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Intel has some headaches with 45 nanometre technology

Lots of whispers, nothing concrete. No boots
Fri Dec 21 2007, 12:47

THERE IS SOMETHING going on around Intel's 45 nanomete process, far too many rumours, and far too many half decent explanations. None of the rumours are firm, none are validated, but they all point to the same place.

What are those rumours? The first one was that Intel is having problems ramping the 45/High-K/Metal process to volume so there is going to be a second 45nm non-High-K/non-Metal process to run the lower end volume chips.

The problem with this one is that changing the process like that would basically need a complete relayout of the chip. Unless this was planned from day one, the effort involved would be huge, expensive, and very unlikely to happen.

The next bit is sort of related, word is trickling out that Intel scrapped a whole run of Harpertowns. What a 'run' is defined as is beyond me, but it gets ads up to the same point as the 45nm volume problems. This one has been neither second sourced or denied, but then again, Intel tends not to talk about such things.

This leads us to problem, availability, or lack thereof, of Harpertowns. They are nowhere, and you can't order a system from a major vendor for love nor money. A month after launch of mainstream parts, this is not what Intel usually wants, or is it?

The official explanation is that high demand is causing the shortage, coupled with AMD's Barcelona flameout, but Intel didn't say that part. High demand is there, but it should not cause a complete sellout of a very mainstream part like Harpertown.

Last up we have pricing. One of the rumours going around is that Intel priced Penryn parts low when it was expecting Barcelona to come out. Since that didn't happen, and it couldn't backpedal on price, it is keeping 65nm alive to prop up prices.

This one is the closest to complete bull that I know of. The 45nm tech has much lower die sizes, so production costs go way down, even if wafer costs go up a bit. On top of that, Intel has the equipment, so idling it is madness by any stretch of the imagination. If you entertain the notion that it is making them and putting them in a warehouse, just keep in mind that CPUs age about as well as fish sitting on a shelf. I put the odds of Intel stopping things voluntarily at around zero.

Intel has of course said that volume 45nm parts are on schedule for "Q1", and that nothing has changed. That is partially true, partially false. On the surface, it is true, things are set for Q1, but the nothing changed part is not close to right. The launch went from CES to late Q1, so it slipped about a quarter with no change in name.

So, what do we have? Reports of two processes, scrapped runs, low availability, pricing games and a quarter delay that is not a quarter delay. What does it all mean? Without concrete explanations, not much at all.

That said, there are too many things coming in from too many places for me to think all is well, but nowhere near enough for me to believe that anything is definitively wrong. µ

* INTEL SAYS in an update that supplies have resumed in the last few days.

 

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