LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The article “PC managers seek the real deal on real-time clocks” [GCN, Nov. 23, Page 48] misleads your readers into thinking
that they do not have Y2K-compliant systems and that the answer is to buy hardware fixes
from referenced vendors, a point that Dell Computer Corp. strongly contests.


In the article, I am accurately quoted in stating that new systems with real-time
clocks “by themselves are not compliant.” What is missing is the continuance of
the statement, concerning how the BIOS and operating systems correct the RTC century date,
making the requirement for a compliant RTC unnecessary.


A compliant RTC would automatically roll the century date found in register 32 from 19
to 20 when the year changes from 1999 to 2000. Because date calls from software are either
through the BIOS or, in some cases, through the operating system—both of which
contain century date correction logic—the RTC is not required to perform this
function. This point is detailed in numerous articles available on Dell’s Web site at
http://www.dell.com/year2000/index.htm.


While Dell does plan to correct the so-called defect with software drivers, we believe
that, on systems that have a flash-memory BIOS capability, there is actually no hardware
“defect” that needs correction, other than what the BIOS or operating systems
already accomplish.


The overall issue revolves around a belief that many applications get their date
information directly from the RTC and bypass the BIOS or operating system. To do so, an
application would have to be written in a non-standard architecture. In fact, we have
tested our BIOS and it responds appropriately to instructions from more than 1,000
standard, commercially available software applications.


The article goes on to state that Dell “recently” acknowledged the RTC
problem, a point that is also misleading. Dell has long provided a year 2000 RTC driver to
our customers as an additional tool to assist them in their Y2K programs. The driver helps
address the remote possibility that such nonstandard applications exist in one’s
network and that they would not be identified during a software assessment.


Even if non-standard applications do exist, there is only a very small window of time
during which an incorrect date could be obtained.


The point that “the user-installed BIOS code will test and fix the real-time
clock” is correct but should not be associated with the year 2000 RTC driver, as they
are two entirely different things with different functions. Unless the user updates an
existing BIOS, the BIOS is not normally user-installed, as the system comes from the
factory with an installed BIOS.


We also found the article’s implication that the YMark2000 utility is somehow
remiss in not testing the real-time clock to be off the mark. National Software Testing
Labs clearly states the purpose of the test on its Web site. The RTC is tested for
compatibility, effectively asking whether register 32 contains the century date.


This test is important, as register 32 is considered the industry standard position for
the century register. If an application were to be written in a non-standard architecture,
it might not seek the century information from the correct register, which is another
reason to eliminate any nonstandard applications that one may have.


The YMark2000 test does not check the RTC for a century date rollover because it is not
required to. It checks that the BIOS properly performs this function.


We have significant concerns that consumers are being misled by consultants trying to
sell a Y2K fix. We recommend that the media challenge their assertions. The media would
provide a real service by identifying software or nonstandard applications that should be
corrected or replaced. It would also put the entire issue in perspective and help clarify
whether this is a widespread or an isolated problem.


Dave Cunningham
Year 2000 Program Manager
Dell Computer Corp.
Austin, Texas






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