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Alviso advisory: Intel delays new notebook chip

Design problems mean computers containing new chipset for Pentium M devices won't appear until 2005.

Citing design problems, Intel has pushed back the release of its second major notebook chip this year. The Alviso chipset for Pentium M notebooks, slated for autumn, won't hit the market until 2005.

Intel had planned to ship Alviso in time for it to appear in notebooks this year, according to sources familiar with the chipmaker's plans. The company still plans to start shipping the chipset to PC makers in the fourth quarter, but notebooks incorporating it won't arrive until early 2005, the sources said. It appears that an exact launch date has yet to be determined.

Design and timing problems contributed to the delay. Sources said early versions of Alviso were not up to Intel's standards, requiring more design work. Further, releasing the chip any later than early in the fourth quarter would make it too late for notebook makers' 2004 plans.

The Alviso problem follows a series of chip revisions and the delayed launch of Dothan, its latest Pentium M chip. Dothan, originally expected before spring, did not arrive until May. Intel also had to do extra design work on Prescott, its latest Pentium 4 chip. Prescott shipped on time, technically--it went out to PC makers before Intel's goal, the end of 2003--but it was not available in systems until February. Even then, it was hard to find, PC makers said. Finally, a manufacturing problem had Intel recalling batches of bad controller hub chips, which affected the launch of the 900-series desktop chipsets.

The Alviso chipset promises to boost performance of Intel Centrino notebooks, which use its Pentium M processor. Alviso is the equivalent of Intel's 915 and 925 Express chipsets for high-end desktop PCs, which came out in new systems in June. Alviso will add higher-speed components such as PCI Express, a faster interface for attaching add-in cards; Serial ATA, a speedier interface for hard drives; high-definition audio for better sound; and extra performance from tweaks such as raising the front side bus speed from 400MHz to 533MHz. The bus provides a pathway for data between the processor and memory. When paired with the fastest Pentium M processors and a new tri-band Wi-Fi module, Alviso is expected to significantly improve performance of Centrino brand notebooks.

A recipe for delays
Though it's considered a major notebook product, Alviso's delay isn't likely to have a material impact on Intel's overall business, due to the chipset's timing, said Dean McCarron, analyst with Mercury Research. If Intel had been planning a "Q3 launch (of Alviso), it would have been a much bigger deal," he said.

The delay is an issue of quality, McCarron said, leaving Intel no choice but to push back Alviso's release. "The one common thread to all of this is that they're not letting a part out until it's baked," he said.

Chipmakers are likely to face more product delays. Chips are becoming more difficult to engineer, but the manufacturers still face pressure to put out new products regularly--forcing them to work in tighter and tighter timeframes.

"The gap has gotten narrow, so you're going to see more of this stuff. It's not manufacturer-specific," McCarron said. "This is high tech, and it's hard stuff."

Howard High, an Intel spokesman, said Intel's chip delays may not be over. He wouldn't comment on Alviso, but said Intel is reconsidering its timetables in the wake of its recent difficulties with the controller hubs.

"When that type of thing happens, as a company, we tend to go back and look across all of our key products," he said. "We have a certain reputation we want to maintain in terms of our quality level."