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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: Intel is looking you for us you see...
By P4blo on 1/16/2008 12:02:48 PM , Rating: 2
FWIW let me gloat briefly over the QX9650 I got yesterday - it really blew my doors off. You dont need to torture these puppies for serious performance.

My PC loaded up twisted sista' first time on 4Ghz, err... on default voltage =] (WOW) Settled on 3.84 Ghz with full stability under stress testing, still on default voltage.

QX9650 is definitely the daddy and IMO more worthy of its price than any XE there's ever been. I'm relieved it's apparently not effected...

RE: Intel is looking you for us you see...
By TomZ on 1/16/2008 12:30:26 PM , Rating: 2
Is that on air or water? And what MB are you using, if you don't mind?

By P4blo on 1/17/2008 4:28:09 AM , Rating: 2
Admittedly I use a water setup but I run it to be as quiet as possible and have the fans on auto (which is very conservative) so I wouldn't say it's much more effective than air would be at present.

I think it will happily do about 4.4 Ghz on water or a half decent air cooling setup with a little more voltage. I also run C1E and all power savings on so that can make things a little more unstable. Cant have a machine on 24/7 at insane speeds, it's just a waste of electricity! That's the way I see it.... so I go for the best compromise The QX9650 seems to offer new levels of clocking headroom.

I assume that this chip could easily have been put to market as a 3.2 or 3.4 but they know they'll just end up leaving AMD behind right now so they're keeping the numbers low and the clockability high I suppose.

By P4blo on 1/17/2008 5:01:21 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry you asked about the motherboard. It's an Asus P5B Wi/fi. So Intel P965 chipset.

It was just a BIOS update to support the 1333 FSB processors which started me wondering how it would cope if I pushed the FSB over 1400 but I've got it on about 1450 at the mo and havent touched the FSB, NB or SB voltages so I guess they future proofed the 965 pretty well.

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