Intel's Atom C2000 chips are bricking products – and it's not just Cisco hit

Chipzilla and Switchzilla won't confirm connection but the writing is on the wall


Updated Intel's Atom C2000 processor family has a fault that effectively bricks devices, costing the company a significant amount of money to correct. But the semiconductor giant won't disclose precisely how many chips are affected nor which products are at risk.

On its Q4 2016 earnings call earlier this month, chief financial officer Robert Swan said a product issue limited profitability during the quarter, forcing the biz to set aside a pot of cash to deal with the problem.

"We were observing a product quality issue in the fourth quarter with slightly higher expected failure rates under certain use and time constraints, and we established a reserve to deal with that," he said. "We think we have it relatively well-bounded with a minor design fix that we're working with our clients to resolve."

Coincidentally, Cisco last week issued an advisory warning that several of its routing, optical networking, security and switch products sold prior to November 16, 2016 contain a faulty clock component that is likely to fail at an accelerated rate after 18 months of operation.

Cisco at the time declined to name the supplier of that component. When asked on Monday whether Intel supplied the faulty electronics, a Cisco spokesperson told that The Register that the networking giant does not intend to publicly name the supplier.

Intel indicated in a January 2017 revision of its Atom C2000 family documentation that the chip line contains a clock flaw. Errata note AVR.54, titled "System May Experience Inability to Boot or May Cease Operation," explains that the Atom C2000 Low Pin Count bus clock outputs (LPC_CLKOUT0 and LPC_CLKOUT1) may stop functioning. Permanently.

An Intel spokesperson in an email to The Register characterized the issue as "a degradation of a circuit element under high use conditions at a rate higher than Intel’s quality goals after multiple years of service."

"If the LPC clock(s) stop functioning the system will no longer be able to boot," Intel's documentation explains.

This consequence is precisely what Cisco says may happen to its devices given enough time. "Once the component has failed, the system will stop functioning, will not boot, and is not recoverable," Cisco's advisory states.

The Register asked Intel whether it could confirm that Cisco's advisory could be attributed to an Intel component. Intel said it could not confirm or deny whether its chip issue is the one affecting Cisco gear, citing a policy of not commenting on customers. We note that the affected Cisco ASA 55xx products use Intel's Atom C2000 system-on-chips at least.

Radio silence

We asked Intel to provide specific details about when it began and stopped shipping Intel Atom C2000 processors with faulty clock outputs. Intel declined to comment. The official errata says the B0 stepping of C2xxx Atoms are vulnerable to failure, and these parts began shipping in 2013. The specific SKUs are:

C2308, C2338, C2350, C2358, C2508, C2518, C2530, C2538, C2550, C2558, C2718, C2730, C2738, C2750, and C2758.

We asked Intel how many affected Atom C2000 chips have been shipped and how much fixing the issue will cost the company. Intel declined to comment.

Intel did, however, provide some insight on how the Atom C2000 flaw might be addressed. "A board level workaround exists for the existing production stepping of the product which resolves the issue," a company spokesperson said in an email. "Additionally, Intel will implement and validate a minor silicon fix in a new product stepping that resolves this issue."

Many other technology vendors make products with Intel Atom C2000 processors, including Dell and Synology. The Register pinged Dell via email, and it was not immediately available for comment.

People with Synology DS1815+ storage boxes have been reporting complete hardware failures; the DS1815+ is powered by an Intel Atom C2538.

Other vendors using Atom C2000 chips include Asrock, Aaeon, HP, Infortrend, Lanner, NEC, Newisys, Netgate, Netgear, Quanta, Supermicro, and ZNYX Networks. The chipset is aimed at networking devices, storage systems, and microserver workloads. If you know of any affected or failed gear, please let us know.

According to this Intel data-sheet [PDF], LPC_CLKOUT0 and LPC_CLKOUT1 are driven by the processor to provide essential timing signals to hardware on the board, including the boot ROM. If these signals stop ticking, the rest of the electronics stops, too. ®

Updated to add at 14:29 UTC, February 7

Synology told The Reg it was "investigating this issue together with Intel," saying it would "provide more detailed information in the week as it becomes available."

It added: "At this time Synology has not seen any indication that this issue has caused an increase in failure rates for DiskStation or RackStation models equipped with Intel Atom C2000 series processors. However once additional information is available, Synology will post an advisory on this topic.

"In the meantime it is still safe to continue to use your device, however should you encounter any issues these will be handled via our support teams and all the devices are still covered under the standard warranty provided with all our units. Technical Support can be reached via www.synology.com/ticket."

Updated to add at 15:36 UTC, February 7

Synology subsequently asked to have its statement above revised to omit any mention of Intel.

Updated to add at 18:23 UTC, February 8

Once again, Synology has been in touch, seemingly now able to use the I word, to say: "Intel has recently notified Synology regarding the issue of the processor’s increased degradation chance of a specific component after heavy, prolonged usage.

"Synology has not currently seen any indication that this issue has caused an increase in failure rates for DiskStation or RackStation models equipped with Intel Atom C2000 series processors compared to other models manufactured in the same time frame not equipped with the affected processors."

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022