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Intel Businesses

Intel's Atom C2000 Chips Are Bricking Products -- And It's Not Just Cisco Hit (theregister.co.uk) 59

Thomas Claburn, reporting for The Register: Intel's Atom C2000 processor family has a fault that effectively bricks devices, costing the company a significant amount of money to correct. But the semiconductor giant won't disclose precisely how many chips are affected nor which products are at risk. In its Q4 2016 earnings call earlier this month, chief financial officer Robert Swan said a product issue limited profitability during the quarter, forcing the biz to set aside a pot of cash to deal with the problem. "We were observing a product quality issue in the fourth quarter with slightly higher expected failure rates under certain use and time constraints, and we established a reserve to deal with that," he said. "We think we have it relatively well-bounded with a minor design fix that we're working with our clients to resolve." Coincidentally, Cisco last week issued an advisory warning that several of its routing, optical networking, security and switch products sold prior to November 16, 2016 contain a faulty clock component that is likely to fail at an accelerated rate after 18 months of operation. Cisco at the time declined to name the supplier of that component.
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Intel's Atom C2000 Chips Are Bricking Products -- And It's Not Just Cisco Hit

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  • The headline says products are bricked, but are they?

    It seems like a clock on the CPU is failing. Those CPUs are soldered on, so replacing them is not easy and you could fairly say that the device is bricked. But Intel claim that there is a "board level" fix. I wonder if they mean replace the CPU, or if there is some other bodge that can mitigate the problem.

    I can't imagine how a bodge would prevent a clock failing or replace it once failed. It sounds like there is a silicon level fault with the CPU, with t

    • Since we're not given the board level change, we don't know. I can think of a couple of possibilities. If the clock outputs are loaded too heavily, the chip's output transistors might be overheating, or aluminum traces overheating and failing by migration. If there's capacitive coupling between pins, there might be an over-voltage situation. Either might be fixed by external circuit changes.
      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        More like silicon-level change. The problem seems to be caused by a highly-biased transistor which has too thin of a gate.

        • That makes sense. A board level change would be to run the chip with a lower supply voltage, provided that does not degrade performance so much that the whole thing won't work.
    • the semiconductor giant won't disclose precisely how many chips are affected

      Thanks to a leak by an Intel integrator, we can now reveal that the number of defective devices is exactly 1,999,999.999975243.

  • by Eravnrekaree ( 467752 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @10:38AM (#53818545)

    Intel for the past decade has dropped the ball. Its missing the boat on mobile and failing to push x86 chips into mobile phones has weakened their entire platform which really needs to be an "everywhere" platform. It has been clear for a while that mobile would be a majority of CPUs for a decade, why it has not pushed x86 into more phones is beyond me. Its totally incompetent, especially given x86 binary compatability between desktop and mobile could be a selling point

    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @10:41AM (#53818567) Homepage Journal

      It has been clear for a while that mobile would be a majority of CPUs for a decade, why it has not pushed x86 into more phones is beyond me.

      Because Intel cannot make a really low-power processor. They keep trying, and keep failing. Remember XScale? It was the fastest ARM implementation at the time, but it was also the most power-hungry.

      • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @11:06AM (#53818735)

        check out intel's curie module (their really BAD arduino chip found in the arudino101 board). its a horrible chip and intel actually made that chip the center of their reality tv show 'americas greatest makers'. little known fact: the contestants on that show tried using the chip and all its features and almost everyone failed, even with intel's help. I can't tell you how I know, but I know this for a fact.

        a prime time tv event and intel farked it up.

        only intel could make such a mess and squander such a good chance to get a message out and create some buzz and goodwill. 'makers' still refuse to use intel for many reasons and the biggest: intel still has NO CLUE what the maker market is really about. curie is not a maker chip and so far, no one really is taking that chip seriously.

        that's one example. but it seems typical of intel these days.

        • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @05:39PM (#53821835) Homepage Journal

          As a *former* Intel engineer I can tell you a little more about this bit:

          only intel could make such a mess and squander such a good chance to get a message out and create some buzz and goodwill. 'makers' still refuse to use intel for many reasons and the biggest: intel still has NO CLUE what the maker market is really about. curie is not a maker chip and so far, no one really is taking that chip seriously.

          Of us engineers in the trenches we had *many* makers, hackers, and all around nerds. Problem is very shortly up the food chain the view changes drastically. Marketing and management are generally clueless about it and adamantly refuse to listen to the real hackers in the company.

          As to how to ass up a design? Think of Intel as a medieval feudal system. Each Earl has his dukes, each duke has his lands with the peasants.
          Well, obviously the peasants can move as long as they're not indentured (A.K.A, can't move for a year after moving), but the dukes don't like it, because with less peasants they can't produce enough for the taxmen (from the Earls).

          The solution? put your thumb in other duke's pies and force a design by committee; erstwhile not actually sharing useful information to the product team because a competing duke is the figurehead of the project.

          There is everything from passive aggressive to cloak and dagger interference that happens. (though normally it's just the PA Asshattery.)

          meh, glad I'm out. They offered me money to go away forever. I grabbed it (and my super ergo office chair) with both hands and bolted.

      • Arm doesn't own a chip fab, others make their stuff under license. Intel could do that, while working on designing low power chips for mobile use. Trying to shoehorn x86 chips into mobile use is a waste of resources when the market is already standardized on Arm chips.
        • Arm doesn't own a chip fab, others make their stuff under license.

          Which is the very reason why they're forced to innovate and Intel isn't. The synthesizable design really requires ARM to squeeze everything out of it. The fact that Intel still isn't able to compete as an ARM manufacturer is even more surprising in this light, since Intel isn't really forced to compromise like that. They could work out a top-notch custom implementation if they wanted...but they don't want to. And why would they? Better milk the wintel cash cow some more...

        • What would intel bring to the table? If I want ARM I can get a cheap Chinese generic, or a quality TI chip. Other quality vendors also have offerings.

          Intel's problem in trying to compete in this space is that there is very little room for premium products with lots of label value; they are commodity products, and the higher priced offerings are for higher specs, with very little label value.

          Maybe it is too many managers and marketers, or some other issue, but Intel really sucks at making things that will se

    • I think they literally can't fit their crap into that small of a box. The whole x86 approach must be fundamentally too bloated, and their chip designs just simply too inefficient below a certain performance envelope. Their technology simply physically can't compete with ARM, and this current faceplant is more evidence of what happens when they try to.

    • by bored ( 40072 )

      100% Agreement. Their failures to penetrate the mobile market could be understood for a few years as their technology was behind (SOC integration, power consumption, lack of modem/etc). But, over the last couple of years they have come out with some pretty good products. For most measurements, their stuff is actually better than pretty much everything but apple products.

      Yet, what does Intel management do late last year? Cancel the entire business! Which is so short sighted its not even funny. I have no doub

      • deeper than that.
        Intel has a problem with Qualcomm and the later's adamant refusal to licence any of their patents to the former. Thus Intel has to design around the patents and that leads to inefficient silicon.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The reason Intel has had a hard time breaking in to the mobile market has to do with Intel's buisness model.

      Intel makes a set of chips they control the specs for, and then device makers design systems around them. This works great for the PC market because Intel turns out really fantastic chips (and chipsets. Really, it's an entire platform) And it's a VERY stable and consistent platform.

      The mobile device market, however, is completely different. In that market segment ARM licenses their IP to chip makers -

  • The 8080 never had these problems.
  • Puma 6 issues (atom powered) - www.dslreports.com/shownews/The-Arris-SB6190-Modem-Puma-6-Chipset-Have-Some-Major-Issues-138411

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @12:26PM (#53819323)

    Once you get a replacement CPU from Intel, it's easy to upgrade your system.

    Get a small screwdriver, and insert it in the gap under the chip near pin 1. Gently rock the CPU out of its DIP socket; you may have to alternate pulling at each end of the chip.

    The new chip's legs will be slightly splayed for use with automatic pick-and-place machines. You may need to gently bend them inwards before proceeding. Making sure that pin 1 is aligned with the marker on the motherboard silkscreen, gently push the new CPU straight down into the DIP socket. Your system is fixed!

    • He still uses Intel microprocessors, LOL

      You clearly don't know anything about microprocessors, if you did you'd be using a Z80, not some antiquated thing like an 8080 that needs 3 supply rails and a multi-phase clock signal, LOL.

    • Unless your machine is out of warranty, I don't see the point of this. The hassle and risks greatly outweigh just contacting your vendor and getting the part/unit replaced.

      And never mind that the average person is won't have the skill necessary to do such a repair anyway.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @01:58PM (#53819967)

    Can't post to The Register, since they don't have ACs.

    Anyway, the issue is damage to the LPC (low-pin-count) bus clock line. This is a secondary bus where you hang old ISA-style devices, like the system FLASH. If the FLASH is the only thing in there, it will mostly render the system unbootable (so, stuff that never gets power-cycled would just keep going). But LPC can generate interrupts, and one often hangs other crap to that bus, such as i2c controllers for hot-swap bays, motherboard management controllers, and other sensors. In that case, you can expect severe runtime misbehavior.

    The issue is caused by *continuous degradation due to use*, so repairing it is easy, if costly: replace the motherboard with a new one under warranty (and even if out of warranty period wherever this kind of "stealth" manufacturing defect is not subject to warranty time period limitations, such as in Brazil). It will "reset" the counter. This is your zero-day solution to the issue.

    Depending on time-to-market for the new stepping (hardware revision) B1/C0 of the Atom C2000, you might need an interim solution, which is the "platform-level change", i.e. redesigned board with extra components that work around Intel's hardware design error. As soon as you have these, you start using these to replace any boards returned due to the defect, or start a "recall" to preemptively replace boards.

    Depending on the total cost of the board plus other components, you keep the old boards you replaced around, and when revision B1/C0 of the Atom C2000 is out, you BGA-replace them in a factory (about US$ 25 per board in large volumes, if that much), maybe replace any liquid electrolytic capacitors and other crap that ages badly, and use the boards either as new or as refurbished, depending on your corporate/regulatory ethics. This kind of repair almost always really resets the boards MTBF. If Intel supplies the replacement Atoms at no charge, the cost of repair might well be far less than the cost of the production run for boards you'd want to keep around for warranty services, anyway.

    Mind you, at 1.5 years per failure, it will be rare the legislation/contract that forces more than one replacement... so, let's hope they don't replace a faulty board with a brand-new virgin but-still-timebombed board. You'd have trouble to replace it a second time if it fails after the warranty period.

  • I have Supermicro with a 2750F-O dammit

  • Intel C2000 series was a dream come true for low power servers. I have a 8 core C2758 atom server at home (from SuperMicro), and it is really a beast given working at less than 10W total system power at idle or low utilization (excluding HDDs, of course but with the MB, CPU and RAM).

    But they have dropped the ball, now in two ways:

    - There was no update to the Atom server line in the last two years. They probably do not want to cannibalize their other offerings (8 core CPU with AES and VT extensions is more t

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