Here's our Hardware Tip for.. May 21, 1999
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The new Intel PIII - who's watching?
Intel's latest processor, the Pentium III offers even more power and speed than its predecessor, the Pentium II. Improvements include: 450MHz, 500MHz, and now 550MHz clock speeds, 70 New Instructions, P6 Microarchitecture, 100MHz system bus, 512K Level Two Cache and the Intel® 440BX chipset.

There is however one new feature that's raising some eyebrows, and that's the Intel® Processor Serial Number. While Intel says that "Consumers can benefit from increased security on the web", others feel the PSN may be the beginning of a loss of privacy.

The PSN can in effect be used to identify you (or more specifically, your machine) over the internet, or it can be used for licensing during software installations, or for other tracking purposes.

Although Intel has already responded by releasing a patch to turn this feature off, it has been proven to be somewhat insecure - meaning that there are ways that malicious code (such as an unsigned ActiveX control) could bypass the security in the patch and turn the PSN back on. The patch by the way, is available at http://www.intel.com/PentiumIII/utility.htm.

If you really don't like the idea of your machine's processor serial number being used, the best way to be sure it's turned off and stays off, is to make sure your motherboard allows it to be disabled in the system BIOS.

To hear both sides of the PSN story, visit:

  • the Intel Processor Serial Number Q&A page
  • Big Brother Inside