The Flaw in the Intel Pentium Chip
In late 1994, the media began to report that there was a flaw in the new Pentium microprocessor produced by Intel. A flaw in the Pentium was especially significant since at that time it was the microprocessor used in 80% of the personal computers produced worldwide. Apparently, flaws in a complicated integrated circuit such as the Pentium are not uncommon. Most of these flaws cannot be detected by the user and do not affect the operation of the computer. The flaw that was discovered in 1994 was different. It caused incorrect answers when performing double-precision arithmetic, a very common computer operation. The flaw was easily detected by ...view middle of the document...
In the aftermath of this, Intel’s approach to chip flaws has changed. They now seem to feel that flawed chips should be replaced upon request, regardless of how insignificant the flaw seems to be.
This incident can perhaps be viewed as simply a public relations problem not involving any ethical issues; certainly this was a public relations disaster for Intel. However, there are also some interesting ethical issues that can be discussed. These include the following.
• Should defects be revealed to consumers? Are there times when it is ethical not to reveal defects? Is it an ethics problem only if safety is involved?
• Suppose a manufacturer places a warning in the literature that comes with a product such as “This product may contain unexpected flaws and might not operate correctly under all conditions.” Does this solve the ethical problems for the company?
• How can an engineer be sure that there are no defects in a product? If it is impossible to eliminate all defects in a...