by Andy Patrizio
Rumors from China say yes, Intel says no, and the facts say… a lot.
Intel is supposed to launch Ivy Bridge, the 22nm shrink of the Sandy Bridge processor line, this April, but a report from Asia casts doubt on that plan and the trend in PC vendor earnings would seem to support this claim.
DigiTimes, a Taiwan-based publication with connections to the many OEMs based in the region, reported that Intel would delay mass shipments of Ivy Bridge to notebook vendors from early April until after June. The reason, according to DigiTimes, was that “most first-tier notebook vendors are having trouble digesting their Sandy Bridge notebook inventories due to the weak global economy.”
There’s no question the fourth quarter of 2011 stunk for every PC maker except Apple. There’s also no denying the questionable track record of DigiTimes, which has been known to miss by a mile as it does to get big scoops.
Intel, for its part, denied any delay in Ivy Bridge. “We don’t comment on rumors or speculation, nor do we comment on specific ramp rates and customer communications. We remain on track for our spring 2012 launch, in line with previous guidance,” said an Intel spokesman.
There is no doubt that the PC vendors (except Apple) and by extension Intel got lumps of coal in their stockings this Christmas. In announcing their earnings, HP and Dell both blamed the floods in Thailand, which has caused a significant shortage in computer hard drives, as the culprit for lower sales.
But that doesn’t hold water. Mobile processor sales were down 7.3 percent sequentially from the third quarter and up only 1.3 percent year-over-year. Mobile processor sales have averaged 5 percent year-over-year growth for the last five years, according to Dean McCarron, president of Mercury Research, which follows semiconductor sales. Meanwhile, desktop sales were flat, which is keeping with the five-year average.
“So desktop was essentially seasonal but mobile departed quite significantly. If it were just about the hard drive shortage, that wouldn’t be happening,” said McCarron. “Everybody who reported negative results said it was the Thailand hard disk issue. The reality is it probably goes beyond that.”
If HP and Dell were stuck with unsold PCs, like DigiTimes is alleging, then their inventory would have spiked as they got stuck with unsold products. But both firms have inventory levels comparable to a year ago. “You wouldn’t ramp inventory if you didn’t have demand. The fact sales were down and inventory was steady supports a lack of demand,” said McCarron.
But McCarron notes there are other variables as well; the economy still stinks and Apple is selling a record number of Macs while everyone else is stagnant, and it’s still not clear that the iPad is or is not cannibalizing PC sales.
“I can’t support the [DigiTimes] statement but certainly the way it’s being portrayed is not in conflict with the evidence I’ve seen. But there could be other things going on,” he said.
Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney admitted to the Financial Times that the Ivy Bridge platform update had slipped from April to “probably June.” He did say it was a result of fabrication issues, and not channel demand, which is entirely possible – Intel’s new microarchitecture will launch the first of its Tri-Gate “3D” transistors, an industry first that likely requires substantial retooling of the chipmaker’s fabrication plants.
Tri-gate technology is expected to bring notcieable power improvements over previous generation Intel chips.
|Mark Bohr, Intel Senior Fellow: “The performance gains and power savings of Intel’s unique 3-D Tri-Gate transistors are like nothing we’ve seen before. This milestone is going further than simply keeping up with Moore’s Law. The low-voltage and low-power benefits far exceed what we typically see from one process generation to the next. It will give product designers the flexibility to make current devices smarter and wholly new ones possible. We believe this breakthrough will extend Intel’s lead even further over the rest of the semiconductor industry.”|