Upgrading And Repairing PCs 21st Edition: Processor Features

Processor Bugs And Steppings

Processor manufacturers use specialized equipment to test their own processors, but you have to settle for a little less. The best processor-testing device to which you have access is a system that you know is functional; you then can use the diagnostics available from various utility software companies or your system manufacturer to test the motherboard and processor functions.

Perhaps the most infamous of these bugs is the floating-point division math bug in the early Pentium processors. This and a few other bugs are discussed in detail later in this chapter.

Because the processor is the brain of a system, most systems don’t function with a defective processor. If a system seems to have a dead motherboard, try replacing the processor with one from a functioning motherboard that uses the same CPU chip. You might find that the processor in the original board is the culprit. If the system continues to play dead, however, the problem is elsewhere, most likely in the motherboard, memory, or power supply. See the chapters that cover those parts of the system for more information on troubleshooting those components. I must say that in all my years of troubleshooting and repairing PCs, I have rarely encountered defective processors.

A few system problems are built in at the factory, although these bugs or design defects are rare. By learning to recognize these problems, you can avoid unnecessary repairs or replacements. Each processor section describes several known defects in that generation of processors, such as the infamous floating-point error in the Pentium. For more information on these bugs and defects, see the following sections, and check with the processor manufacturer for updates.

Microcode and the Processor Update Feature

All processors can contain design defects or errors. Many times, you can avoid the effects of any given bug by implementing hardware or software workarounds. Intel documents these bugs and workarounds well for its processors in the processor Specification Update manual that is available from Intel’s website. Most of the other processor manufacturers also have bulletins or tips on their websites listing any problems or special fixes or patches for their chips.

Previously, the only way to fix a processor bug was to work around it or replace the chip with one that had the bug fixed. Starting with the Intel P6 and P7 family processors, including the Pentium Pro through Pentium D and Core i7, many bugs in a processor’s design can be fixed by altering the microcode in the processor. Microcode is essentially a set of instructions and tables in the processor that control the way the processor operates. These processors incorporate a new feature called reprogrammable microcode, which enables certain types of bugs to be worked around via microcode updates. The microcode updates reside in either the motherboard ROM BIOS or Windows updates and are loaded into the processor by the motherboard BIOS during the POST or by Windows during the boot process. Each time the system is rebooted, the updated microcode is reloaded, ensuring that it will have the bug fix installed anytime the system is operating.

The updated microcode for a given processor is provided by Intel to either the motherboard manufacturers or to Microsoft so the code can be incorporated into the flash ROM BIOS for the board, or directly into Windows via Windows Update. This is one reason it is important to keep Windows up to date, as well as to install the most recent motherboard BIOS for your systems. Because it is easier for most people to update Windows than to update the motherboard BIOS, it seems that more recent microcode updates are being distributed via Microsoft than the motherboard manufacturers.

  • k1114
    Keep it coming.
  • renzhe
    9412 pins; imagine that.
  • ta152h
    Ugggh, got to page two before being disgusted this time. This author is back to writing fiction.

    The Pentium (5th generation, in case the author didn't know, thus the "Pent"), DID execute x86 instructions. It was the Pentium Pro that didn't. That was the sixth generation.

    CISC and RISC are not arbitary terms, and RISC is better when you have a lot of memory, that's why Intel and AMD use it for x86. They can't execute x86 instructions effectively, so they break it down to RISC type operations, and then execute it. They pay the penalty of adding additional stages in the pipeline which slows down the processor (greater branch mispredict penalty), adds size, and uses power. If they are equal, why would anyone take this penalty?

    Being superscalar has nothing to do with being RISC or CISC. Admittedly, the terms aren't carved in stone, and the term can be misleading, as it's not necessarily the number of instructions that defines RISC. Even so, there are clear differences. RISC has fixed length instructions. CISC generally does not. RISC has much simpler memory addressing modes. The main difference is, RISC does not have microcoding to execute instructions - everything is done in hardware. Obviously, this strongly implies much simpler, easier to execute instructions, which make it superior today. However, code density is less for RISC, and that was very important in the 70s and early 80s when memory was not so large. Even now, better density means better performance, since you'll hit the faster caches more often.

    This article is also wrong about 3D Now! It was not introduced as an alternative to SSE, SSE was introduced as an alternative to 3D Now!, which predated SSE. In reality, 3D Now! was released because the largest difference between the K6 and Intel processors was floating point. Games, or other software that could use 3D Now!, rather than relying entirely on x87 instructions, could show marked performance improvement for the K6-2. It was relatively small to implement, and in the correct workloads could show dramatic improvements. But, of course, almost no one used it.

    The remarks about the dual bus are inaccurate. The reason was that motherboard bus speeds were not able to keep up with microprocessors speeds (starting with the 486DX2). Intel suffered the much slower bus speed to the L2 cache on the Pentium and Pentium MMX, but moved the L2 cache on the same processor package (but not on the same die) with the Pentium Pro. The purpose of having the separate buses was that one could access the L2 cache at a much higher speed; it wasn't limited to the 66 MHz bus speed of the motherboard. The Pentium Pro was never intended to be mainstream, and was too expensive, so Intel moved the L2 cache onto the Slot 1 cartridge, and ran it at half bus speed, which in any case was still much faster than the memory bus.

    That was the main reason they went to the two buses.

    That was as far as I bothered to read this. It's a pity people can't actually do fact checking when they write books, and make up weird stories that only have a passing resemblance to reality.

    And then act like someone winning this misinformation is lucky. Good grief, what a perverse world ...

  • Reynod
    ta152h sir you are correct.

  • spookyman
    Yes you are correct on the bus issue. VESA local bus was designed to overcome the limitations of the ISA bus.

    As for the reason Intel went with a slot design for the Pentium 2 was to prevent AMD from using it. You can patent and trademark a slot design.

    As for the Pentium Pro, it had issues from handling 16bit x86 instruction sets. The solution was to program around it. The was an inherent computational flaw with the Pentium Pro too.
  • Kraszmyl
    I don't think there is a single page that isn't piled with inaccurate or incomplete information.......this is perhaps the worst thing I've ever read on tomshardware and I don't see how you let it get published.
  • therogerwilco
    Kinda nice for generic info, was hoping for more explanation of some of the finer points of cpu architecture
  • Reynod
    Perhaps the most important thing to note from this is just how clever some of our users are ... so get into the forums and help out the n00bs with their problems guys !!

  • Sprongy
    Not to be anal but aren't all Core i3 processors, dual cores (2). Some have Hyper-Threading to make it like 4 cores. The last chart above should read Core i3 - 2 cores. Just saying...
  • ingtar33
    11830610 said:
    Not to be anal but aren't all Core i3 processors, dual cores (2). Some have Hyper-Threading to make it like 4 cores. The last chart above should read Core i3 - 2 cores. Just saying...

    not on mobile. some mobile i3s are single core, same with the mobile i5s... those are all dual core... with hyperthreading.

    there are even dual core i5s in haswell on the desktop. (they are the ones with a (t) after the number)