Recently Mac peripherals and upgrades reseller Other World Computing (OWC) suspended the sale of some
Sonnet Technologies G3 processor upgrades. OWC made its move after discovering an alleged discrepancy between the speed ratings of the upgrade and the CPU chip. The company has also
posted info online.
OWC’s Larry O’Connor said that the company recently learned that Sonnet G3/500 and G3/500 L2 upgrades actually contained IBM G3 processors marked at 466MHz. “Even more of a stretch, the Sonnet G3/450MHZ PCI had a 333MHz marked IBM G3 processor,” said O’Connor.
“This was information the consumer should know and Sonnet should have shared it, not hidden it,” said O’Connor.
MacCentral spoke today with Sonnet Technologies, Inc. vice president of marketing Karl Seppala, who was eager to provide MacCentral’s readers with clarification.
Industrial grade iron
Seppala accepts that chips rated at 466 MHz are being used in 500MHz upgrades, but said that they’re perfectly capable of operating safely at that speed.
Seppala explained that the products in question use CPUs purchased from IBM which are rated for industrial use where ambient temperatures are considerably hotter than the 65 degrees Celsius that desktop CPUs are rated for. The chips in question are rated to operate at 466MHz at 95 to 105 degrees Celsius. Running at the temperatures found inside a Mac, they can operate at higher clock speeds with no ill effects.
“If a part is [designed to] run hotter, [the chip maker] has to run it slower. If you don’t have to run it hotter, you don’t have to make the chip slower,” said Seppala. Several variables affect the rating of a CPU, he said. Voltage, temperature and speed are the primary factors. Seppala likened this arrangement to keeping a child’s see-saw balanced: If the operating temperature of a CPU is lowered, its speed can go up.
“This makes the chip completely valid in every way,” said Seppala. Sonnet is neither abusing nor overclocking the chip in any technical sense, he said.
To Sonnet, it’s just good business sense to do what they’re doing. As the second largest PowerPC CPU buyer for the Mac market behind Apple itself, the company is simply trying to leverage its buying power and provide customers with an adequate supply of products at the lowest possible price, according to Seppala.
A case of mistaken identity
As to the 450MHz processor upgrade that OWC’s O’Connor alleges had a 333MHz component inside, Sonnet’s Seppala has a simple explanation — it’s the result of a labeling discrepancy at IBM. In fact, those chips really are rated to operate at 450MHz without any problem whatsoever.
“Our bill of materials [from IBM] shows them as 450MHz chips,” said Seppala. IBM created those specific chips for another customer, who needed 333MHz chips for a special vertical application — the chips operated fine at the slower speed, and were marked as such. Unfortunately for IBM, the deal didn’t go through. IBM’s loss was Sonnet’s gain, however. “You can see the remnants of the 450 stamp under the 333MHz mark” on some of the chips, said Seppala. “And the only issue is how these chips are physically marked.”
Don’t play with fire … er … heat
“Most people would never know anything of this since the processor is hidden under a secured heat sink on the Sonnet models in question,” noted O’Connor, who also noted that other manufacturers made the CPUs on their upgrade cards more user-accessible. Heat sinks cover the CPUs and help to distribute heat away from the chip, enabling the processor to work without risking damage.
“I hope people will see this for the flame-fanning it is,” said Seppala. He cautioned Sonnet upgrade card users against removing the heat sinks that cover their CPU to prevent damage that could occur — damage not covered under the company’s three-year warranty program. Users might crack the chip, Seppala said, or reseat the heat sink incorrectly, which could result in diminished heat distribution and possible chip damage.
“As a result of this, we have suspended the sales of the affected items,” said O’Connor, who pointed to products from other upgrade manufacturers whose chips match the rated speed of the upgrade.
Seppala said that the issue doesn’t warrant any further action from Sonnet at this point. The company isn’t issuing refunds or exchanges on the upgrades, since they work as advertised, but Seppala noted that Sonnet is still “measuring what’s happening.”
Reaction to OWC’s publicity has been quite mild so far. “Despite all of this, we’ve only had three or four users contact our customer service organization about the issue this week,” said Seppala, who advised customers concerned about their processor upgrades to use the usual channels on Sonnet’s Web site, by e-mail or by phone.
Where do we go from here?
Noting a relationship between OWC and Sonnet that goes back almost four years, O’Connor called the upgrade maker “a real asset to the Macintosh community” and wishes them continued success. “Sonnet makes some excellent upgrades and we will sell Sonnet, but only those upgrades that do not have the lower speed marked processor in comparison to the speed of the upgrade itself,” said O’Connor.
From Sonnet’s perspective, there’s a time and a place for a discussion about their future working relationship with OWC, and this isn’t it. Sonnet clearly doesn’t think that there’s anything unsavory or unusual about what the upgrade issue.
“We stand completely behind what we’ve done. There’s nothing misleading on this product,” said Seppala, who said that the upgrades operate at the advertised speed. Seppala encouraged users who have the G3/500 upgrades in question to run clock speed benchmarking programs or other tests to check for themselves if they doubt his veracity.
In fact, Seppala said that Sonnet has done the reverse in the past with its notebook CPU upgrades. “[Those products] actually ran slower than the marked speed of the processors,” he said. “Processors were brought down to the lower hundred mark to help improve battery life and reduce heat.”