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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 19:03 GMT


PIII pre-launch privacy fears

The PIII: On show in San Jose, on sale in Dukinfield

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

As Intel announced mass publicity for its new processor on Wednesday, civil liberties groups were trying to ensure privacy is protected by mounting a boycott campaign against the Pentium III (PIII).

Gordon Graylish, Intel European Marketing Manager on the PIII
The concerns are over a unique Processor Serial Number (PSN) on each chip which could be used to track owners as they surf the Net.

Intel has tried to ease concerns by offering users software which will disable access to the number. But its opponents say only a recall of the chip and the removal of the serial number will satisfy them.

PIII machines already on sale in UK

The PIII represents Intel's biggest launch of the year. Hundreds of developers and journalists gathered in California for a showcasing of the product on Wednesday and the announcement of a $300m advertising and marketing campaign.

The major personal computer manufacturers will begin selling machines with the chip on February 26. But a small UK computer company, based in Dukinfield near Manchester, has been selling PIII machines for the past week, despite Intel appeals for it to stop.

Lee Chisnall, a partner in Digital Networks United Kingdom, says Intel had been particularly unhelpful over a shipment of chips that had been tampered with. As a result, he had no hesitation in selling the new PIIIs now. They were obtained from an independent supplier in January.

"We've had a few inquiries, but most of our customers are using Linux [the free open-source Operating System] and the new chip is more for gamers," says Lee.

"Most are waiting for Intel to slash its prices on the Pentium II on February 26 and then buy versions of the older chip."

Pentium's new dimensions

The PIII has 70 new instructions on the chip to improve handling of 3-D graphics and is seen as superior to rival chipmaker AMD's 3DNow technology. The PIII launch will be a blow to AMD's hopes of setting an industry standard. Already nearly a hundred games take advantage of 3DNow but Intel says it will have more than 200 games and other software designed for the PIII at launch.

[ image: 3-D effects in games should be enhanced]
3-D effects in games should be enhanced
The PIII should also be better at handling speech recognition, video encoding and decoding and has a new streaming memory architecture. It will be released at first in 450Mhz and 500Mhz versions and there are predictions that this clock speed, indicating how fast the chips are, could be 800Mhz by the end of the year and reaching a gigahertz next year.

PSN is Big Brother inside?

Intel argues that consumers can benefit from increased security on the Web through the Processor Serial Number.

"The processor serial number, when used with user name and password, can be used by Websites to strengthen security when conducting e-commerce or setting up members-only chat rooms," it says on its own Website.

"For business users, the processor serial number can be used by Information Technology departments for many uses such as information management or to help manage corporate PC assets."

But the Big Brother Inside Boycott Intel campaign wants the American government to intervene in the shape of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It says consumers will not participate in electronic commerce because they will fear their privacy will be compromised.

The campaign says some Websites will insist the technology is turned on and some companies will force its usage to combat software piracy. "Experience shows that consumers will be coerced into submitting to the tracking mechanism," it wrote to the FTC.

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