The reason I'm asking is that on http://alibaba.com you can find prices for the Core i7 as low as $20, minimum quantity 1. This looks like impossibly low for a genuine Intel, but then I also can't believe you can clone this kind of CPU. What's the matter here, and what kind of problems can I expect with these cheap CPUs?
There are a lot of different things you can get when you see something like this. For a very new part like this I would assume that since Intel is pretty much the only company with the ability to actually build these CPUs (they use a very small manufacturing process), these are either bricks of lead attached to the correct packaging to look like a CPU, or they're failed CPUs. There's actually a relatively low yield on tiny manufacturing processes like Intel's current generation (22nm is the current size they use). I've been led to believe it's something like a 60% yield (i.e. they produce 100 processors they only get 60 that actually work) and the rest have to be discarded. But I have no real numbers on that, but even if it was a 99.9% yield, that would still mean that 1 in 1000 was bad and had to be disposed of, and Intel produces a lot of processors. And someone is probably interested in cheap, mostly functional CPUs.
What functionality is actually missing in these discarded chips could be very minor. Something like "dividing anything by 3879 never gives the correct answer", but clearly a chip with a flaw like that could never be released without permanently damaging the companies' reputation. So if these $20 i7 chips do function in a core i7 motherboard, I would assume that you would find that each one would have some subset of functionality that misbehaved. Alternatively they could only work if underclocked, or if they were much cooler than the specifications normally allow. Who knows! It's a lottery of functionality.
Another unlikely possibility is that these are some other chips which have the same pinout but do something totally different. See Sparkfun's adventure in counterfeit ATMegas (note that the post I linked has several updates where they learn it's an ON semiconductor part from the 1980s). This is extremely unlikely though, as Intel varies its pinouts frequently, so other manufacturers wouldn't be producing parts which would fit in this generations' sockets.
Something which sometimes happens in China, is that the employees will come into the facilities and run the factory when the managers aren't there, and sell the output as genuine product, even though it hasn't been tested. In general the test equipment and the equipment which marks the packaging with "Genuine __ part!" don't work without the manager's password or something similar. This is normally an issue in places that produce SD cards and similar though, where the process is relatively simple and short. These are called "ghost shift" components because they're produced by a shift of workers who aren't supposed to be there. Intel's chips are probably a bit too complex for something like that, and I think they're mostly produced in America anyway.
So long story short: I don't think there's another entity with the ability to produce 22nm parts as complex as Intel's CPUs right now, so I imagine these are either defective core i7s, or completely fake.
Edit: Or, as Olin noted below, the least interesting answer electronically: they're just stolen chips (I like my schemes to be more elaborate!)
They are probably Engineering Samples (ES). Intel produces them in large batches for testing, after which I imagine they are supposed to be discarded, but evidently they become available to the general public. These chips are pre-production, and they are usually functional, though some features like SpeedStep and thermal throttling might be disabled depending on the stepping (version). You can also find these items on eBay. Of course the items on Alibabi could also be non-functional ornaments, stolen, or re-badged, but I highly doubt they are actual "clones".
It is extremely difficult. As far as I know impossible for the current organizations in the world beside Intel.
First of all let me say that there are a few quite different chips that goes under the name Intel Core i7. They may be older versions of the Intel Core i7 that those companies want to get rid from the inventory, but the price still look way too good. It may just be a scam or stolen chips.
Going back to the question, creating an Intel Core I7 would require having the Intel chip design and a chip foundry with the capability to use them to produce very cheap products. This is very unlikely.
Assuming that you even get a processor at all it is:
A. probably not functional
B. not the right processor
C. has unknown defects that could result in hazardous situations (such as chemical fire, extremely toxic emissions or electrical fire/complications etc)
D. the product (whatever it is you receive after payment) could take out (short circuit) your components making the $20 dollar product actually cost more or equal to an actual i7 processor.
E. May partially function, but like Kit Scuzz mentioned it could have some unknown minuscule fault that would not allow it to be sold as complete processor.
Scenario #2: This could be some online scam where you receive nothing at all and they steal your identity/money.
Usually if the price is too good to be true, something is wrong. There are deals don't get me wrong, but any high end product at 80 percent or higher mark down is going to be a scam. There are times where it can be the odds are not in your favor.
As the other comments have explained what you'd likely be getting (a scammer who gives you a different product/refuses to sell it to you until you pay full price/a stolen or broken processor), I'll try to explain the original question, whether or not it's impossible to make illegal clones of an i7.
Physically possible? Sure. Likely? Absolutely not. If you've ever read the datasheets for these processors, you'll see thousands of pages of dense technical, yet vague, material. The ACPI v6 specification is a thousand pages. The x99 chipset is over 900 pages. The PCIe 3 spec is hundreds of pages. The Intel 64 and IA-32 Architecture Developer Manual(s) are thousands of pages in total. All together, there are dozens of these documents which necessarily explain the functioning of these processors. That's only the public information. There are far more internal documents which Intel only gives to OEMs, and more still which Intel gives only to extremely high-paying partners (e.g. Google and Microsoft). Still others they only keep to themselves.
Every one of these are required to make a genuine Intel clone. Many of them would be required to make a cheap clone that was even able to start up in real mode, much less support all the documented and undocumented behavior which operating systems and peripheral hardware rely on.
Just a couple examples I could quickly find:
- Intel Core i7-900 vol 1 - 2: 194 pages
- Intel C230 chipset PCH vol 1 - 2: 1693 pages
- Intel VT-d spec (directed I/O): 276 pages
- Advanced Power Configuration Specification v6: 1056 pages
- Serial ATA revision 3: 663 pages
- Intel Software Developer Manuals vol 1 - 9: 5392 pages
Unlike a cheap ATmega32 or 8051 microcontroller with just a handful of instructions, maybe an internal clock, or maybe not, a couple GPIOs, etc., a full-fledged Intel processor with a gazillion extensions to the x86 ISA is neigh impossible to clone without having both access to internal, unpublished Intel documents, and a huge amount of resources. Even creating a barebones x86 processor that is capable of booting a modern operating system takes a lot of work. After all, there are really only three manufacturers who even release such processors: Intel, AMD, and VIA.