Intel Pentium III

by Anand Lal Shimpi on February 22, 1999 10:20 PM EST

The second, and by far the most controversial feature Intel chose to start implementing with the Pentium III is the introduction of the Intel processor serial number. There's no better way to start to describe the Intel processor serial number than a direct quote from Intel's processor serial number FAQ:

Q: What is the Intel. processor serial number?

A: The Intel processor serial number feature consists of silicon devices in Intel's Pentium III processor that are programmed to a specific number during manufacturing. The Intel processor serial number serves as an identifier for the processor, and, by association, its system. It is similar to the serial numbers on other electronic devices or products, except the Intel processor serial number is implemented electronically, rather than being placed on the exterior of the product.

What does that mean? Basically, every Pentium III processor will have a unique ID, sort of like a name tag, associated with it that would allow it to report such features as rated clock frequency, week of manufacture, etc… The controversial part of the processor serial number is the fact that, when enabled, your unique ID could serve as a unique tracking identifier for you and your computer while on the Internet. Theoretically the processor serial number is intended to only offer a method of informing users of the rated clock speed of their processor while also allowing for greater security during on-line transactions since your unique ID can only be assigned to a single processor, and therefore a single computer, yours.

Many users expressed dissatisfaction with the processor serial number as they felt that it would turn into nothing more than a means of violating the privacy of Pentium III owners, however Intel stands firmly on the grounds that the processor serial number will cause more good than harm possible. Once again, referring to their FAQ on the topic, Intel's official statement regarding the invasion of privacy is best expressed by the following questions/answers:

Q: Will Intel track each processor to know who gets which serial number?

A: No. While this is theoretically possible to do, as part of our manufacturing process Intel will not track or correlate which processor serial numbers go to which consumers, nor will Intel entertain any offers to develop such a list.

And…

Q: Does Intel share any of my personal information with other companies?

A: No, Intel will not share any of your personal information without your permission, as stated in the Intel Privacy Policy.

Because of the general distrust of Intel's intentions with the processor serial number, Intel immediately announced that all processors would ship with the means of enabling/disabling the processor serial number via a software utility. In contrast, many publications are questioning the reality of the status of the processor serial number, until there is a sure fire way of determining whether the feature is enabled or disabled (outside of Intel's software "utility") we'll just have to rely on Intel's official statements.

Q: Some press reports say that once you turn the processor serial number feature "OFF," it will automatically default back to "ON." Is this true?

A: No. While the processor serial number is activated in the chip, the default control utility setting will turn the feature to "OFF." The utility then allows the user to choose whether to enable the processor serial number feature, and it will then remember the user's preference and reinstate that selection each time the utility is run. For a user to enable the processor serial number, they will need to change the software setting in the control utility, which is installed in the "Start-up" folder. They will then need to reboot their PC.

A hot feature to look out for on future motherboards is the ability to enable/disable the processor serial number feature in the BIOS, as that seems to be the best method of approaching the problem if there is any concern about maintaining your privacy. (For more information about the Intel processor serial number visit Intel's overview at: http://support.intel.com/support/processors/pentiumiii/psu.htm)

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