Buyer beware Reports are circulating that online retailer Newegg sold 300 counterfeit Intel Core i7 processors. The inferior packaging, blatant spelling errors and blank product manual were red flags for observant customers in this case, but the issue highlights the fact that fake CPUs are out there. You might think your computer is 'Intel Inside', but is it?

If you knowingly purchase counterfeit hardware, at least you know what you're getting yourself into, and you would hope to get the fake processors at a substantial discount over their authentic, name-brand counterparts. It's certainly not a practice I would encourage, but at least the mantra that "you get what you pay for" applies.

When counterfeit Intel processors are passed off as authentic, though, buyers get an inferior product, but still pay top dollar for the hardware. Here are four reasons to be concerned about fake processors, and extra vigilant about ensuring the authenticity of your CPU.

1. Performance

Authentic Intel Core i7 processors contain a number of innovative technologies to improve performance. Core i7 chips have an integrated triple-channel memory controller. They also replace the archaic front-side bus architecture with Intel's new QuickPath Interconnect system, and use hyperthreading to turn the Core i7's four physical processor cores into eight virtual cores.

A fake processor would most likely not have these cutting-edge advantages, resulting in inferior performance compared with the authentic Intel processor.

2. Lifespan

Fake processors may not be properly calibrated for the operating voltages or clock speeds intended for the legitimate Intel equivalent. Operating at an incorrect voltage or overclocked processor speed can damage the processor, or significantly reduce the lifespan of the processor.

3. Motherboard

Processors installed in the processor socket intended for Intel chips may not meet the same design specifications as authentic Intel processors.

Inferior quality or anomalies in processor engineering might have an adverse impact on the motherboard. Counterfeit chips may also run hotter than authentic Intel processors, shortening the lifespan of the processor and possibly affecting other components in the computer.

4. Warranty

Arguably the worst news of all for customers duped into purchasing counterfeit Intel processors is finding out the hard way that the chip is fake and not covered by warranty - at least not by Intel.

Intel provides a three-year limited warranty for boxed processors purchased directly from Intel. The warranty provided for processors installed in OEM systems varies, but suffice it to say that Intel will not be providing warranty support of any sort for counterfeit processors.

Obviously, Intel has a vested interest in identifying and weeding out counterfeit processors. Customers who believe they purchased genuine Intel CPUs will form an opinion of Intel based on the performance of the processor they have. Poor performance, short lifespan and damaged motherboards will tarnish Intel's reputation - even if it is determined that the processor was counterfeit.

Businesses purchasing computer systems or processor upgrades should take care to ensure the authenticity of the hardware being purchased. Buying off-brand computer systems to save a few quid may sound appealing - but if the price is too good to be true, there's probably a good reason.

Caveat emptor.

See also:

Fake Core i7 chips being investigated by Intel

Processor reviews

PC World