TAIPEI, Taiwan A recent shortage of Socket 478 Pentium 4 microprocessors has analysts and PC component makers wondering whether Intel Corp. dropped the ball in its planning or if it is trying to manipulate customers into using more expensive, high-end chips.
Whatever the case, the supply pinch is easing up and is expected to abate in January, just as Intel starts to market its double-date-rate SDRAM chip set for the Pentium 4.
For nearly two months, PC component makers in Taiwan have complained of shortages of the Socket 478 Pentium 4, which is housed in a 478-pin flip-chip pin-grid array with a heat spreader. Some said the shortages allowed Intel to offload its inventory of the Socket 423 Pentium 4, which is housed in a 423-pin plastic PGA with a heat sink and rear case fan. Others speculated that Intel was and still is having yield problems with its flagship product.
Shortages of Pentium 4s have been reported in South Korea as well as in China, a large market for the Pentium 4. The part in shortest supply seems to be the 1.5-GHz chip. Intel did not reply to a request for comment.
The latest consensus among components makers here is that things should smooth out in January. By that time, Intel won't be under so much pressure to supply its top PC OEM customers and will be able to put more of the processors into the hands of distributors and system integrators.
In the meantime, Intel may have missed an opportunity to boost sales for Pentium 4 systems with SDRAM, since it is the only supplier of a single-data-rate SDRAM chip set for the 478-pin processor. In addition, a few motherboard makers said Intel lost some market share in October to competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc. because of the shortage. "I like to believe the conspiracy theories, but I think Intel is innocent on this one. They just didn't plan well," said Scott Thirwell, marketing manager for DFI Inc., a Taiwanese motherboard maker.
Others said Intel simply wants its customers to buy the 1.7-GHz Pentium 4, which has less than an 8 percent premium over its 1.5-GHz counterpart. "This is part of a concerted strategy on Intel's part. It's not a yield problem. If people are still confused about that, they shouldn't be," said Tony Chen, technology analyst for Bank of America Securities. "The closer they can push people to the sweet spot of the market 2 GHz the better it is for them."