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Memory Manufacturers Could be Cheating 223

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the please-don't-look-at-the-man-behind-the-curtain dept.
Mark Brown writes "Tom's Hardware is live-testing DDR2 memory products in order to determine whether memory manufacturers submit cherry-picked products for reviews. 'GeIL DDR2-667 that was claimed to be purchased performed worse than the review samples they got: 471 MHz for the review samples vs. 421 MHz for the retail memory.'"
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Memory Manufacturers Could be Cheating

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  • CHEATING!?! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Oh, my, what ever will we do? Maybe the memory manufacturers should divorce and marry other companies.
     
    In other words, set their affairs in proper order...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:33PM (#15116766)
    I never trust specs on any product I buy. For example, if I buy a hard drive the first thing I do is open it up, shake all the bits out it and count them. If they don't add up to exactly what is listed in the spec, I return it.
  • O'RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hinhule (811436) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:33PM (#15116767)
    Oh dear lord, a company wants to make sure their product gets the best review possible and tests it before they send it.

    I'm shocked!
    • Re:O'RLY (Score:2, Insightful)

      by markild (862998)
      Seeing as they send out a finished product that differs about 10% from the product being reviewed, I'd say it actually is a big deal.

      And I doubt that the products they send out differ as much as this.
      • Hrm, so, could that not be considered false advertising? Bait and switch? Just curious, as a 10% difference in the review model and the actual model sounds like misleading someone bigtime.
      • Keep in mind this a Tom's Hardware article. The National Inquirer has more credibility.

        Notice that the article only posts the results from one review model and one retail model. For all we know, the author could have cherry-picked the retail model just to create a lucrative, ad-revenue-whoring "scandal". Given Tom's history, that's the more likely explanation.
    • Re:O'RLY (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Babbster (107076)
      You'd have a better point if the suspicion was simply that a company takes the product out of its packaging and makes sure that it works. For example, if I'm a company sending a video card to a known reviewer I might put it in a PC and make sure a game or two could run. I don't see anything too bad about that, assuming the company has confidence that the end-user failure rate will be miniscule. That would actually skew the results closer to average since the average purchaser would get a working product.
    • It would be one thing if the manufacturer were demonstrating the features of a new product, but this is memory; it's features are that you can read from it and write to it. I see this more like a restaurant spotting the food critic and giving him an extra special meal (which ordinary customers don't get). Maybe Tom's Hardware should buy a clue and stop reviewing RAM samples from manufacturers. But then they wouldn't have "shocking" scandals like this to get them a story on /.
      • Re:O'RLY (Score:3, Informative)

        by billcopc (196330)
        Okay, since you don't know about Geil's product I will fill you in (and everyone else):

        Geil sells over-specced memory, specially targeted at the overclocking crowd. They cost significantly more than "regular" memory because of that ability to be pushed way beyond normal speeds, so that you can run them in sync with the system bus and get the fullest bandwidth, rather than using a clock divider. It's a very unique market, one that doesn't matter to most people because the real-life performance gains are ne
  • In Other News... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MudButt (853616) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:34PM (#15116778)
    ... Job seekers have been putting ONLY their best accomplishments on their resumes
    ... Advertisers are STAGING their product photo shoots
    ... etc
    • The major difference is that these hardware sites are running the product through quantitative benchmarks to compare products. This throws doubt onto that whole entire notion of comparison.

      If you could say.. foster that doubt sufficiently, you might be able to make a business out of buying and benchmarking hardware, hand picking the good stuff and selling it at a boosted price as "guaranteed best."

      Then throw a "credited rating system" around it, and you could potentially have a nice little middleman racke
  • No way (Score:5, Funny)

    by dg41 (743918) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:35PM (#15116780)
    No way, there can't be anyone making dishonest or cheap mem... PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA
    • Re:No way (Score:5, Funny)

      by The Real Nem (793299) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:48PM (#15116907) Homepage
      ARTHUR: There! Look!
      BEDEVERE: What does it say?
      GALAHAD: What language is this?
      BEDEVERE: Brother Maynard, you are a scholar.
      BROTHER MAYNARD: It is Aramaic!
      GALAHAD: Of course. dg41 of Aramathea!
      ALL: Of course.
      ARTHUR: What does it say?
      BROTHER MAYNARD: It reads ... "No way by dg41 (743918) on Wednesday April 12, @02:35PM (#15116780)"
      *EXCITEMENT*
      "No way, there can't be anyone making dishonest or cheap mem... PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA"
      ARTHUR: What?
      BROTHER MAYNARD: "The PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA..."
      BEDEVERE: What's that?
      BROTHER MAYNARD: His computer must have crashed while typing it.
      BEDEVERE: Oh, come on.
      BROTHER MAYNARD: That's what it says.
      ARTHUR: But if his computer was crashing, he wouldn't bother to type "PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA". It would just crash.
      BROTHER MAYNARD: It's down there typed on slashdot.
      GALAHAD: Perhaps he was dictating.
      ARTHUR: Shut up. Is that all it says?
      BROTHER MAYNARD: That's all. "PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA".
      ARTHUR: "PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA".
  • Well, duh! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bwcarty (660606) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:36PM (#15116796)
    There's a reason why Consumer Reports buys all of their products for testing through normal retail outlets.
    • Re:Well, duh! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by plover (150551) *
      And there's a reason why all the review sites beg like dogs for sample hardware, and why companies are willing to send it.

      I don't see nerds lining up to donate money for hardware testing that they will never get to own, however.

      • Re:Well, duh! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Baricom (763970)
        Actually, that's a great idea. You could have a rolling sweepstakes where every $CURRENCY you donate gets you one entry automatically. (Of course, you also take 3x5" index card entries through snail mail for those who choose not to donate.) At the end of each review period, ship the review hardware out.
    • Re:Well, duh! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nananine (967931) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:49PM (#15116920)
      Retired Washington Post food critic Phyllis Richman used to work around trumped-up meals like this by dressing down and not telling restaurants what days she'd be coming in to try the food. She even went so far as to hiding most of her face in photos so no one could publicly identify her. Really, one of the best critics to ever be published, I really miss her reviews.

      Product reviews in general are a bit more difficult. Although the aforementioned Consumer Reports has a great thing going for them in purchasing products from stores, the thing is that they can AFFORD to do that. Most publications and websites can't, forcing them to rely on review samples. Car companies in particular are notorious for fine-tuning their review vehicles, which why Consumer Reports is highly respected for their year-end car accolades.
      • Hardware Swap Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jfuredy (967953) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @07:16PM (#15117480)
        Tom's Hardware and other reviewers may not be able to buy their tested items from retailers, but I can think of a great way to get retail items without any cost to them. When they receive a "cherry picked" piece of hardware they can post it on their website and ask for users to register to purchase a matching retail item to trade. The "winning" user can then get a retail part, ship it to the reviewer, and receive the primo hardware in return. This way the reviewer gets to test both parts, and the user has a good chance of getting a hand-picked piece of hardware. Win-win. Just an idea.
        • I used to work for a large video card manufacturer and I can confirm that those exclusive first reviews of new chips are engineering samples. Being engineering samples they tend to be spec'd a little higher since the end product will be locked in lower to allow for higher chip yields. Once they are done with the review the cards are returned and eventually destroyed (although some samples do make it out in the wild). There's also the issue of drivers. Since the cards are not released yet when they are b
      • You just reminded me of WBZ [wbz.com]'s Phantom Gourmet [phantomgourmet.com], a radio review of Boston area restaurants. The Phantom's reviews gave a 0-100 score, with very few restaurants scoring above 90 or below 65. The reviews were so descriptive (and brutally honest) of how much he (or she) liked the place that my dad and I could guess within a few points what the score would be.

        Yeah, I'm off topic, but you reminded me of the importance of anonymity in big name reviews.
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:56PM (#15116993) Homepage Journal
      http://www.hardocp.com/reviews.html?cat=MjUsRGVza3 RvcCBDb21wdXRlcnMsaGNvbnN1bWVyLCws [hardocp.com]

      What they are doing is having other people buying systems and then reviewing those systems. They will only review systems where they have an agreement with the manufacturer that the computer can be returned at the end of the review. The key is that the manufacturer never knows who is getting a system which may be subject to review.

      It actually works well for both parties. Some manufacturers are proactive in the forums and even acted on complaints received, strengthing their processes.

  • by eln (21727) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:36PM (#15116800) Homepage
    Obviously companies will test any unit they send out to be reviewed to make sure it works as well as it can. The question is, how many other units did they test? If they only went out and bought one other unit, and the discrepancy was that large, it could be that the unit they bought was defective. They would need to buy several units from several retailers, preferrably in geographically dispersed areas, to get a real feel for how well these things will perform on average.
    • I agree. Additionally, there are actually legitimate reasons why retail may underperform sent samples.

      A retailer may have stock that was manufactured several months prior. The direct-sent stock would be the latest most improved stuff. What if they optimized their process in the meantime? Perhaps all current stock matches specs roughly and they've compared old apples to new apples.

  • by venicebeach (702856) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:38PM (#15116813) Homepage Journal
    In order to evaluate this claim we need to know about the reliability of the test. What is the variance if the test is repeated many times on the same RAM? Without this piece of information we don't know if 50 MHz is a small or large difference, or if even if it is a real one.
    • Oh come on . . it's TOMS HARDWARE for crying out loud, not like they'd put up a nice review for money or resort to fanboyism or anything . . . . err . . .yea.
    • Yea, this test is riddled with obvious issues.
      1. On page two they say they're testing GeIL DDR2-533, yet on page 9, they're talking about DDR2-667 memory. Without a part number, we don't know which (of several) RAM module they were using.
      2. They didn't swap the RAM modules into the other "apparently identical" motherboard.
      3. They were testing overclockablity. If the mfg had made all of them able to run at DDR2-942 (471 MHz), don't you think they would have... I dunno, labeled them in that ballpark?

      DDR2 comes in 400

    • There is no variance, since it's not a question plugging in the memory and seeing what frequency it runs at. It's not like taking a typical measurement for, say, voltage or temperature.

      Peak performance for overclocking is defined by most review sites as the maximum frequency at which stable performance can be obtained. There would be no variance, aside from normal component degredation over time, since the test is a "stress test." That is, they run the same test over and over at a given frequency until t
  • I wonder... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slughead (592713)
    I wonder if chips selected for reviews are overclocked first (just a bit), knowing full-well that it'll last long enough to go through the review process and the warantees wont be expensive to honor on just a small percentage of product.
    • Overclocking is done through the motherboard, not the actual RAM chip. It might, however, be possible (though probably prohibitively expensive) for them to create a second chip map for the review chips that would value speed above long-lasting reliability.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:40PM (#15116831)
    Memory is rated to perform within certain specifications. If it doesn't perform well within this range, that's a legitimate complaint.

    Tom's is complaining about something totally different. They are seeing how well the memory will overclock. But the manufacturer makes no claims about how well it will overclock. They explicitly tell you that they cannot guarantee what will happen. This is a reasonable position on their part.

    But what Tom's is asking is for all memory from a given manufacturer to overclock the same. This is crazy. The manufacturer has every right to switch production methods and to make other changes which could affect overclocking performance. The only question should be: does the memory perfom as specified.

    If you overclock your memory and it works well, good for you. But you have no right to complain if overclocking doesn't work as well as you want!
    • But what Tom's is asking is for all memory from a given manufacturer to overclock the same.
      No, they're not. They're asking manufacturers to send them representative (i.e. random) samples, rather than cherry-picking a sample that's at the favorable tail of the distribution.
    • by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:03PM (#15117034)
      the manufacturer makes no claims about how well it will overclock.

      THANK you.

      Since the retail product and review sample were both rated as DDR2-667 (or is it 553? Depends on whether you're reading page 2 or page 2 of the "article"), neither one needed to perform reliably at memory clock rates any higher than 333.5MHz. That the retail product didn't fail until it was overclocked to 25% more than its rating suggests to me that it's solid kit.

      I would also hesitate to conclude from the findings that any hardware vendor routinely sends out review samples that outperform retail units. We only have TWO data points here, not enough to extrapolate any type of meaningful findings. For all we know, a different review sample from the same manufacturer would fail at only 340MHz.
    • You or I may have nothing to complain about (I'm not the type who would do the overclocking thing). But if someone buys, say, four 1GB sticks of RAM from the same company, bearing the same model numbers, they should expect there to be very little difference between the four sticks in terms of their quality, from their longevity to, yes, their overclocking potential.

      I don't know if I care for the methodology here (the sample size seems too small to draw good conclusions), but it certainly could prove to
      • by Tired and Emotional (750842) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:21PM (#15117164)
        Not really. Manufacturers are always free to derate chips (stamp a lower frequency than they can actually do) so as to match demand curve. Otherwise they would have to make the yield curve match the demand curve, which may be impossible. Or else fail to meet some part of demand, forcing people to buy more expensive parts - which would really upset the customer. You get what you pay for - chips that run at the advertised rate. Its like when you get upgraded to business class for free because cattle class is full. You certainly can't use this as a precedent next time you fly to argue that you deserve to be in business class again.
      • That's insane. How can you possibly expect a manufacturer to control variability outside the specification range? If I buy two cars of the same model why would I expect them to perform identically when driving them at 190mph? Quality control is expensive enough to maintain within the boundries of the specs given for a product. What purpose could it serve the manufacturer or 95% of the buying public for them to waste money and time working on getting consistent out of spec performance?

        If Tom's wants to get a
    • I agree with the point that the memory should work as specified, if 333MHz is specified (where getting one that runs 425MHz is hardly defective), that's what they got, but for reviews which nerds depend on someone else to tell them what's good, the review sample should actually be an average representation of stock, not an outlier that makes them look best.

      Personally, I generally don't do overclocking, so maybe I'm a bit biased, but it does seem a bit much to complain that you can "only" get 25% faster than
    • Yes, they do have something to complain about. I'm sure we (and Toms) expect memory to perform within advertised spec. This is not the issue. These sites are not for the average consumer, and the manufacturers know that. These types of reviews are targeted at overclockers trying to find the best hardware possible, and sending souped up samples gives unrealistic results which only hurt the consumer.

      I'm sure the majority of /. would love to buy behemoth hardware to overclock if they had the disposable
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:45PM (#15116884)
    1) The article says that they bump the clock rate until the systems crash.
    I'd be a little happier with running a memory test and running at progressively faster speeds until it detects an error. Some memory errors might not cause the system to crash ... just to carry on running with bad data.
    2) They have two "identical" systems ... one for the review sample, and one for the retail purchased.
    How do they know that all the components in the identical systems really have exactly the same specs? It would be more fair use just one system, or after the tests complete to swap the ram and re-run.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:53PM (#15116965) Homepage Journal
    The ram was rated as DDR2 667 even the retail at 421 MHZ. That comes out to DDR2-842 doesn't it?
    The ram met and far exceeded it's rated clock speed. Sure the give good stuff to reviewers. If the review sites want to do valid tests of which brand of ram is the best for over clocking they would have to purchase multiple samples of each brand from the retail channel.
    When overclocking the truth is your results may very. If you are pushing past specs then some will work and some will not. Heck even different production batches will give different averages.
    • Actually, I think that it was rated at DDR2-533 - it depends on whether you read the chart or the narrative. I guess that proofreading at Tom's is about as effective as proofreading on /.!
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:56PM (#15116988) Homepage Journal
    Horsepower in cars rarely meets up with the numbers. Fuel efficiency, either. Carb content in food is labeled, but most people don't read the serving size, so that is advertising funk, too.

    Why should this be different? When a company ships a product to be reviewed and tested, they'll ship the best. When they test their own, they'll test the best. You should NEVER accept that specs are factual, and you should spend some time confirming what you bought.

    This is the great thing about specs -- if they're lies, just return the product. If a company lies enough, the customers will go elsewhere.

    It is really all common sense.
    • In computers, specs are very, very important. With RAM, the spec tells you the maximum frequency at which it is rated to run. So if the memory is DDR2 667, it is rated to operate at a maximum frequency of 333MHz (DDR values are doubled). You can try running it faster, it may work (that's what Tom was doing) but no gaurentees. However it is gaurenteed to operate properly, withoug stability problems at 333MHz or below.

      Thus, if your system requires DDR2 667, you need to make sure you buy it, otherwise your sys
    • Fuel efficiency is actually calculated by a formula set forth by the EPA. Read this [epa.gov] for a bit of enlightenment. It's not the car companies doing much deceiving there. Horsepower, that's often stated as engine horsepower (bhp), rather than whp, or the horsepower after losses of going through the rest of the drivetrain after the engine. And not reading serving sizes... there's something being done about misleading serving sizes [fda.gov].
      What a lot of it boils down to is that the consumer doesn't do the work requi
  • Hmmm... If I read this right, it looks like the motherboard that came w/ the memory had its voltage increased to induce higher speeds. This would skew any test - not just overclocking, unless you knew to reset it.
  • In summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nagora (177841) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:59PM (#15117006)
    The reviewed samples passed the specification my a mile, and the retail ones by only seven furlongs. Big deal. Now, if the RAM makers had made any claim to exceed the spec by some particular percentage then this would be news. But they didn't, so it's not.

    TWW

  • by l3prador (700532) <wkankla@gmaTOKYOil.com minus city> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:02PM (#15117023) Homepage
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't DDR2-667 only certified to run at 333MHz? Either way, 471 MHz and 421 MHz are both well above that... It's not as if they're claiming it runs at 471 and it actually runs at 421... they're only guaranteeing it to run at 333... right?
  • by xWeston (577162) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:04PM (#15117041)
    From TFA:
    "Its DDR2-667 memory......"

    "maximum clock speed of 471 MHz, which corresponds to DDR2-942"

    vs

    "a memory clock of 421 MHz (DDR2-842)"

    So its more than 20% faster than what it is rated at... Whats the big deal? Everyone knows there are certain processors/memory modules from the same exact part# that outperform others. This has been the case since before the Celeron 300a even. If the memory performed below its rating, then there would be a problem

  • If all of the manufacturers cheat, then none of them are cheating.
  • Naive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jemenake (595948) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:08PM (#15117065)
    GeIL DDR2-667 that was claimed to be purchased performed worse than the review samples they got: 471 MHz for the review samples vs. 421 MHz for the retail memory.
    PLEASE don't tell me that you're surprised by this. In fact, you should be surprised if it isn't happening.

    Recall the hubub from as recently as a half-decade ago, when video card manufacturers were rigging their drivers (or the cards themselves) to recognize when they were being asked to draw the same patterns over and over again (like, say, 10,000 colored boxes, or circles... like benchmark programs do) and would silently decide to perform only a fraction of them to jack the benchmark numbers up?

    Never, ever trust the results from an item that the company sent you when they knew you were a reviewer. You should just go out and buy one off the shelf in a store. If you can't afford to do that, buy one from a store and ask the company for a review sample, return the sample to the store and test the, now free, one that you got "in the wild", as it were.
  • Unprofessional benchmarks and overclocking?

    If Tom's Hardware has a problem with this perhaps they should stick to real-world benchmarks and purchase all the equipment they test for review, instead of trusting manufacturers to "help" them. Its very unprofessional of them to work so closely with the businesses they are supposed to be reviewing..
  • FUD, I'd say (Score:5, Informative)

    by HardCase (14757) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:18PM (#15117146)
    Let's see - the GeIL memory is rated at DDR2-533. The module from the vendor ran at DDR2-942. The module from the store ran at DDR2-842. Now, Tom makes this out to be some big controversy, but it seems to me that a module running 36% faster than specified is no small thing, particularly at that high of a data rate.

    I'm an engineer who designs memory modules. In most cases, our modules are overclockable, at least to some degree - some go faster than others. At the sort of speed that Tom's Hardware is running, I'm not really surprised that there's more than a 2 or 3% variation in performance, espeically if the chips on those modules came from different manufacturing lots. At the outer limits of memory speed performance, the tiniest changes in parasitic capacitance can be death to performance - and those values change from lot to lot, even from wafer to wafer.

    When manufacturers specify that 2% to 3% tolerance, they're referring to the module's performance at its rated speed, and that makes sense. Plug two modules into a system and they will run in virtual lockstep - at their rated speed. There are a million analogies that I could use, but the bottom line is that there are assumptions and statements in Tom's article that just aren't right.

    Maybe the module was cherry-picked and maybe it wasn't, but, if nothing else, a sample of two doesn't make for much of a study. After all, if the retail module had been DOA, a pedantic person could say that GeIL cherry-picked the evaluation samples and sends all the defective modules to retail.

    -h-
  • by krygny (473134) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:20PM (#15117160)
    Get the writer loaded and laid.

    Seriously. Many years ago, I worked as a technician for a (now defunct) major audio equipment manufacturer. When a writer from "Stereo Review" or "Audio" magazine came to visit, we'd play with the equipment a little, my Engineering boss would hand him some specs, and they'd go out on the town (leaving me to work the rest of the day {grumble, grumble}). A few months later, we'd see those exact specs printed in the magazine, along with some well-placed ads. I never believe a review I read in a trade publication.

    Consumer Reports lacks technical expertise in many areas, but at least their approach has some level of integrity.
    • Consumer Reports lacks technical expertise in many areas, but at least their approach has some level of integrity.

      CR takes an approach that is valuable to the very largest number of people possible. Their computer reviews are probably uninteresting to a computer expert, and their auto reviews to a mechanic. But they provide useful high-level information that has one terribly useful characteristic -- it can be trusted.

      It is *unbelivably* difficult to get information that can be trusted when you have whole
      • CR takes an approach that is valuable to the very largest number of people possible.

        No, it's more than that.

        It's not an issue of what the average joe is looking for, it's an issue of what matters about a product.

        Take the subject of this article, RAM. The person doing the review should be familiar with different types of RAM, key specs, test procedures, worst-case operating conditions, etc. The average Joe really just wants something that is going to work well for him, he is relying on CR to decide what
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:53PM (#15117369)
    So if you want the best stuff, convince them you're a review site and just wait for them to ship you the cream de la creme.
  • by pxuongl (758399)
    i work at hp, and i'm sure this is standard practice across every industry... all review units go through a series of stringent screening process to determine the absolutely best units.

    seriously think about it.... if you had a hot date, would you show up in a yellow wife-beater, messy hair and bad breathe, and ask her to pay the cab that's been waiting for them for the last 30 minutes?
  • the products behave well within their specifications. IMO overclocking is lots of hype over small differences. what i care for is a product that works well. and 90% (or more) of the customers feel exactly the same way (or are too ignorasnt to understand what overclocking is)

    god, i wish sometimes that geeks were a tad bit more pragmatic, and would put themselves in the position of manufacturars (or anyone "regular" for that matter)

    (no i don't deal in popular opinions. it's not my style)

  • They say AMD stresses other components. It has been my experience for a couple years that if it says PC2700, for example, I better get PC3200 if I don't want lockups.

    This would clarify a few things.

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