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How the Ivy Bridge Transition Will Be Different

For the IT planners and trade-press reporters who are looking for the secret to the transition from today’s Sandy Bridge Intel Core processors to next year’s Ivy Bridge processors, I’ll give you the key: watch the chipsets not the processors. 

Every year, Intel rolls out another mainstream processor line. It’s usually fairly easy to foresee and plan for the transition leading to an IT migration from one year’s product generation to the next. This year was different, and impacted next year as well.

Just after launching Sandy Bridge in January 2011, Intel discovered a bug in silicon that halted the production product rollout for Q1. Most of Intel’s OEM customers delayed their formal Sandy Bridge product introductions until Q2 in order to recall flawed inventory and avoid shipping any more problematic product.

Factor #1 in the Ivy Bridge transition is understanding that the OEMs would like to have a full four quarters of Sandy Bridge sales in order to spread their generational product costs over more volume. So it comes as no huge surprise that the Ivy Bridge volume launch is expected in early Q2 of 2012, a year after Sandy Bridge actual volume ramp.

The second factor is compatibility. There is socket-level compatibility between Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge computers. A Sandy Bridge processor in an Ivy Bridge motherboard will work just fine (as a Sandy Bridge). (And an Ivy Bridge processor will work like a Sandy Bridge in a Sandy Bridge motherboard if the BIOS is updated and the OEM makes it happen. But that’s not today’s blog story).

The critical third factor is the chipset, a piece of silicon sold with every Intel processor to handle I/O and management functions. Most Ivy Bridge chipsets, Intel says, will support either a Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge processor. With the Ivy Bridge chipset, PC OEMs can stage their transition to the Ivy Bridge generation with a smooth supply chain as customers and market demand dictate. And the OEMs will do just that.

At its Q3 earning call with financial analysts in October, Intel said that Ivy Bridge was shipping for revenue production in fourth quarter. So, all the ingredients are now in place.

I expect to see Ivy Bridge-compatible motherboards from ODMs like Asus and MSI in the next few weeks. The major PC OEMs such as H-P, Lenovo, Dell, and Acer will begin slowly transitioning to PCs made with Ivy Bridge chipsets and Sandy Bridge processors — for those end customers that allow or don’t care about the substitution.

For this year only, I’d recommend that IT planners do an early qualification of Ivy Bridge motherboards with Sandy Bridge processors. Normally, there would be genrational incompatibility issues or it would make sense to wait until all the pieces are in place.

In Q2-2012 of my recommended scenario, IT will have a shortened qualification for the Ivy Bridge processors on the already qualified Ivy Bridge motherboards. With this plan, IT will be able to buy either Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge processors well into 2011 depending on price and availability.

So, motherboards with Ivy Bridge chipsets will be the harbinger of next year’s transition.

Ivy Bridge Ultrabook Samples Shown at IDF 2011


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