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An original, first generation GA-P35-DS3 shipped to vendors in June, 2007.  (Source: toukatu.blogzine.jp)

In the chart above, the red line represents the field strength limit against frequency. On a six frequency sample, this particular motherboard demonstrated a field almost 7dBuV above the EU directive.  (Source: Taiwan Eletronics Testing Center)
Motherboard manufacturers will do anything to save a buck, and they'll do it at the expense of your electronics

Ever wonder what that big FCC logo on your computer means? Most people would tell you the U.S. Federal Communications Commission operates like an all-seeing, all-knowing electronic shield; protecting America from harmful radiation and interference.

The reality, of course, is quite different.  To better illustrate this, we've traveled the history of one motherboard.  This motherboard, while rather unimportant in the scope of all things silicon, became rather important when a few engineers started asking the right question.

EMI, or electromagnetic interference, is a broad term that encompasses any type of interference that can disrupt, obstruct or simply degrade electronic transmissions.  Some forms of propagated radiation are intentional, such as radios; in other cases propagated radiation is completely unintentional. When unwanted electromagnetic radiation is received by an electronic device that doesn't have sufficient shielding, electromagnetic fields can disrupt the intended fields. 

The Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3 started just like almost any other motherboard.  A reference design was sent from Intel to Gigabyte's design center in Taiwan.  The test boards were wave-soldered outside of Taipei and production boards were shipped to channels as soon as physically possible to snag some of those "first-to-market" sales.

Even though the motherboard boldly wears CE and FCC markings, this device became one more component that slipped through the cracks.  It was later discovered that not only did this motherboard fail European and U.S. electromagnetic interference regulations, but that tens of thousands of the motherboards shipped months ago.

A Taiwanese motherboard engineer, who wished to remain anonymous, claims the world of EMI certification runs more lax than consumers would believe.  "If we claim to pass FCC and in actuality we do not, it's just a conscience problem." 

The engineer continues, "Some manufacturers put the FCC logo on their product even though they don't send in to any lab.  If they are lucky, they go by. If they are unlucky, they get fined by the government or in some serious case, issue a product recall." 

Conversations with other representatives reveal even in the instances of serious violation, vendors receive little official recourse. 

The most expensive Taipei-based testing facility costs approximately 2,000 USD for full electromagnetic compliance testing. 

The European Union dictates the acceptable EMI levels for products distributed in Europe.  Manufacturers that pass the European Union's EMI directive may brand the CE marking on their products. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has a separate set of EMI standards that devices must pass in order to brand the FCC logo.

In the U.S., the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) mandates the FCC EMI limits. Title 47, Part 15 of the Code of Federal Regulations details the acceptable EMI limits for electronic devices in the United States as follows:

30~88MHz     30dBuV
88~216MHz    33.5dBuV
216~960MHz   36dBuV
>960MHz      44dBuV  
The European counterpart directive follows slightly different limit ranges:
125~175MHz  30dBuV
250~625MHz  37dBuV
For example, all electronic devices sold in the U.S. cannot produce an electrical field with strength of more than 33.5 dB microvolts per meter at 90 MHz.  Since fields are measured in decibel units, an increase of 3 dB means the field strength has approximately doubled.

Even after sitting on store shelves the better part of three months, someone eventually noticed the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3 acted a tad noisy -- electronically.  The FCC reserves the right to test devices at the expense of the vendor, though it rarely independently tests devices unless a complaint has been filed.

Unfortunately for the GA-P35-DS3, several complaints were filed.  The Electronics Testing Center, Taiwan, began an electromagnetic compliance test; three Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3 motherboards were hand-submitted to the lab.  Three out of three test results failed to stay "in bounds" for Taiwanese and EU regulation (PDF); two out of three failed to stay within U.S. FCC regulation.

That apparently has not enticed the Taiwanese government to order a recall or reparations.  One engineer close to the product's development states, "At least the board was tested."

So what's special about the GA-P35-DS3?  Nothing, it would seem, other than the fact that it carries markings from both the FCC and European Union claiming it does pass regulation.  Some would argue even this particular trait does not lend itself to individuality.

Gigabyte spokesperson Colin Brix denies all claims that the GA-P35-DS3 fails to meet EMC standards.  "The tests conducted at ETC are not complete," he states.  As proof, Brix shared the results of similar EMC testing conducted by QuieTek (PDF), another Taiwan-based laboratory.  All motherboard tests in this round of testing were done with the motherboard in a chasis.

Ransom Cheng, a former employee at a large motherboard vendor, explains, "The testing in Taiwan is very poor.  Only a few sample ranges are taken and the benefit of [the] doubt is always given to the vendor."  Cheng concludes, "It's not good for anyone to waste boards."

At one time, the GA-P35-DS3 was available at U.S. and European merchants, but today is no longer available in North America.  Gigabyte public relations manager Angela Lan claims the GA-P35-DS3 was removed from American markets due to its lack of RAID functionality.


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RE: Meh.
By The0ne on 9/26/2007 11:30:56 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, I did walk out. What do you want me to do, take them to court on my underpay salary? Trust that my Director will report the problem after telling him? Do it myself and risk everything? I did my part, I argue against design and production. The call, as I recorded on email purposely, was up to management. This was my traceability and my stand.

Having said that there are numerous, numerous issues that people let go. I don't want to have to hear from someone else preaching to me what I should have done without knowing what has been done. Worse, you might not be even following your own words (assumption for argument sake of course). I'm not perfect but I sure as hell won't stand to have crappy products made and ship. Hell, I just stop production on our PoS (point of sale) terminal today for crappy plastic gearboxes. Screws popping out, shorting with the PCBs and soon enough you have the whole Macy store burned down :)

I agree with you that people need to make better judgement calls. But I also understand why I can stand for certain things and why others can't. First and foremost is family. I'm single, I don't have as much to lose...rather support. Most of my friends and co-wokers are married and they'll soon enough die than risk loosing their job and not being able to support the family. Understandable but that doesn't make it right. Who am I to argue with them on the "right" thing for them to do when I don't even have a family to fully understand their situation. Some things are much easier said than done.


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