The phenomenon of integrated heat spreader (IHS) replacement is a well-known issue that affects a variety of CPUs, often with a focus on high-end Core i9 models. Recently, a Reddit user by the name of “Much_Designer_8417” made a purchase on Amazon expecting to receive a new Core i9-13900K. However, he quickly discovered that several cores of the CPU were missing and the CPU was identified as a Core i7-13700K instead. The main difference between these CPUs is the number of cores, with the Core i7 variant having half as many E cores, as well as differences in clock speeds. The user immediately recognized this core defect and confirmed it using various software tools, all of which indicated that the CPUID matched the less expensive models.
Deceptive practices in the Intel CPU space include a variety of methods, many of which revolve around the integrated heatspreader (IHS). We already had a larger background article on this topic ourselves, which is really interesting. After all, counterfeits and CPU scams haven’t just been around since yesterday, especially in the consumer market. But according to the HKEPC report at the time, it now looks like the major technology companies themselves have fallen victim to these scams. The report also mentioned at the time that China-based store owners and resellers have tried to return massive amounts of counterfeit Intel CPUs directly to Intel’s RMA, with Intel always advising customers in such cases to be aware of these possible activities and try to buy CPUs better through official channels. Whereas this time it hit Amazon.
Counterfeit CPUs from Intel and AMD have been circulating in retail stores and used processor market platforms for years. The main scam is that resellers try to sell buyers a CPU that is not even similar to the one they ordered. This can be achieved in several ways, but fake IHS is still the most common. The integrated heat spreader (IHS) that sits on the CPU chip contains important labels about the CPU itself, such as the process name, number, specification code, clock frequency and lot number. Incidentally, the IHS also bears the official logo.
A very popular platform that is also frequently frequented by non-Chinese is AliExpress, a Chinese platform that can be located in the direction of eBay, but with almost exclusively commercial sellers. It is available in many languages, including German and Russian, for example:
However, even Amazon is now plagued by such scammers on the Marketplace and it is often difficult to follow the trail of such sellers to the end. Even though the Chinese judiciary seems merciless in many matters, you quickly notice a complete lack of interest in such things, unfortunately.
The IHS can be removed and modified in several ways. Either the cheaters keep the original IHS and put it on an older generation CPU or a much lower performance class, or they try to modify the IHS themselves. This is usually a rather complicated process, but nowadays you can even buy cleverly made IHS stickers on the market that can easily be stuck onto the IHS of older CPUs. If you don’t look closely or have the necessary knowledge, you could easily be fooled by such CPUs as well.
There were also CPUs with modified PCBs, and this was another new scam going on in the Chinese market: scammers were selling 8th and 9th generation CPUs with PCBs that had the current pin layout but no CPU die on the PCB. The 2D matrix containing the processor’s serial code and the three- to five-digit serial numbers on the PCB had also been modified to match that of the new CPU. What such an empty CPU looks like is shown in the next two pictures:
While mostly only end customers have been the main victim of such tactics so far, HKEPC reports that even Intel China has fallen for these fake CPUs and has now issued a statement about it. According to Intel, several store owners and third-party vendors have submitted tampered CPUs for RMA processes. These CPUs were provided with fake imprints that could hardly be distinguished from the original with the naked eye.