Nvidia changes desktop G86 for no reason

Bumpgate: Deny, spin, duck dodge

Nvidia world iconEditors Note: From time to time, SemiAccurate will be republishing some older articles by its authors, some with additional commentary, updates and information.  We are mainly reprinting some of the oft referenced articles that originally appeared on the Inquirer. Some will have added content, but all will be re-edited from the originals as per contractual obligations. You may see some slight differences between the two versions.

This article has had some of the original links removed, and was published on Monday, August 25, 2008 at 5:15PM.

A FEW WEEKS ago, VR-Zone posted a story about Nvidia issuing a Product Change Notification (PCN) about G86 desktop chips and underfill materials. Days later, that story strangely disappears, but now is back with an ‘explanation’ from Nvidia PR appended.

Why is Nvidia so afraid of this information getting out? Easy, it basically proves they are not telling the truth once again about the defective chips fiasco. We asked them for a copy of the PCN, but they declined, but luckily we ran into lots of people who had it at IDF, and we took copious notes.

With that, lets take you through, point by point, the Nvidia 6 page PDF that they issued as a PCN. Page 5 is blank, and Page 6 is the standard legal disclaimer, so we will skip those. The PCN is dated May 22, 2008 on the bottom of pages 2-5, July 25 on the bottom of Page 1, and Page 6 is undated. The first big problem is that it is entitled “G86 Desktop Products” with a subtitle “Change Namics 8439-1 Underfill material to Hitachi 3730”. Above that there is “Product/Process Change Notice”, the usual NDA only disclaimer.

Remember how Nvidia swore up and down that desktop parts were flat out not affected? Remember how we said that all G84 and G86s were because they were the same ASIC? I guess they decided to change this underfill material to better color coordinate with the substrate hues, given the cost of testing, qualification and other work that needs to be done, you certainly wouldn’t want to change it for no good reason. The old one worked just fine, right? Not defective either, they said so. Then again, they said the problem was contained to HP as well.

The official Nvidia explanation is that if you change one SKU, you change them all, so this isn’t a big deal. Testing and validation costs be damned, you take a ‘working’ and near EOL part and change it on a whim because they changed another part. OEMs love that, as do stockholders.

The problem is that this story doesn’t wash either. If the original desktop G86s are not affected, there is no reason to change, they work and you are only adding cost and risk, as well as likely more expensive materials. There is no way they would take on the cost of this change if it wasn’t necessary. That means the desktop chips were bad as well, and needed changes, validating our original story from early July.

On to page two, there is another whopper, but first they repeat that this is a PCN, and the title has not changed from Page 1. The first bombshell is spread out over three boxes entitled, PCN Submit Date:, Planned Implementation Date:, and Proposed First Ship Date:. They are July 25, 2008, Immediate, and July 25, 2008 respectively.

Why is this important? Well, it shows that the companies knew there was a problem, they made a change, and the change didn’t start shipping until a month after they said it was all fixed. This seemingly contradicts their 8-K statement, but I am sure they will come up with a slick PR reason why if you stretch your imagination and squint, they do line up. Either way, if you bought an Nvidia product before July 25, it looks like you bought a defective one. Given that the 25th was the start ship date, that means the parts were not going to end users for a bit after that, so you probably aren’t safe until mid-August.

In any case, this explains why Dell and the rest would not answer the question of “Is the one I bought since the announcement defective or is it good?”, and “Are you still shipping defective parts?”. They wouldn’t answer here and here and here because they knew that statements like “We are still shipping defective parts to customers”, and “you bought a lemon” don’t go over well.

The next box is titled “Change Category:”, and there are two option check boxes, “Class 1 Change – Major (Customer Approval Required)”, and “Class 2 Change – Customer Notification Only”. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this one had Class 1 checked. I wonder how they are going to spin the whole ‘it is only minor, you are reading too much into this’ in light of that? It is going to be funny to watch in any case.

The next box is “Required Distribution:”, and all four boxes, Sales, Marketing, Materials/Planning, Others (Quality and Assembly Engineering) are checked. I guess they meant it when they said it was Major.

Then there is a box with “Attention, for Class 1 Change:” with three bullet points. The first is “Customer should acknowledge the PCN as soon as possible”, then “Lack of acknowledgment of the PCN prior to the Proposed First Ship Date constitutes acceptance of the change”, and finally “If customer does not accept this change, or would like to work with NVIDIA to change the First Ship Date, please contact your local Sales representative or Program Manager immediately”. Yup, nothing to see here, nothing major to worry about, you just need to sign off as a formality. That is their story, and they are sticking to it.

The last box lists affected parts, and has two chips, G86-303-A2 and G86-103-A2, and one kit, G86-213-A2. Please note the suffix, compare it to this story. (links removed) Told ya so.

Page 3 has three parts, Proposed Change Information, Implementation and Qualification Plan, and Product Marking and Traceability. PCI has three parts, and two of them are whoppers with some truly precious hidden gems. They are, “Description of Change ” which says, “NVIDIA will transition from using Namics 8439-1 underfill material to Hitachi 3730 underfill material for the G86 Desktop product skus only. “. This is followed by “Reason For Change ” which says “To increase supply and enhance package robustness. “, and “Impact of Change (form, fit, function, quality or reliability): ” that reads, “There will be no adverse change to form, fit, function or reliability. “

Lets look this closely shall we? The description is pretty obvious, nothing to see here, move along kiddies. The big one is the reason, and it has two parts, the one most people focus on is the part about enhancing package robustness. Now if there was no problem in desktop parts, why is packaging robustness in such dire need of change? And if it really does that, why does the Impact box say there are “no adverse change to form, fit, function or reliability”. Correct me if I am wrong, but do they really need to say “this one won’t be a lemon guys” that directly?

The most telling statement is the first half of the Reason box, and that is “To increase supply”. This means that either Nvidia was having enough problems getting the Namics 8439-1 underfill that it was limiting their ability to make chips, desktop only mind you, or there are enough defects to drag the yield rate into the toilet. Guess which one it is, Nvidia will likely say it is a supply problem, they can’t admit failures that high.

The “Implementation and Qualification Plan” says that “Qualification data is available on request”, with two sub boxes saying that both the data and qual samples are available now. Guess that means you can get them to test with.

Product Marketing and Traceability is the bottom of Page 3 and most of Page 4. Unfortunately it is a diagram, and our artistic abilities would not allow us to take sufficient notes to re-create it. The text in three paragraphs, two above, one below the diagram, reads as follows. “Product with the eutectic bump will be denoted with an “R” appended to the end of the lot number in the 4th line. This will not change. The box label will have the “F” after the lot number for identifying product with Hitachi underfill change.”, then “During the transition period, traceability will be maintained by NVIDIA. Please contact your Program Manager if a list of affected batch numbers or shipments is required.”. Finally below the picture, “For identifying product with Hitachi underfill material, refer to the box label and the lot # on the box will have the letter “F” as the last character of the lot #.”

Lots of words there, but the short story is that if you have a chip, it doesn’t seem like you can tell which underfill material you have. The R for eutectic bumps, a significant change that we will discuss in a later article, seems to be the only thing on the chips. The box F label will never make it to the end user, so there doesn’t seem to be a way to figure out if you have a lemon or not, other than potentially date of purchase. In any case, if you have access to the box your GPUs shipped in, you can figure this out.

The next box is titled “Recommended Action ” and says “No customer qualification required. For additional data or questions, please contact your Program Manager. “. Below that there is a box titled “NVIDIA Contact ” which is split into two boxes that say, “In case of questions, please contact your local Sales representative or Program Manager.” and “Change approval can be done through NVIDIA Website: http://partners.nvidia.com/”.

Closing out Page 4, we have the “PCN revision history”, and it says “Date: 7/25/08”, “Revision: A”, and “Reason: Initial Release”. As stated earlier, Page 5 is blank, Page 6 has a legal disclaimer.

In the end, this is one of the smoking guns. Nvidia flat out denied that there were any desktop part that were defective, but now they are changing materials to “enhance package robustness”. I guess you do that on a whim. I wonder how the SEC will square that with the 8-K which said, “MCP and GPU products that are impacted were included in a number of notebook products”.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate