Bedevilled by a drastic shortage of 40MHz Viking chips, Sun Microsystems Inc has confirmed Wall Street fears of a highly limited supply of Model 41 Sparcstation 10s (CI No 2,062). The present Viking chip is basically unmanufacturable in quantity at the 40MHz speed. The realisation of this fact slowly dawned on Sun and its chip […]
Bedevilled by a drastic shortage of 40MHz Viking chips, Sun Microsystems Inc has confirmed Wall Street fears of a highly limited supply of Model 41 Sparcstation 10s (CI No 2,062). The present Viking chip is basically unmanufacturable in quantity at the 40MHz speed. The realisation of this fact slowly dawned on Sun and its chip partner Texas Instruments Inc sometime in September, causing them to redesign Viking’s metal masks. The new design, which Sun finished the week of November 16, still has to be taped out and has yet to reach silicon. The original design, held over to eke out what it can during the transition, will be scrapped once the second design comes on line. Texas’s Sparc marketing manager Phil Campbell said the first few lots of the reconstructed chip will be coming off the line in December with volumes following sometime during the first quarter. Poring over its latest simulation runs, Sun is confident it has broken the back of the technical problem. That still leaves it with the human problem of what to do about its many customers, the sizeable backlog of orders they have created and the delays they face. Sun says it will deliver 36MHz Model 30 Sparcstation 10s in place of the Model 41 and upgrade them as the chips become available. It is promising customers the upgrades will be made on an on-going basis between now and the end of March. Sun’s vice-president of product marketing Anil Gadre believes Model 41 backlog will be normalised at 30 to 45 days by March 30. By way of compensation, Sun will give customers that book orders for Model 41s by December 4 a second free Viking module, valued at $10,000 and promised for delivery by June 30. The free upgrade will turn those machines into multiprocessors. Sun is counting on its argument that the box has twice the usable life of any competing machine to forestall order erosion. The technical problems with the highly integrated highly complex state-of-the-art Viking chip impact not only the 40MHz but also the 45MHz, the iteration destined for the Sparcstation 10 Models 52 and 54.
Taken no orders
Sun has taken no orders for the Model 52 and 54, originally due this quarter and next quarter respectively, and told securities analysts that each would be off a quarter. They will come with the next revision of Solaris. Another series of revisions involving changes in the non-metallic portions of the masks, according to Texas, have to be made to get the chip to 50MHz, 55MHz and beyond. These iterations should start coming off the line in the first quarter, another delay for what was supposed to be the standard Viking. The 40MHz species, let alone the 36MHz, was after all a compromise chip when Sun and Texas earlier discovered the 50MHz would be harder to make than they thought. Sun had difficulty getting a handle on the actual yield situation because week-to-week data on the silicon lots varied, Gadre said. After a while however the truth became apparent as the team fought for each 250KHz boost, he said. In the last few weeks an obscure speed path that was constraining 40MHz yield was identified and stripped out. Sun describes it as being a non-functional bug. Texas still expects to double total Viking production this quarter over last quarter to 40,000 units. Sun says it is getting 36MHz chips in high volumes. Nevertheless it is making the suprise 33MHz Model 20 Sparcstation 10 a permanent part of the line (CI No 2,059). The 20 had been brought out to absorb the quantities of low-speed Vikings that the company was getting. Sun still believes that the chip is a leapfrog in integration and will pay a huge dividend by taking the company through 1993 and beyond on a price-performance basis. It would not comment on either its current yield or its backlog. Sun told analysts it reckoned the shortfall in margins and the cost of the Free MP would be cancelled out by higher-than-expected orders for the Model 30 in the current quarter.