Uncertainties Abound: Intel, AMD May Both Delay Next-Generation CPUs

AMD and Intel are both preparing to launch new CPU architectures between now and the end of the year, but rumors have surfaced that suggest the two companies may delay their product introductions, albeit for different reasons. Taiwanese site DigiTimes refers to various unnamed "PC Players" who have apparently reported that Intel may push back the introduction of its Ivy Bridge processors from the end of 2011 to late Q1/early Q2 2012.

Ivy Bridge is a 'tick' in Intel's tick/tock model; the 22nm die shrink of Sandy Bridge that's scheduled to incorporate an improved DX11-capable graphics core, support for PCI-Express 3.0, and will incorporate Intel's Tri-Gate 3D transistor technology. The article claims that Intel is considering pushing back the Ivy Bridge introduction and slowing its rate of capital investment. The company originally budgeted $500 million to upgrade its Fab 24 facility to 22nm but has apparently changed its timeline; an Intel spokesperson told Forbes this week that "as of today we are not planning to build 22 nm at Fab 24.” DigiTimes and Forbes both chalk up this strategy shift towards concerns that PC demand is weakening and that the second half of 2011 may not be as strong as the company initially expected.

Logically, the explanation fits, but it's not how Intel typically does business. The company has historically chosen to invest and innovate its way out of recessions and often refers to such events as economic opportunities. While other companies emphasize cost-cutting, Intel often goes out of its way to announce new plans for capital investment or to highlight its expansion into developing markets.

This makes us rather dubious that the company would delay Ivy Bridge and cancel a planned 22nm upgrade simply due to weaker-than-expected PC demand. If the rumors of delay are accurate, it's much more likely that the company is taking additional time to polish its 22nm technology prior to launch. Its Tri-Gate technology introduces a new variable at the 22nm node and Ivy Bridge's mobile focus may mean the company is making sure it can launch a full line of CPUs at very low TDPs.

Could Dozer Be Dozing?

Meanwhile on the other side of the CPU pasture, there are rumors that AMD's Bulldozer might slip once again. In this case, the rumor appears to be based on the fact that AMD hasn't officially confirmed that it shipped its upcoming server-class Bulldozer products for revenue during August. This is possible, but seems somewhat unlikely. The CPU's anticipated launch date is already close enough that the company should already know if it can launch the product or not; waiting until now to announce a delay isn't something Wall Street would take kindly.

Moreover, AMD has been fairly transparent about its launch dates and delays ever since the badly botched launch of the original K10-based Phenom processor back in 2007. Llano has been shipping for revenue for several months, and we're not aware of any 32nm production troubles at GlobalFoundries. If the chip has been delayed, AMD could take more damage from refusing to admit it than from missing the window--Bulldozer won't have an impact on Q3 finances regardless of whether it launches in September or October, and the pre-Christmas season will only have a modest impact on AMD's year-long financials.