Network hardware problems at a merchant bank last week have raised doubts over the reliability of a batch of Compaq PCs.
Complaints have centred around a faulty network card which experts believe could possibly affect tens of thousands of PCs. A leading City bank, which asked not to be named, received a batch of Deskpro EN 400s from Compaq last month. But the organisation experienced severe network problems with the PCs.
It has emerged that the problem involved the network cards in the PCs having the same media access control (MAC) address, the unique string of numbers and letters hard-coded on the card that gives a PC its unique identity on a network.
Network integration specialists GABC diagnosed the problem for the bank.
"The problem was not the Compaq kit but the Intel network interface cards (NICs) - they all had the same MAC address," a spokesman for GABC said.
"A Compaq engineer told us that up to 60,000 PCs could have duplicate addresses and will have to be taken out of circulation," he added.
Scott Kortright, product manager for networking devices at Compaq, stated: "The problem revolves around incompatibility with the driver and the NICs, not faulty hardware. There is no recall. This has been a known incompatibility and one which we thought was fully communicated to our global customer base. If customers such as the UK bank are having problems, they need to download the current compatible drivers off the web."
But GABC said fixing all the affected cards could be a lengthy process.
"Any network that has two or more of the same NICs could fail. It is not a hard job to replace them. It takes between five and 10 minutes per PC, but the problem is finding them," the spokesman said.
Panacea Services, which supplied the computers to the bank, wrote a field visit report, which stated: "Ten machines have been delivered and eight have faulty network cards." A source at Panacea Services added: "Most customers use 3Com cards but the ones that Compaq used were Intel. We are having reports in, but the fault happened recently, so it's early days."
Compaq said it changed the NICs on the Deskpro EN 400 in May and told customers that previous drivers would no longer support it. It stated the old driver software displays duplicate MAC addresses even though they are correct.
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