Yesterday, the same day that microprocessor maker Intel planned to introduce a new version of its 3GHz Pentium 4 chips, the company instead recalled the processors because of a small bug that seems to affect only a small portion of the manufactured chips. The 3GHz Pentium 4 chip supports systems with 800MHz buses and Double Data Rate (DDR) memory that runs at 400MHz. PC makers such as Dell and Gateway were primed and ready yesterday to deliver systems based on the new processor and chipset and had sent out press releases before news of the recall came. And although the public-relations flap from this problem is unlikely to be as serious as two of Intel's other infamous episodes--the Pentium 90 arithmetic error and the process ID flag problem--this week's recall is nonetheless embarrassing.

Because Intel discovered the problem at the last minute, the company decided to continue with yesterday's product launch. "We will still launch the product, but shipments will be delayed until we work out a few issues," said Georgine Lin, public relations manager at Intel Taiwan. The company said it will provide an update on the new shipping timetable in a week. "This is only a small problem," an Intel representative said yesterday.

When Intel makes the new Pentium 4 design available, people who buy systems based on the chip should experience better performance than the current top-of-the-line PCs--which use 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processors but slower system bus and RAM--provide. Intel says the new bus is as much as 50 percent faster than the previous version, although how this improvement will affect overall system performance is unclear. One problem with Intel's speediest chips is that the rest of the system hasn't caught up; on most PCs, the system bus, hard disk, and other components are often a bottleneck.