Intel stops the clock

Are you an unscrupulous reseller or distributor of microprocessor chips? If so, Intel’s got some bad news for you.

Typically, processor manufacturers are conservative when rating the clock frequency of their microprocessors. A processor which can successfully operate at 2GHz, for example, may be only rated at 1.5GHz for a variety of market reasons.

Unfortunately, since most processors can be clocked at frequencies significantly greater than the rated (marked) clock frequencies, unscrupulous resellers and/or distributors can remark inexpensive processors at higher frequencies – a procedure known as ‘over-clocking’ – and then sell the processors for resale at higher prices.

And this can cause some problems. According to Intel, a common problem of over-clocking relates to bit errors and data corruption. Usually, chipsets and/or hardware components which need the system clock frequency for computing operations may incorrectly interpret electrical signals between ‘1’ and ‘0’ due to timing violations.

More serious problems of over-clocking relate to advanced chipsets which use a random number generator (RNG) for security applications such as cryptography, digital signatures, and protected communication protocols. If the host processor is over-clocked, the statistically random and non-deterministic numbers from the RNG of the chipsets may no longer be random, and the security applications may be severely compromised, Intel says.

Now, the company has patented a new mechanism that promises to halt the practise of over-clocking entirely.

The mechanism comprises a detection circuit (which detects over-clocking of a clock signal based on a reference signal) and a prevention circuit (which prevents over-clocking of the clock signal). This is achieved by either disabling the computer system or reducing the performance of the computer system in response to the detection of the over-clocking of the clock signal.

The Intel US patent – 6,535,988 – filed way back in September 29, 1999 – was granted on March 18 2003.

You can read it <a href=’http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=/netahtml/srchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6,535,988.WKU.&OS=PN/6,535,988&RS=PN/6,535,988′>here</a>.