Skip to main content

One example of the twisted logic of business in the "market" has to do with the PC.  When PCs first appeared in the 1980's, Intel made all the processor chips used in "IBM compatible PCs".  Most PCs only came with a processor chip that was not designed to do a lot of mathematical work.  People who did need to do a lot of math could buy a "math co-processor chip" to be added to their PCs.  After a number of years and several generations of Intel chips, starting with the 486 processor chip, Intel changed this.  Instead, Intel offered two versions of the 486 processor chip - one with a math processor included (at a higher price) and one without a math processor (at a lower price).

Or at least that's kind of what it was, and that was how it was generally presented to the public.  But in reality, Intel had concluded it would cost the company too much money to have two separate manufacturing areas for making two types of processor chips that had so much in common.  What Intel chose to do was to have one manufacturing line which made 486 chips with math processors.  Of course, Intel didn't want to sell this chip for the price of one of it's previous processor-without-math-processing.  However, most PC buyers didn't want a math processor enough to pay extra for it.

Intel took care of this by taking most of the 486 processors (manufactured with math processing) and put them through an additional step at the manufacturing plant.  The additional work they did on most of the chips disabled the math processor.  Consumers who wanted to pay less would get a chip with a disabled math processor.  Buyers willing to pay more would get a chip with a functioning math processor.

From a rational society's point of view, it was wasteful to take good chips and invest resources to damage one of their parts.  But it's stranger than that.  The chips that would be sold for a lower price went through additional work at the plant (disabling the math).  It actually cost Intel more money to make the chips it sold for less.  The chips (with math processing) Intel charged more for actually cost Intel less to make.

Certainly, in the last 20 years, businesses using market logic have made socially harmful choices - most notably those that crashed the world economy.  I can't say how many examples are out there like the 486 chip.  Feel free to add other examples.  This is how they think.  The common good is not part of their equation.  No matter how many times they say "invisible hand", the economic crisis, Bernie Madoff, Enron, the late-1980s collapse of the savings and loan industry, business contributions to climate change, examples like the 486, and such won't disappear.

 -  -  -

Please note: Added material / modification below.

After discussion in the comments section, I found the following at Wikipedia [not as an only source, but as a source that gave some clarification that others did not.  Also note: in the above diary for the convenience of non-tech people I referred to "math processors".  As much of the discussion has been among techies, below you'll see these referred to as FPU's.]

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

486SX (P23) : "An i486DX with the FPU part disabled or missing. Early variants were parts with disabled (defective) FPUs.[5] Later versions had the FPU removed from the die to reduce area and hence cost."

486SX2: "i486DX2 with the FPU disabled"

It sounds like several viewpoints in the diary & comments are at least partly right.  Some later 486SX's were made with no FPU (math processor).  Some 486SX's had had defective FPU's. (An Intel webpage also shows the introduction date of the 486DX as 2 years before the 486SX.  This probably reflects the early DX as a chip with an FPU, however Intel's 386DX chip didn't have an FPU.)  The 486SX2 had a disabled FPU that had not been defective.

Regarding marketing, Intel sold a "487 chip" as as an add-on FPU to a 486SX.  In reality, the 487 was a 486DX chip with an extra pin which shut down the PC's 486SX and took over all its work.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    by workingwords on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:04:42 AM PDT

  •  Very interesting. (8+ / 0-)

    Reminds me of telephone companies charging to NOT have you phone listed in their phonebooks.

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:09:04 AM PDT

  •  Nothing twisted about it. They may have actually (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Deep Texan, BlackSheep1, ER Doc

    made more money overall since they could charge more for non-disabled chips. Prices often have nothing to do with costs.

  •  It wasn't quite that simple (11+ / 0-)

    It turns out there were defects in the math chips on some of the chips so rather then throw them out the disabled the defective units and sold the otherwise useless chips as 486SX (the fully functional ones were called 486DX). Now it is possible they also harvested some good ones but this was actually a case of Intel being smart.

    Now for real evil some old IBM mainframes had a "field upgrade" to perform twice as fast. The "upgrade" was the tech coming in and cutting a wire that crippled the performance. But with the maintenance contracts at the time if you did that yourself you would've lost all support for the million dollar box in your company's basement.

    Sorry conservatives, but Occam's Razor isn't a beard trimmer for jihadists. What it means is I don't have to accept your crazy-assed theories as an alternative to reality.

    by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:18:12 AM PDT

    •  I recall Intel math problems (0+ / 0-)

      but I don't recall that being the cause of the 486 disabled math processors. Are you saying Intel began 486 manufacturing with two separate manufacturing areas - one for chips with no math processor at all and one with an included math processor?  If not, the disabling of the math processors was not just something that happened after they discovered flaws in the math processing.

      I believe I heard some Unisys mainframes were also manufactured to be sold at different capability levels depending on whether only parts or all of it was enabled.

      "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

      by workingwords on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 11:39:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, you're right in that they made all the chips (3+ / 0-)

        in one place but there was more to the motive than just crippling chips for profit. They new there were going to be problem with the FPU (there always had been on the x87 series) and rather than just throw chips away they found a way to profit from it.

        What I don't recall is what the failure rates were and if that alone filled the need for the lower end chips. So it wouldn't shock me to find out they crippled some on purpose. But in some modern chips the failure rates approach 90% so anything they can do to salvage those failures can really help their bottom line.

        The tone of the diary strikes as "evil company being evil" and while Intel may be the Devil's own in this case I think it was the right thing for them to do. Especially given the fact that the practice was widely known.

        Sorry conservatives, but Occam's Razor isn't a beard trimmer for jihadists. What it means is I don't have to accept your crazy-assed theories as an alternative to reality.

        by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 11:54:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I Googled (0+ / 0-)

          asking for "Intel math processor errors" got plenty of results for Pentium FPU problems, but not 486.  So, I tried adding "486" (then next "487") to the query and got some Pentium results and some results that were 486/487 but not about FPU errors.  It doesn't look like it was 486.

          "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

          by workingwords on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 12:37:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ahh, the Pentium FPU glitch (3+ / 0-)

            That was monumentally bad. That was bad because Intel discovered the problem after the chips had been sold. The team working on Excel discovered it when users started reporting failures with spreadsheets run on Pentiums that worked just fine on 386/486 machines. I forget the exact details of the problem but it was something as silly as (1.4 - 1.4) != 0.0. In effect that shit storm is what would've happened in the market if Intel hadn't disabled the onboard 487 for those chips, weird math failures (or crashes). With the Pentium they thought they had all the production problems squared away for the FPU was always enabled. It turns out the problem was with their microcode instead. Eventually they made it so their chips could have the microcode reprogrammed. Which leads to the other diary about security in a world where you can't trust the hardware. Once you can change how the CPU functions at an instruction level you can't trust any software on the box to be secure.

            Sorry conservatives, but Occam's Razor isn't a beard trimmer for jihadists. What it means is I don't have to accept your crazy-assed theories as an alternative to reality.

            by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 12:46:00 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Who told you this? (2+ / 0-)

    Your whole diary is just some story.  Where did you get it from?

    Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

    by yet another liberal on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:20:29 AM PDT

    •  It's partially accurate but not complete (7+ / 0-)

      I was one of the folks working at Microsoft that tracked down a defect in the original 486 'C stepping' series. It turns out there was a flaw with the old CLI/STI pair trick used in interrupt handlers that would cause c0000005 errors (invalid memory access) on register to register copies. Holy hell that was hard to track down. And even harder to get Intel to believe it was a problem. Some devs are proud to find a bug in the compiler, I found one in the processor. Beat that, rookies. ;D But as for the "crippled chips" the folks at Intel told us the 486SX were salvaged chips they realized they could still sell for a nice chunk of change. But they did have to "burn" them to make sure the FPU instructions never, even accidentally, could be run or failures would occur.

      Sorry conservatives, but Occam's Razor isn't a beard trimmer for jihadists. What it means is I don't have to accept your crazy-assed theories as an alternative to reality.

      by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:29:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The diary is accurate (4+ / 0-)

      Were you there? Sounds like you weren't. Clearly the diarist lived through these times and was well aware of this situation. I did too.

      Not that it was a secret. Hell, everybody in the industry knew. As ontheleftcoast says, some of these chips had the math chips disabled because they were broken, but most of them were disabled on purpose whether broken or not, to give Intel a chip to sell at the lower price point.

      It was simply Intel populating their market niches. Lots of goofy stuff like that happened in the tech industry, and still happens in every industry.

      •  Clearly? (0+ / 0-)

        Bullshit.  You speak for the diarist?

        Yes, they were salvaging defective parts.  Big whoop.  That's nefarious?

        Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

        by yet another liberal on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:34:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I speak for myself (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          onanthebarbarian, trumpeter

          I was there, working with both the DX and SX versions when they were cutting edge stuff. Clearly the diarist was there too. And clearly you weren't.

          •  Then you should know (0+ / 0-)

            That it was not a pricing scheme as  presented in the diary.

            Amazing you were there and didn't even catch on to that part.

            Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

            by yet another liberal on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:38:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You know this how? (0+ / 0-)

              That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

              by enhydra lutris on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 05:11:21 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Let's review (0+ / 0-)

                As detailed in comments (in this diary, particualarly by leftycoaster above), there was a flaw in a number of the FPU's, and so they sold those 486's for cheaper.  The FPU's  weren't disabled, they were rejects, but still salvageable.

                Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

                by yet another liberal on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 06:26:07 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Key word some - find out what it means. No (0+ / 0-)

                  evidence or even information was presented that all of the SXs sold were derived from the some that failed. Again, you know that all of them were how?

                  That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

                  by enhydra lutris on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 08:30:50 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  And (0+ / 0-)

                    No evidence was presented that they were intentionally disabled.

                    However, leftycoaster explained in detail that many were defective.

                    So, go ask the diarist for the evidence that the FPU's were disabled.

                    Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

                    by yet another liberal on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 09:05:38 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  See Wikipedia (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      enhydra lutris

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/...

                      486SX (P23) : "An i486DX with the FPU part disabled or missing. Early variants were parts with disabled (defective) FPUs.[5] Later versions had the FPU removed from the die to reduce area and hence cost."

                      486SX2: "i486DX2 with the FPU disabled"

                      It sounds like several viewpoints in the diary & comments are at least partly right.  Some later 486SX's were made with no FPU (math processor).  Some 486SX's had had defective FPU's. (An Intel webpage also shows the introduction date of the 486DX as 2 years before the 486SX.  This probably reflects the DX as a chip with an FPU, however Intel's 386DX chip didn't have an FPU.)  The 486SX2 had a disabled FPU that had not been defective.

                      Regarding marketing, Intel sold a "487 chip" as a math processor as an add-on to a 486SX.  In reality, the 487 was a 486DX chip with an extra pin which shut down the PC's 486SX and took over all its work.

                      "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

                      by workingwords on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 06:11:18 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

      •  That's an important aspect to this story (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cassandra Waites, trumpeter
        Hell, everybody in the industry knew.
        Not only everybody in the industry but even consumers were aware that it was happening. Most didn't care one bit, "Heh, I can get this computer for $200 less if I don't want to run CAD on it? Cool! Myst here I come!"

        Sorry conservatives, but Occam's Razor isn't a beard trimmer for jihadists. What it means is I don't have to accept your crazy-assed theories as an alternative to reality.

        by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:55:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  WTF? (0+ / 0-)

          Half of my comment (in the middle) vanished.

          The consumers knew about it as well and they didn't care. Intel didn't try to hide the fact they were doing it. If Joe Computer buyer could save $200 on a computer but didn't need to run CAD software on it (at the time that was pretty much the only thing that used floating point extensively) then they were happy about it. Thus my comment about Myst

          Sorry conservatives, but Occam's Razor isn't a beard trimmer for jihadists. What it means is I don't have to accept your crazy-assed theories as an alternative to reality.

          by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:59:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Yup. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ontheleftcoast

          I was running a 486/50 back then.  Ran OS/2 on it for 3 years without rebooting (that was back when electricity wasn't as much of an issue).  I remember the whole DX/SX SNAFU.  But because I wasn't running very math intensive apps, I didn't care.

          I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

          by trumpeter on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 02:31:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I worked from memory (0+ / 0-)

      I worked in the computer field & my first PC was 30 years ago (years before the 486).  Back when it happened I probably read about it in the industry newspaper InfoWorld.  In any case, it was a topic of interest my colleagues & I.

      If you do a Google search as I just did, you'll find plenty of material on math co-processor / FPU errors in Intel's Pentium chip, but not the 486.  And if you read comments from other techies responding to this diary, you'll see they agree the rest of the story is accurate.

      "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

      by workingwords on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 12:46:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Built in Obsolescence (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DRo

    Hope that never catches on.

    Notice: This Comment © 2013 ROGNM

    by ROGNM on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 10:24:57 AM PDT

  •  I remember a story about Bausch and Lom (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    workingwords, onanthebarbarian, DRo

    aka Rayban, making contact lenses with different lifespans.

    You had the one day version at a low price point, the monthly version with a mid price point, and the year long  version with a high price point. Only allegedly B&L figures out it was cheaper to manufacture just one lens and package it differently.

  •  See Wikipedia (0+ / 0-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    486SX (P23) : "An i486DX with the FPU part disabled or missing. Early variants were parts with disabled (defective) FPUs.[5] Later versions had the FPU removed from the die to reduce area and hence cost."

    486SX2: "i486DX2 with the FPU disabled"

    It sounds like several viewpoints in the diary & comments are at least partly right.  Some later 486SX's were made with no FPU (math processor).  Some 486SX's had had defective FPU's. (An Intel webpage also shows the introduction date of the 486DX as 2 years before the 486SX.  This probably reflects the DX as a chip with an FPU, however Intel's 386DX chip didn't have an FPU.)  The 486SX2 had a disabled FPU that had not been defective.

    Regarding marketing, Intel sold a "487 chip" as a math processor as an add-on to a 486SX.  In reality, the 487 was a 486DX chip with an extra pin which shut down the PC's 486SX and took over all its work.

    "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    by workingwords on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 06:14:21 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site