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NVIDIA Responds to Chip Failures

By - Source: Tom's Hardware | B 12 comments

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.

Display 12 Comments.
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  • 3 Hide
    apache_lives , October 20, 2008 9:04 AM
    iv seen too many failing 8 series or similar video cards to believe its just limited to mobile parts, still sus.
  • 3 Hide
    cliffro , October 20, 2008 9:18 AM
    Why is it that Nvidia has a couple of problems and its all doom and gloom, same thing happened when AMD's TLB issues came about. It also happened when the 2900 XT came out and underwhelmed. Doom and Gloom.....
    Seriously, ATI was done and nothing but chumps when the 2900 came out and didn't compete with Nvidia's 8 series, yet Everyone is singing ATI's praises now....that the 4000 series is good. Just like when the 8 series was King.

    Sure it looks bad for Nvidia if you focus on whats happening right now...but if you stand back and look at the big picture, you realize this happens every few years and Some Company is always in trouble....but a product cycle or two or three later, and its the other company in trouble...

    I've gone back and forth with GPU's because every couple of cycles the other guys do something amazing...and I switch. I'm not a fanboy of either company, I go with whats good at the time, and easier on my wallet.
  • 0 Hide
    apache_lives , October 20, 2008 9:28 AM
    well when you order mid to high end cards in you expect quality, and the failure rate to be ~1 in 20 tops, when you see 4 out of 5 9800GTX+'s cards die within an hour in different systems you start to wonder and loose trust in the company, we have stopped ordering as many nvidia based cards now just to be sure, and last year we saw the same thing with 8600's and 8500's - you cant tell me its just coincidence.

    Dont get me wrong there cliffro i got my self an 8800GT when they were the bomb, but after all this ill think twice before i buy nvidia again, make sure there up to scratch again.
  • 2 Hide
    hemelskonijn , October 20, 2008 10:38 AM
    in short dont become a fanboy just chose the best card for you (price/performance) fanboyism will only get people pissed when there chip bakery bakes a batch of bad chips.

    That being said ... i always burn NVDIA board while ATI board seem to survive my way of coping with low frame rates.
    If i start burning ATI boards i wont hesitate to try another NVDIA board
  • -1 Hide
    changeofspace , October 20, 2008 2:54 PM
    It's just their current problem, just like ati's 2000 cards, or nividia's FX cards, they'll get past it and release something awesome again.
  • 0 Hide
    bounty , October 20, 2008 3:34 PM
    4 out of 5... I'm guessing that's not typical. Something special is happening there.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , October 20, 2008 10:39 PM
    cliffroWhy is it that Nvidia has a couple of problems and its all doom and gloom, same thing happened when AMD's TLB issues came about. It also happened when the 2900 XT came out and underwhelmed. Doom and Gloom.....Seriously, ATI was done and nothing but chumps when the 2900 came out and didn't compete with Nvidia's 8 series, yet Everyone is singing ATI's praises now....that the 4000 series is good. Just like when the 8 series was King. Sure it looks bad for Nvidia if you focus on whats happening right now...but if you stand back and look at the big picture, you realize this happens every few years and Some Company is always in trouble....but a product cycle or two or three later, and its the other company in trouble...I've gone back and forth with GPU's because every couple of cycles the other guys do something amazing...and I switch. I'm not a fanboy of either company, I go with whats good at the time, and easier on my wallet.


    2nd. I find it amusing when people try to predict the downfall of billion-dollar corporations, as if having just one graphics vendor would somehow be good for the outlook of 3D graphics.
  • 0 Hide
    smalltime0 , October 20, 2008 11:47 PM
    cangelini

    They may not fall (i.e. collapse) but they may loose their market dominance in the discreet market, opening it up for ATi or Intel.
  • 0 Hide
    Narg , October 21, 2008 3:03 PM
    So, why is Dell and HP moving to ATI only in future models? nVidia is completely CLUELESS! Their statements are made only to lie to investors. nVidia cares little about consumers, only investors.
  • 0 Hide
    Lightningfire , October 21, 2008 7:06 PM
    I've had one of the 9800GTX cards go south on me, though that was due to faulty ram, and not the GPU itself. Personally, though I would have to wonder at the possibility of fatigue issues due to thermal cycling, especially considering the emphasis the current driver set makes on low noise over temperature control. Now mind you, I love my quiet computing as much as the next person, but when the GPU is cooking along at 84C at the fan's PWM is autoset to 38% and the rest of the system is starting to get cooked as well, I start to worry.

    And, incidentally, as per Narg's "They care primarily about investors" comment, that's pretty much to be expected in any publicly-owned company. This is not to say that the consumer doesn't matter, but when consumer opinion starts to turn, there's usually a certain amount of time to respond. If the investors decide the company's through, they can kill it overnight. Factor in the fact that the average day-trader is more concerned about when they're going to get their next stock split or dividend than whether the company is going to be around in 12 months, and you've really got a system where the driving factor is, "keep the investor happy."
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 24, 2008 7:44 AM
    While you guys may find it fascinating to see the predictions of those big companies, and doubt these predictions, I found something else to get my attention! The mention of truthful comming from the mouth of apple. That's like a politician complaining that someone is lying! Probably one of the least trusted electronics manufacturers is apple. I think all the bigger companies are doing some shady business, but I am surprised apple even knows what truthful means. Censorship is their cup of tea, not honesty! Also quite entertaining seeing them complain about the failrates of a given amount of devices, yet picking the 'offender' to supply stuff intel used to! Kinda wierd really. Nobody predicted sony was about to close shop when they had to recall a gazillion batteries (costing more than gpus per unit I'm sure), yet everyone screams at nvidia or predicts ati dead when they have a bad day.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 24, 2008 7:46 AM
    NargSo, why is Dell and HP moving to ATI only in future models? nVidia is completely CLUELESS! Their statements are made only to lie to investors. nVidia cares little about consumers, only investors.

    They aren't nessecarily. Our workstations from hp still come with quattro graphics, and I don't think that'll change any time soon.