It has now become a case of finger pointing when it comes to Nvidia and ATI’s battle for the consumer’s wallet.
The Tech Report received a somewhat humorous letter from Nvidia in retaliation against ATI’s "speculative assertions." In fact, it comes across as an actual pissing match by two boys saying my package is better than your package. What prompted the whole drama were comments made by AMD’s Packaging and Interconnect Director, Neil McLellan, basically saying that the rival company wasn’t paying attention to packaging and really not caring much.
The term "packaging" has nothing to do with the pretty box and creative instruction manual, but everything to do with electronic component assembly, from solder bumps to chip insertion. It is here where Nvidia takes the first jab back at AMD in its letter to The Tech Report:
"In his recent commentary on chip packaging, Mr. McLellan makes a number of speculative assertions about Nvidia’s people, products, and philosophy. In his interview, McLellan asserts that High lead bumps are more prone to fatigue. What he fails to note is that AMD currently uses High lead bumps on their CPU line — a device well known to undergo high thermal stress, and also go through lots of power cycling."
But while Nvidia took a defensive stance, not once in the letter did the company explain why its GPUs are failing. The letter talked about High lead bumps, delivering lead free devices by 2010, and how it passes the JEDEC component package qualifications, but nowhere in Nvidia’s statement was there any kind of hint about current GPU problems. Thus, The Tech Report contacted Nvidia’s GeForce General Manager Ujesh Desai and GeForce Senior VP Jeff Fisher to get a better clarification.
"There is no evidence that this issue exists in desktops as we know them. And in fact, Mr. McLellan has no evidence to even imply that. The fact is that lead bumps—he’s saying that lead bumps will fail, and therefore you should expect to see failures on everything, and that’s completely out of balance from an educated operations guy like he is. . . . I think most industry people would say lead bumps are not a cause of failure and are in fact very reliable. And his soda-can analogy and attempt to drag in desktops is irresponsible from our view and a huge reach."
GeForce General Manager Ujesh Desai didn’t provide an extensive answer, only pointed out that the current GPU failures effect a small percentage of notebooks. A report filed with the SEC in July only solidifies his statement, saying that the company would take a $150 million to $200 million one-time charge to cover "anticipated customer warranty, repair, return, replacement and other consequential costs and expenses arising from a weak die/packaging material set in certain versions of our previous generation MCP and GPU products used in notebook systems. All newly manufactured products and all products currently shipping in volume has a different and more robust material set."
Whether the company is using a different, "more robust" material set in its packaging or they’re rehashing the same old techniques used over the years, there is something going on with Nvidia that will probably stay in the limelight for some time. On September 18, Nvidia announced that it would be reducing its workforce globally, eliminating approximately 360 positions that make up 6.5 percent of the company’s global workforce. The reason being for continued investment in strategic growth areas, according to Nvidia. Recently the company switched over to eutectic solder bumps, moving away from the high-lead solder bumps that - due to cracking - caused the GPU failures.
Currently Apple has come out of the woodwork and complained about Nvidia’s technology. According to the company, GeForce GPUs on some Macbook Pro systems are failing (GeForce 8600M GT). There are even accusations that Nvidia has not been truthful about the packaging issues. What does than mean for newer Macbooks? "[Nvidia is] taking the necessary steps to ensure that all the Nvidia chips currently in production don’t exhibit this problem," said Desai.
Seems as though consumers will need to sit back and see what enfolds in the coming months. While AMD and Nvidia may fire shots back and forth, the real story will be in what comes out of Nvidia’s factories and how they perform in the long run. With money lost, hardware failures, and worldwide layoffs, these look like dark days for Nvidia.
Is it time to purchase that plot next to 3dfx?
Only time will tell.