Agencies discover they don't always get what they order
- By Michael Cheek, Bill Murray
- Mar 03, 1997
In one case, an external label indicated a more advanced processor than
was actually in the machine. The PCs were part of GCN's forthcoming comparison of client
desktop systems priced at less than $2,000.
Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala., intended to submit a 200-MHz Pentium Pro
client. Although company e-mail and an Intel Corp. sticker on the side of the case both
stated Pentium Pro, the motherboard actually contained a 200-MHz Pentium.
Nexar Technologies Inc. of Westborough, Mass., planned to send its Nexar II case,
which allows access to card slots through a new, second side panel. What actually arrived
was the original Nexar I case without the new panel but with the Nexar II motherboard
Neither vendor deliberately tried to deceive. But both instances show what can
happen in the fast-changing PC market with its short product lifecycles and multiple
Spokesmen for both companies said the errors were isolated and had not occurred with
any federal shipments. They said GCN's mid-January deadline was difficult to meet. Both
companies had begun selling or promoting the products that month.
"All along, our intention was to send a Pentium 200," said Jim Flowers,
Intergraph's systems marketing manager for federal agencies. "We pulled a system from
our demo pool, not from the manufacturing line. We must have pulled a Pentium Pro
Besides the Intel Corp. trademark sticker that read, "Intel Inside: Pentium Pro
Processor," the serial number on the side of the case matched that on the back,
indicating a Pentium Pro chip, which is a generation newer than the Pentium.
Lab personnel noticed that the GCNdex32TM benchmark scores were low for a Pentium
Pro. When they opened the case and removed the heat sink, the chip read
"Pentium." Symantec Corp.'s Norton Utilities 2.0 confirmed a 200-MHz Pentium.
The lab issued an invitation to PC manufacturers last November to send client PC
configurations priced lower than $2,000. A week prior to the Jan. 13 deadline, the lab
sent out a reminder, at which point Intergraph decided to participate in the comparison
testing. The review will appear in the March 17 GCN.
"Manufacturing built this up special for me in a day," Flowers said.
"They grabbed the [Pentium Pro] chassis they had available" and put a Pentium
motherboard inside it.
The Jan. 13 deadline also caused problems for Nexar Technologies, which had just
introduced the Nexar II chassis. "It appears we have sent you a Nexar 112," said
Craig Conrad, Nexar's vice president of marketing. "We sent this system out a bit
Nexar did not receive the new chassis until Jan. 20. All systems built after that
date have had the second side panel opening to the ISA and PCI slots, Conrad said, and GCN
was the only site that received the hybrid system.
Except for the assembly errors, both systems successfully completed testing.
To avoid these types of mishaps, manufacturers and resellers alike generally employ
internal quality control. Alan Bechara, vice president and chief operating officer for
Comark Government and Educational Sales Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md., said every product his
company ships is bar-coded and checked against the customer order. But Comark doesn't look
inside the cases, he said.
Internal miscommunication-not manufacturer error-affected a 1995 shipment of 30 DTK
Computer Inc. PCs to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of
Finance and Administration in Silver Spring, Md. William Ross, chief of systems support,
said the PC BIOS didn't handle memory management as NOAA required.
The agency previously had bought Dell Computer Corp. PCs but changed the
requirements in one request for proposals, which let a DTK reseller win with a low bid.
"We had to ship the motherboards back, and [DTK] took care of it," Ross
Maj. Rusty Lingenfelter, director of information management for the Iowa National
Guard in Johnston, Iowa, said one vendor on six occasions sent him packaged software
rather than preloading it as ordered.
To avoid software problems, Kathy Murphy, information systems manager at the
Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum in Washington, said her organization now
distributes software from a central server. "We're no longer at the mercy of the
manufacturers," she said.
Jim Thompson, acting chief of information services at the National Labor Relations
Board, said his agency buys Gateway 2000 Inc. PCs from General Services Administration
schedule and hasn't had any problems.
In cases like that of the Nexar II, the only way to check all the components is to
open both side panels. To confirm the configuration, always check original order forms
against shipping labels and the hardware itself.
Component substitution errors like those experienced by the GCN Lab may occur more often
now that Intel is releasing another chip with Pentium in its name.
The Pentium Pro with multimedia extensions, initially called Klamath, will be sold as the
Pentium II. That means there will be four different processors-Pentium, Pentium Pro,
Pentium MMX and Pentium II-with multiple clock speed and capabilities that have Pentium in