Processor’s dual identity raises suspicion

Question: I have a Cyrix 6×86 166 with 32 Megs of RAM running Windows 95. I noticed that when I look at my “System” in Control Panel, it says I have a CyrixInstead processor. When I boot up, my BIOS also confirms the identity of my processor. However, several programs have identified my CPU as being a 486DX. Did the people who sold me this CPU swindle me? — G.P.

Answer: If the company that sold you the computer told you that you were getting an Intel processor, and you paid Intel chip prices, then yes, they lied and you’ve been had. But if they told you that you were getting a Cyrix processor, then there’s no swindle going on. In fact, you probably got a good deal. Cyrix processors are becoming increasingly popular and are getting excellent reviews in specialized computer magazines. They also typically cost less than Intel chips and provide equivalent processor power.

And why your system is reporting a 486DX chip is quite easy to explain, too. The algorithm (or programming code) that Windows 95, and some applications, use to detect the CPU was completed before the Cyrix 6×86 chip was released, a Cyrix spokesperson explained in an e-mail. “Therefore the Cyrix 6×86 responds to the algorithm just as a 486 does.”

You were correct to check your BIOS. Systems typically report the kind of chip present on the start-up screen. If your BIOS detects another chip, you have a problem.

The following software utilities identify the 6×86 CPU correctly: Diagsoft QA Factory 6.02 and QA Plus/FE 5.42; Quarterdeck Manifest 4.01; PC Doctor Rev 1.5.162 from Watergate Software.

Christopher Salvador, a tech expert at Edmonton’s Vicom Multimedia Ltd., adds that many games use the Windows 95 ID to determine which processor is being used. Cyrix reports: “Though initially this caused some problems, most of these have been resolved.”