save for AGP8X) is identical to the RV250. The fact that the MR9200 chip has been consistently reviewed with higher core speeds and officially marketed to include enhancements other than AGP8X suggests this is not the case. It would thus appear that the claim of feature and performance equaivalence is untrue.

I am also deeply concerned by Mr. Hook's assertion that it is perfectly legit to sell a functionally-equivalent but technically different product than what was advertised. He, of all people, should appreciate the importance that computer users place on technical specifications and system components. Even if HP/ATI had delivered a functionally equivalent chip (which they have NOT vis-a-vi the clock-speed and other RV250/RV280 core changes), we consumers have still been misled. To maintain a sales philosophy which holds that consumers purchase only a specified level of performance, and not the products that are actually advertised is dangerous. At best it creates the appearence of impropriety, and at worst is outright illegal. I cannot imagine this assertion as a general business practice would hold up under argument in a court of law (not to mention a business ethics course), and his ethereal responses to questions on this issue demonstrate an awareness of this.

The legal reality for us, however, is bleak. My limited analysis of class-action suits indicates a clear need to establish harm for any compensation to be considered. Indeed, it is quite common for judge's in these types of suits to rule that the plaintiffs have no standing when the perceived harm is minimal, and to consequently throw the case out. Regardless of how misledaing you think ATI/HP has been, it is undeniable that the measurable harm done is negligible. Even if ATI conceded that we got a graphics card that should be clocked 17% higher, the actual harm this has casued is not likely to meet the legal test. In other words, don't expect to get paid by the courts on this one. If HP offers some compensation to make this (you) go away, take it and run.

My advice to ATI/HP:

Proclaim innocence and the best intentions, but also acknowledge that some users are unhappy and offer to assuage this dissatisfaction with a rebate or, more likely, a credit at HPShopping. This way they admit no wrongdoing and appear to be truly conscientious of their customers concerns. Consdiering that they clearly acknowledge that this is an issue (this is Mr. Hook's thread, after all), I don't see how the above proposal is not a win-win situation for everyone involved. It doesn't take a Wharton MBA to understand that a reputation for outstanding customer service is far better than one of avaricious indifference is preferable. To continue telling us we are wrong to be dissatisfied instead of casting this as a simple miscommunication, misses a huge opportunity to demonstrate how customer-service oriented they are and regain some measure of legitimacy.

That is not to say a lawsuit shouldn't be filed anyway. What ATI/HP has done is potentially illegal under marketing laws. Regardless, what they have done is wrong and the bad publicity a lawsuit would do is far more likely to prevent this from happening again than any amount of "dialouge" between members of this forum and an ATI marketing rep. Forgive my cynicism in doubting the penetration of our cause throughout ATI.

Regardles, it is undeniably frustrating and alienating to be treated this way as a customer, especially by a company that prides itself on attentiveness to the needs of the end user. I am disturbed by the clear and willful intent of HP/ATI to mislead customers, and it would be a shame for them to go completely unpunished. While I offer what support I can to the cause, I suspect most of us have (over)full lives that preclude spending the time necessary to pursue formal litigation, whatever its ultimate value might be. That being so, we can only hope that the message we have sent to the larger hardware community will resonate loud enough and far enough to discourage this kind of thing from continuing.

Okay, enough way-too-late rambling. Thanks to everyone who made this discussion possible.

Truly,
Aaron
January 4, 2004 7:22:33 PM

I don't see what all the fuss is about. The only difference between the MR9200 and MR9000 as stated by ATI, is that the one uses AGP 8x. Since notebook manufacturers are free to set the clock speeds of the GPU, themselves, the arguement that 'other' manufacturers make their notebooks with higher clockspeeds invalid. This has always been the case, take Dell for instance, the MR9000 notebooks of Dell were clocked at 235/195 - if the users want more clockspeed, they can overclock the GPU, at their own risk. So the only really valid point that I can see is the AGP8x vs AGP4x. But this is pointless, as the only real benefit of having a faster AGP bus is quicker loading times. However, in notebooks the bottleneck is the HDD, so loading times would most likely not benefit at all between AGP4x and AGP8x.

So fine, HP advertised falsly, and they should be held responsible for that. What they did was wrong, and I believe that what you are doing is correct - but don't feel hard done by because you didn't get a "9200", because it makes no difference to your performance at all. If you want the higher clockspeeds, download rivatuner or powerstrip and OC the notebook. I know from personal experience, that my old M9 was very overclockable.

Good Luck

RaPTuRe

Who's General Failure and why's he reading my disk?
January 15, 2004 3:31:39 PM

Whitewidow, I agree with you. I'm surprised ATI participated in this deception (I'll take your word that they explicitly approved). But this is the kind of crap I expect from HP and Carly.

Good job in uncovering this and bringing it to the attention of everyone. Stay on the soapbox and help discourage this type of corporate duplicity in the future.

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