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Engineers blame simulation for quad-core "showstopper"

More than a few people noticed Intel's roadmap originally slated 45nm Penryn desktop quad-core processors for January, only to have the company change the hard launch date to a not-so-firm "Q1 2008." So what happened?  In a series of interviews, the tale of quad-core Penryn began to unfold. 

Processor engineers, speaking on background, detailed the problem. "Intel is very sensitive to mean time to failures.  During a simulation, at high clock frequencies, engineers noticed an increase of potential failures after a designated amount of time."

He continues, "This is not acceptable for desktop customers that require longterm stability. It's a showstopper."

Previous reports of errata degrading the L2 and L3 cache performance were described as "false" -- desktop Penryn processors do not even have L3 cache. Microcode and BIOS updates issued by Intel since November do not fix or address the "showstopper" bug affecting the launch of the quad-core Q9300, Q9450 and Q9550 processors

The condition does not affect Xeon quad-core processors.  Xeon uses a different stepping than the quad-core processors, which fixes this simulated condition.  The quad-core 45nm Extreme Edition processor launched in November is also unaffected.

The company would not detail when the processors, originally scheduled for a January 20 launch but announced at CES last week, will see the light of day. Conservative estimates from ASUS and Gigabyte put the re-launch sometime in February.  Intel completely removed its January 20 launch from its December 2007 roadmap and has not issued a new roadmap since. 

Intel spokesman Dan Snyder says more. "We publicly claimed we will launch its 45nm mainstream processors in Q1 2008, and that's exactly what we did."  In fact, the company announced 16 new 45nm processors last week; most of which already shipped to manufacturers -- with the exception of the quad-core desktop variants affected by the showstopper simulation bug.

Taiwanese media was quick to pin the simulated problem on complacency and lack of competition from AMD.  Intel employees quickly denied the allegation, with the additional claim that the report was "humorous." 

At CES last week, Snyder elaborates.  "The tick-tock model prevents Intel from missing its launch dates.  If the 'tock' team misses a target date, it doesn't affect the 'tick' team."

Tick-tock, the strategy of alternating cycles of architecture change and process shrink, became official company policy on  January 1, 2006. 

As to why the new Macbook Airs still use the 65nm Core 2 Duo processors? Even after Foxconn alluded the new notebooks would get 45nm treatment?  Another Intel spokesman declined to respond, only stating, "Our partners are free to choose any of Intel's currently supported processors."  Anand Shimpi explores this more.


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RE: I call BS
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 1/16/2008 11:25:04 AM , Rating: 3
Right, but as it was explained to me the tolerances aren't as strict for EE processors.


RE: I call BS
By cochy on 1/16/2008 11:31:25 AM , Rating: 3
That seems a little counter-intuitive. If I pay over $1000 for a CPU I expect it to perform and survive longer than cheaper models. I am expecting the best chip of the lot.

No?

It all seems rather fishy. Maybe this little theoretical "bug" does exist but they are making a bigger deal of it than they would ever have because of AMD, and using it as an excuse.

I'm waiting to upgrade to one of these chips, so I hope I don't have to wait long.


RE: I call BS
By Adonlude on 1/16/2008 2:20:42 PM , Rating: 5
You guys should note that in just over a month Intel's stock price fell from $28 to $20. They also just reported dissapointing earnings and guidance. It is highly unlikely that they would be dragging their feet under these circumstances regardless of AMD's situation. Intel has unhappy stock holders to answer to.

You guys have no idea what this simulation issue is about yet you instantly assume that Intel has bad intentions and is being the quintessential consumer screwing evil giant.


RE: I call BS
By chsh1ca on 1/17/2008 11:48:27 AM , Rating: 2
Not necessarily. It's not like Intel hasn't dragged its feet due to a lack of competition in the past. The slacking off wouldn't have to be malicious, assuming you belive that's actually what went on.


RE: I call BS
By Clauzii on 2/6/2008 1:52:08 PM , Rating: 2
So in the middle of a deep fall in stock-value, You'd suggest Intel would make something like this - on purpose?

WOW!?!


RE: I call BS
By TomZ on 1/16/2008 11:47:12 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Right, but as it was explained to me the tolerances aren't as strict for EE processors.

What tolerances do you mean? Do you mean MTTF tolerances? I'm not sure I understand what that would mean in this case. Are you saying that the specified MTTF for an EE is less than for a mainstream processor?


RE: I call BS
By killerroach on 1/16/2008 11:56:57 AM , Rating: 2
In short, yes.

Personally, I think Intel's strategy here is "it's overclockers who buy the EE, so, if it suddenly fails, they don't know what to blame it on."

Either way, it's fishy.


RE: I call BS
By ImSpartacus on 1/16/2008 12:45:43 PM , Rating: 3
I have seen a surprising amount of gamers that run those EE's stock from dell boxes, not understanding overlocking at all (its a pity really, they could save hundreds of dollars).

However that does make a little more sense.


RE: I call BS
By ImSpartacus on 1/16/2008 12:42:57 PM , Rating: 2
I hate to shoot the messenger boy, but regardless of what 'tolerances' are lessened, it should be the opposite.

The EE should be cherry picked, not the mid range. It makes no sense.


RE: I call BS
By halcyon on 1/16/2008 1:41:04 PM , Rating: 5
Right. This is good to know.

Memo to myself:

Intel will sell the worst MTBF parts to the highest paying customers. Do not pay a lot for Intel products, in order to ensure lower failure rates.

I'm sure Intel PR would love to get this piece of information all over the newswire :)

PS I appreciate you reporting things as you heard them. Still, I agree with the other posters. This is utter and complete bollocks on Intel's part. They postponed it, because they want to make more money, but they downplayed it as a "we want to ensure highest quality for our customers". Just a pity they didn't think their white lie it all the way through...


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