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Power Management Flaw For Intel Processors? Or Just A Fluke

National Semiconductor is struggling with a problem with its Intel-based laptops. Processors in the laptops slow down into power-saving mode when the computers are disconnected from external power. That's how they're supposed to behave -- but they don't return to full power even when reconnected to external power. That means NSC is getting much less performance than it paid for.

National Semiconductor is struggling with a problem with its Intel-based laptops. Processors in the laptops slow down into power-saving mode when the computers are disconnected from external power. That's how they're supposed to behave -- but they don't return to full power even when reconnected to external power. That means NSC is getting much less performance than it paid for.

NSC's 1,000 laptops are from Lenovo. But Bob Neuberger, infrastructure manager for operating systems, databases, and storage at NSC, says he notices the same bug on his Dell home computer, leading him to believe the problem is with the processor.

When disconnected from external power, the laptops throttle down to half-speed, Neuberger said. The laptops don't post a message or warning to the user. Sometimes the laptops return to full speed when rebooted, sometimes they remain locked in.

Laptops effected include the T60 and T61, as well as the older T40. The T61 and T60 use Intel Core2 Duo Processors. The T40 uses the Intel Mobile Pentium M processor.

Neuberger said the vendors were responsive to the problem, and NSC is in the process of deploying patches to the Windows operating system and Lenovo BIOS to solve the problem. "It really created a lot of work and frustration for us," Neuberger said.

I asked all three major vendors -- Lenovo, Intel and Microsoft -- for comment.

A Lenovo spokeswoman said the clock-speed behavior on NSC's Thinkpads was normal, and that NSC could contact Lenovo if they had further problems. She declined to comment further.

Microsoft said it needed to know which version of Windows Lenovo was running before it could comment further.

And Intel never got back to me.

What do you think is going on at NSC? Have they discovered a big flaw in Intel processors, or is the situation unique to them?

Neuberger said he was surprised that he hasn't seen the problem discussed elsewhere, and I agree: If the problem is pandemic in Intel processors, then we should have heard about this by now. On the other hand, if they just got a bad batch of Lenovo notebooks, then why would Neuberger's Dell home machine also have the same problem?