Intel's New Pentium III Chip
Serial Number In 'ON' Position
Contrary to what most consumers have been lead to believe, Intel will ship Pentium III computer processor chips with their serial number ID programmed in the "ON" position by default.
News sources have reported that, as a result of wide-spread opposition from privacy advocates, Pentium III chips will have their IDs "turned off" by default. This claim is misleading at best.
According to an Intel technical report published on their web site the new processors are manufactured with the chip ID set to the "ON" condition. Computer manufacturers who install Pentium III chips will also have to install a special software patch - called the "processor serial number control utility" - provided by Intel in order to disable the chip's hardware-generated serial number. The disabling software will provide the capability to turn the serial number off after boot-up. Pentium III chips will reset their IDs to the ON position each time the system is started.
Intel is recommending that PC manufacturers use the processor serial number control utility to configure systems so that the ID is OFF once the system boots. Intel will ship the software patch so that it initially turns the ID off. Thus, the statement that the chip IDs will be "TURNED OFF." As a result, most news outlets subsequently reported that Intel had decided to "disable" the CPU ID.
Do-it-yourselfers who build systems or "upgrade" an existing system using Pentium III chips must either download the patch or order it directly from Intel.
The reality is that all Pentium III systems that do not have the software patch installed will boot up with the chip ID permanently set to the "ON" position.
The serial numbers serve as an identifier for the processor, and, by association, its system. Computer chip IDs will eventually be used to associate computer users with online purchases and to provide a method for web page administrators to gather information about visitor buying and web-browsing habits.
Intel's web page states: "Some of the most popular Internet communities on the Web will use the Pentium III processor as a virtual access card, giving [users] more control over how [they] experience age-appropriate content on their sites."
The CPU IDs are also expected to be added to Intel's Celeron line of chips. According to Intel the serial number is the first of several new "security building blocks" to be added over the coming years.
Intel admits, the processor serial number - when used in conjunction with user name and password - can be utilized by web sites "to identify users when conducting e-commerce, or setting up members-only chat rooms." The chip ID used in combination with other individual identifying data - such as an electronic fingerscan or PIN - can also be used to build databases of user habits, trace email, and to monitor usage of copyrighted material among other things.
Intel contends that the processor serial number will not be automatically "broadcast" over the Internet, therefore users need not worry. When a web site wishes to access the encoded number, according to Intel, it must first send an applet program to the user's system, read the CPU ID, and then report it back to the web site. Most web browsers provide a method for users to be notified when such applets are attempting to run on their system. However, inexperienced users may find that the warning message has been turned off by whomever set up their machine, in which case they may never know their CPU ID is being read and collected.
But more importantly, if Intel is allowed to establish this as a standard, web page administrators will undoubtedly begin requiring that the processor IDs be turned "ON" in order for users to access their pages. And, as electronic, online purchases steadily increase, States are going to demand some method to identify purchasers within their boarders so that sales tax can be levied against e-transactions. At such time in the near future, laws will be passed requiring CPU IDs to be "voluntarily" transmitted before a sale can be conducted. Anyone who doesn't "volunteer" will not be allowed to conduct electronic business over the Internet, and some - if not all - web pages will become "off limits" to users that will not provide their system ID.
Scott McDonald
Pentium III Processors Processor serial number technical notes
(Summarized from Intel's web pages)
There will be only two ways for users to control the state of the processor serial number. The first is by using Intel's Windows-based processor serial number control software patch. The second way is through the system BIOS.
The processor serial number control utility will enable users to: determine whether the processor serial number is enabled or disabled; enable or disable the processor serial number; and, read the value of the processor serial number. CPU status will be indicated by the addition of another icon in the Windows system tray which will indicated whether the processor serial number is enabled or disabled.
Although the chip serial number could be disabled by the BIOS, Intel is recommending to computer and BIOS manufacturers that they not promote this method. Users of operating systems other than Windows, like Linux or Unix - as well for users who desire additional assurance that their processor serial number is completely disabled - will have to use a BIOS setting to deactivate the ID. This may not be an option on some systems.
Here is the process of setting the initial default state of the processor serial number when using the control utility as the primary control mechanism:
* ON when the processor first resets (hardware requirement) * ON when the BIOS executes (BIOS switch default is "enabled") * OFF when the control utility executes (control utility default turns processor serial number feature "OFF")