Gaming Strategy
Featured Stories
Legal News Financial News Casino Opening and Remodeling News Gaming Industry Executives Author Home Author Archives Search Articles Subscribe
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Mark Grossman

Y2K and PCs

21 May 1999

Myth: Y2K is a mainframe problem only. Reality: A PC can have Y2K problems too. This fact can impact both your home and office PCs. This column will tell you what to do about it and what your warranty protections are if your PC has a Y2K problem.

But first some background: There are two internal components that can be affected by Y2K, the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) and the Real Time Clock (RTC). The RTC is the clock and calendar in your computer. When you turn your computer on, it's the RTC that has "remembered" the date and time. It keeps time like a clock while it has power. This power is supplied by either the current running through your computer when it's on or a built-in battery when it's off.

The BIOS is a small software program held on a chip inside your PC. When you first turn on your PC, it's the BIOS that wakes your PC from its slumber. Among the many things the BIOS does on power-up is request the date and time from the RTC and pass this information along to your operating system (Windows 98 and DOS are examples of operating systems).

For a PC to be Y2K capable, this interaction between the RTC, BIOS and operating system must work properly. If the date is misinterpreted along the line, your PC will have a Y2K problem.

Unfortunately, this isn't the end of the story. Even if your RTC, BIOS and operating system--even Windows 98 as originally shipped required a patch from Microsoft--are Y2K capable, you must also insure that every single application program on your PC is likewise Y2K capable. The best source for information on your programs is the software company's website.


To determine whether your system's RTC and BIOS are Y2K capable, a good starting point is your PC manufacturer's website. Alternatively, you can test this hardware yourself.

There are several free tests available over the Internet. If you test your PC yourself, you need to beware because some Y2K test programs have been known to cause applications to act weirdly, lose data, or expire. Before running any Y2K tests, be sure to close date-sensitive programs and make appropriate backups.

One of the more widely used PC test programs is the YMARK2000 test. It was developed by NSTL, which bills itself as "The world's leading independent information technology testing organization."

The test program is available for free at NSTL's YMARK2000 Web Page. It's a test for IBM compatible PCs and it runs from DOS. (Yes, even your Windows 98 system has DOS hidden under that pretty graphical user interface (g.u.i). At social gatherings, you demonstrate that you're a computer maven by referring to the g.u.i. as the "gooey," which is the accepted pronunciation of these initials. If you can work any word like "patch," "defrag," or "listserv" into the same sentence, I assure you that you too can have friends calling you at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night for tech support.

YMARK2000 tests the BIOS and real-time clock only. It doesn't test your operating system or applications.

Many system manufacturers tie their Y2K warranty to the ability to pass the YMARK2000 tests. NTSL also has a Y2K system compliance program for PC vendors. They will evaluate a particular system's Y2K abilities and authorize a logo or seal of compliance for those systems that pass the YMARK2000 test.

Year 2000 Warranties

In evaluating a vendor's Y2K warranties, the starting point is the same general factors that you would use to evaluate any warranty--duration, who you contact for service, and what you will get if the product fails (repair, replace, refund, etc.,) conditions or limitations on the warranty (like requiring you to ship the PC to the factory for service versus on-site service).

As I reviewed the Y2K warranties of the major vendors, it quickly became apparent that nothing like a "standard warranty" exists within the industry. Each vendor has done their own thing on this issue.

One example is Micron's warranty. It sounds generous, but then it has a "gotch ya" at the end. Micron "warrants that computers sold on or after August 26, 1996, . . . will recognize century date information between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and will retain the date data." Micron then goes on to offer free tech support, a free utility program that will update the BIOS and RTC or a free BIOS upgrade, if available.

It all sounds so consumer friendly until you read way down below where it says, "Customer must notify Seller in writing of the non-compliance of any such software or firmware within ninety (90) days of the date Customer accepts delivery of the System." In my humble opinion, a 90-day notice period is horribly short for a problem that may not be apparent for months to come.

My advice is if you own a relatively new PC from a major vendor like Compaq, IBM, Micron or Dell, you probably don't have too much to worry about on the hardware side. You need to look closely at your operating system and applications though. If you own an older system, you probably do have a Y2K problem. Now is the time to determine what you're going to do. Please don't wait until Christmas to deal with this.

Even if your PC is new, if it serves a mission critical purpose or if a failure could cause major disruption, personal injury or significant property damage, I'd test, test and test again. I wouldn't rely on warranties, certifications or anything other than testing.

Y2K and PCs is republished from
Mark Grossman
Mark Grossman