Tag Archives: Editorial


Monday, July 10, 1995 A CMP Publications ®

Used, If Not Abused


All Burned In, And No Infant Mortality Worries

Part of the recent public mudslinging contest between Compaq Computer and Packard-Bell has been allegations from Compaq that Packard-Bell has been misleading customers about the use of “repurposed” components in its personal computer products. This was raised as a question of truth in advertising, but there’s a more interesting question lurking in the background, no matter what the outcome of the advertising issue.

The question is: So what if Packard-Bell, or anyone else, recycles used components and resells them in “new” systems? The only reason end customers should be up in arms about that is that they are ignorant about the life cycle of a semiconductor.

The fact is that if a chip is removed from one circuit board, tested, resoldered into a new board, and the “new” system is also tested, the user should be glad to have that chip installed. That’s because a very high percentage of chips that drop dead while in use fail during the first couple hundred hours. It’s called infant mortality.

If a semiconductor makes it through infancy, and it is not subjected to electrostatic discharge or otherwise abused while being moved to a new system, its presence is an enhancement to the overall system’s expected reliability.

The very costly burn-in tests that the military has subjected semiconductors to for years are done for a reason: they also increase reliability. Chips may go bad during burn-in, but if they survive, the odds they’ll fail later go down.

A part that’s seen service in one system is, in essence, already burned in, and thus tested more rigorously than any new commercial part.

This is perhaps counterintuitive to the layman. Most folks believe that a new car is inherently more reliable than a used one with 40,000 miles on it; but in fact, the car, like a semiconductor, is unlikely to be “worn out,” and has benefited greatly from what the Navy would refer to as a shakedown cruise.

I don’t know the truth about Packard-Bell’s use of used parts, but frankly I think the company could do the whole industry a favor by mounting a major education campaign in the media explaining why the use of repurposed parts is a great thing.


It can reduce costs. It can improve reliability. It is a noble thing to recycle.

I used to build ham radio gear when I was a kid, mostly out of parts pirated from junked TV sets and radios which my father had taken apart and sorted into bins. I considered it a battle lost if I had to order a part from Allied Radio-partly because my paper route wasn’t the most lucrative business around.

Blame my waste not, want not EE father if you want for my attitude, but why the heck does everything have to be brand new?

The need for newness is tantamount to a national disease, if you ask me (not that it doesn’t heavily fuel the industry that feeds me).

This whole question is particularly timely, because so many parts are scarce or on allocation right now. Furthermore, no one can predict exactly when these conditions will abate. Many OEMs, especially small companies, are seriously hampered in their ability to deliver systems and grow their businesses because they haven’t got the clout to get to the top of the allocation lists.

Well, why not head for the used-parts supply? For some period of time, I say there could be a real business opportunity for recyclers of semiconductors and other components OEMs are scratching for-that is, if the end customer can be made to understand that it is in his best interests to scrap the “new is better” obsession, and, and focus on measurable performance and reliability.

If an OEM gives a reasonable warranty and backs it up with solid service-and can deliver systems more cheaply-where’s the complaint?

Jeremy Young is the editor of Electronic Buyers’ News. He can be reached by electronic mail at jyoung@cmp.com.

Copyright© 1995 by CMP Publications, Inc.,
600 Community Drive, Manhasset, NY 11030
Reprinted from Electronic Buyer’s News with permission.

Email Us!