Intel redesigns flawed Atom CPUs to stave off premature chip death

Faulty LPC clock bus timed out


Intel finally has reworked its flawed Atom C2000 chips, which have been failing at a greater-than-expected rate for about a year and a half.

On Wednesday, through an update to its chip errata [PDF], Intel revealed that its Atom C2000 chip family has a new C0 stepping, up from the previous B0, meaning at least some parts of the chip have been redesigned.

Version C0 fixes problems with the chip's low pin count (LPC) bus clock outputs, and introduces a new specification for the LPC interface. Specifically, the C0 stepping resolves chip bug AVR54, which describes how the "system may experience [an] inability to boot or may cease operation" permanently.

As a side-effect of the C0 redesign, most of the LPC pins on the chip package cannot be reassigned by software as general purpose IO (GPIO) if they are not needed for timing signals, as was possible in previous Atom C2000 steppings.

So if you've designed a device that relies on GPIO signals from the LPC pins, you'll have to redesign your motherboard if you switch from self-destructing B0 Atoms to the non-bricking C0 version, because the GPIO functionality has mostly been taken away. All in all, that's an expensive move for manufacturers.

"All of the LPC interface signals are defined as muxed with GPIO signals," reads Intel's errata, dated April 2017.

"This implies that if the LPC interface is not used in your design these signals can be GPIO signals. This specification change removes the muxed support of GPIO signals for all LPC signals except LPC_CLKOUT1. These signals must be left in their default (LPC) state and not de-selected via software to be GPIO pins."

In January, Intel said that the Atom's LPC clock bus outputs (LPC_CLKOUT0 and LPC_CLKOUT1) could stop functioning, rendering affected devices inoperable. Without a clock signal governing circuitry, such as the boot ROM, Atom-equipped gear can't even start up. The device bricks itself, in other words.

That same month, Chipzilla's chief financial officer warned of a product quality issue, noting that the company had set aside funds to cover the cost of dealing with an unspecified design flaw.

The nature of the problem became clearer in early February when Cisco issued an advisory warning. A variety of its products sold prior to November 16, 2016, the network gear maker said, contained a faulty clock component that was failing at a rate greater than anticipated after 18 months of use. The common component in the Cisco hardware was an Atom C2000 line chip.

As we reported in March, the failing Atom chip affected IT products from at least 21 vendors: Aaeon, ASRock Rack, Checkpoint, Cisco, Dell, Fortinet, HP, Infortrend, iXsystems, Online/Scaleway, Lanner, NEC, Newisys, Netgear, Netgate, Quanta, Seagate, Sophos, Supermicro, Synology, and ZNYX Networks.

We've reached out to some of the affected organizations to see whether they've received C0 inventory yet but have not heard back.

In February, an Intel spokesperson told The Register that the company had a board-level workaround for the then-current B0 production stepping of its Atom chips and said the company planned to "implement and validate a minor silicon fix in a new product stepping that resolves this issue."

Intel is expected to report its Q1 2017 earnings on Thursday. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Florida's content-moderation law kept on ice, likely unconstitutional, court says
    So cool you're into free speech because that includes taking down misinformation

    While the US Supreme Court considers an emergency petition to reinstate a preliminary injunction against Texas' social media law HB 20, the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday partially upheld a similar injunction against Florida's social media law, SB 7072.

    Both Florida and Texas last year passed laws that impose content moderation restrictions, editorial disclosure obligations, and user-data access requirements on large online social networks. The Republican governors of both states justified the laws by claiming that social media sites have been trying to censor conservative voices, an allegation that has not been supported by evidence.

    Multiple studies addressing this issue say right-wing folk aren't being censored. They have found that social media sites try to take down or block misinformation, which researchers say is more common from right-leaning sources.

    Continue reading
  • US-APAC trade deal leaves out Taiwan, military defense not ruled out
    All fun and games until the chip factories are in the crosshairs

    US President Joe Biden has heralded an Indo-Pacific trade deal signed by several nations that do not include Taiwan. At the same time, Biden warned China that America would help defend Taiwan from attack; it is home to a critical slice of the global chip industry, after all. 

    The agreement, known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), is still in its infancy, with today's announcement enabling the United States and the other 12 participating countries to begin negotiating "rules of the road that ensure [US businesses] can compete in the Indo-Pacific," the White House said. 

    Along with America, other IPEF signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Combined, the White House said, the 13 countries participating in the IPEF make up 40 percent of the global economy. 

    Continue reading
  • 381,000-plus Kubernetes API servers 'exposed to internet'
    Firewall isn't a made-up word from the Hackers movie, people

    A large number of servers running the Kubernetes API have been left exposed to the internet, which is not great: they're potentially vulnerable to abuse.

    Nonprofit security organization The Shadowserver Foundation recently scanned 454,729 systems hosting the popular open-source platform for managing and orchestrating containers, finding that more than 381,645 – or about 84 percent – are accessible via the internet to varying degrees thus providing a cracked door into a corporate network.

    "While this does not mean that these instances are fully open or vulnerable to an attack, it is likely that this level of access was not intended and these instances are an unnecessarily exposed attack surface," Shadowserver's team stressed in a write-up. "They also allow for information leakage on version and build."

    Continue reading
  • A peek into Gigabyte's GPU Arm for AI, HPC shops
    High-performance platform choices are going beyond the ubiquitous x86 standard

    Arm-based servers continue to gain momentum with Gigabyte Technology introducing a system based on Ampere's Altra processors paired with Nvidia A100 GPUs, aimed at demanding workloads such as AI training and high-performance compute (HPC) applications.

    The G492-PD0 runs either an Ampere Altra or Altra Max processor, the latter delivering 128 64-bit cores that are compatible with the Armv8.2 architecture.

    It supports 16 DDR4 DIMM slots, which would be enough space for up to 4TB of memory if all slots were filled with 256GB memory modules. The chassis also has space for no fewer than eight Nvidia A100 GPUs, which would make for a costly but very powerful system for those workloads that benefit from GPU acceleration.

    Continue reading
  • GitLab version 15 goes big on visibility and observability
    GitOps fans can take a spin on the free tier for pull-based deployment

    One-stop DevOps shop GitLab has announced version 15 of its platform, hot on the heels of pull-based GitOps turning up on the platform's free tier.

    Version 15.0 marks the arrival of GitLab's next major iteration and attention this time around has turned to visibility and observability – hardly surprising considering the acquisition of OpsTrace as 2021 drew to a close, as well as workflow automation, security and compliance.

    GitLab puts out monthly releases –  hitting 15.1 on June 22 –  and we spoke to the company's senior director of Product, Kenny Johnston, at the recent Kubecon EU event, about what will be added to version 15 as time goes by. During a chat with the company's senior director of Product, Kenny Johnston, at the recent Kubecon EU event, The Register was told that this was more where dollars were being invested into the product.

    Continue reading
  • To multicloud, or not: Former PayPal head of engineering weighs in
    Not everyone needs it, but those who do need to consider 3 things, says Asim Razzaq

    The push is on to get every enterprise thinking they're missing out on the next big thing if they don't adopt a multicloud strategy.

    That shove in the multicloud direction appears to be working. More than 75 percent of businesses are now using multiple cloud providers, according to Gartner. That includes some big companies, like Boeing, which recently chose to spread its bets across AWS, Google Cloud and Azure as it continues to eliminate old legacy systems. 

    There are plenty of reasons to choose to go with multiple cloud providers, but Asim Razzaq, CEO and founder at cloud cost management company Yotascale, told The Register that choosing whether or not to invest in a multicloud architecture all comes down to three things: How many different compute needs a business has, budget, and the need for redundancy. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022