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Intel admits first Pentium 4 was rubbish, pays out $15

Pentium 4 logo

Long-running saga leads to tiny class action settlement

In technology terms, this is one long-running controversy. According to The Register, Intel has finally agreed to compensate buyers of the original Pentium 4 who felt Intel had misled them about the chip’s performance – to the tune of a whole $15.

Back in the early 2000s, a class-action lawsuit was brought by various complainants, including Janet Skold and David Dossantos, saying that Intel had deliberately misled the public about the performance of the first-generation “Williamette” Pentium 4.

The plaintiffs allege that the new P4 was slower than AMD’s rival Athlon chips, and even its previous-generation Pentium III processors, despite the new processors’ higher clock speeds. The suit goes on to say that Intel knew this, and instead of waiting for “pervasive design flaws” to be fixed, which it did with the launch of the “Northwood” Pentium 4 chips in 2002, it instead fiddled the P4’s benchmark scores.

The suit claims that Intel wrote the benchmarks – WebMark 2001 and SYSMark 2001 – itself in order to show the P4 chips in a good light; “Intel claimed publicly that the new tests were created by a neutral benchmarking company, and thus reflected an objective measure of processor performance, in reality, the tests were written in-house by Intel to favor the Pentium 4 and inflate its scores.”

There is also some controversy about the controversy. Even as far back as 2001, AnandTech claimed that the low SYSMark 2001 score was due to Windows Media Encoder being part of the benchmark. Windows Media Encoder didn’t detect whether AMD’s chips supported SSE properly, so didn’t use this instruction set to speed up encoding. The application detected SSE in Intel’s chips fine, so they performed better in the benchmark. This is, however, ancient history.

You can read about all the ins and outs on the Intel Pentium 4 Litigation website, as well as learn how to claim your $15 (if you’re a US resident and bought an original P4). As someone who bought an Athlon at the time, this writer can only look on smugly.

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