PSA: Beware of fake processors being sold at retail sites

Fake processors being sold online have been an unfortunate circumstance for a long time, and there is no reason to believe that it doesn't still happen. To the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that it remains a problem, to some extent.

This came to light a few weeks ago when a user on Twitter posted pictures of what he claims is a Core 2 Duo processor masquerading as a much faster (and decidedly more expensive) Core i9-9900K.

Jaime Sanchez, the person who fell for the apparent ruse, warned that "someone is taking and delidding old Core 2 Duo" CPUs and replacing the integrated heatspreader (IHS) with a Core i9 lid. He further claims he purchased the phony CPU on Amazon.

A closer examination reveals that it was probably not delidded, which is the delicate practice of ripping the IHS off the CPU die. As pointed out by Twitter user Hector Martin in one of the replies, it instead appears as though someone sanded off the markings of an old Core 2 Duo chip, buffed it out, and etched a Core i9-9900K marking on it.

Amazon apologized to Sanchez and asked if he purchased it from a marketplace seller. According to Sanchez, it was "sold and sent by Amazon" as a "brand new" processor. We're sure Amazon will make things right with Sanchez, though if things went down exactly as he claims, it's disturbing that a supposedly new chip could be a fake. The most likely explanation in that scenario is that it was a customer return that had been tampered with.

This is not the first time that there have been reports of fake CPUs being sold on Amazon and other retail sites. Last year, there was a thread on Reddit of a user who claims to have purchased a fake Core i7-8700K, also direct from Amazon, which turned out to be a Celeron processor. And the year before that, there were reports of fake Ryzen processors making the rounds.

It's not clear how widespread the problem really is. A query on Twitter for "fake CPU" doesn't generate much of interest. However, there is a recent report in China of customs authorities seizing a bunch of counterfeit items, including over 800 Core i7 CPUs that "did not look authentic."

Bottom line? As always, buyer beware. Purchasing from reputable vendors is always the safest way to go: here's our guide to the best CPUs for gaming, and we always use reputable retailers. It doesn't guarantee that you won't ever receive a fake part, but it's generally easier to deal with a reputable vendor than some back alley Joe on the web.

Paul Lilly

Paul has been playing PC games and raking his knuckles on computer hardware since the Commodore 64. He does not have any tattoos, but thinks it would be cool to get one that reads LOAD"*",8,1. In his off time, he rides motorcycles and wrestles alligators (only one of those is true).