The world of IT is full of strange contradictions this week. As the price of memory chips continues to stagnate, a UK distributor is warning all and sundry about organised gangs which are counterfeiting Intel Pentium II and other processors.
While not exactly a fake flood, this is the sort of event which can introduce an element of market instability on top of the already jittery Far Eastern economic situation.
When chip prices were high, the industry stomached the wave of chip thefts which swept the country. There was no corner of the UK where it was not rife. Silicon Valley was not immune either, and stories of trucks being hijacked and the goods being whisked out of the country by plane were not uncommon.
But in an economic climate where the mighty Mitsubishi group closes down its US fabrication plants for 4Mbit dynamic random access memory chips (DRams), and general demand slowing, how anyone can think counterfeiting chips will make money beats me.
Any company not fully diversified into non-memory business is probably going to go to the wall at the next recession. Mark Davison, processor product manager at Datrontech, is claiming re-marked and re-painted chips were once again finding their way into PCs. So far so bad. But when he claims that the chips, which are marked with higher clock speeds than they can reach, are being produced in the Far East on equipment worth millions of dollars, you have to ponder the economics.
In the days of rampant chip theft, a massive groundswell of opinion among users and the police attempted to persuade Intel, IBM, NEC and other manufacturers to stamp each chip with a unique indelible number which could identify it if stolen.
While the chipmakers dithered, many entrepreneurial companies devised methods of identifying chips and made lots of money selling them via well constructed scare stories.The best of them were very good indeed, but they all had one drawback - the buyer had to put them in. That meant that not all PCs had any security on their chips. So chip theft grew until the market plummeted and the thieves lost interest.
It transpires that Intel, which did agree to put identifying marks on many of the Pentiums, is not doing so on the Pentium IIs.This means dealers are again being warned not to buy chips unless they come through authorised sources.
But we live in the real world, where supply and demand is never constant.
Today's oversupplied stuffed channel can quickly turn into tomorrow's starvation alley. I'm not condoning it, but the reality is OEM overstocks do end up in the grey channel and do get bought.
And how many users are going to check the innards of their machines until it's too late? Intel may claim this is not a problem, but PC Dealer has carried a number of these stories. Fake motherboards are another current favourite among the Far Eastern criminal fraternity, and some high-quality manufacturers have had their fingers burned.
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