In this blog post Bob Cringley recounts the following story (abriged for brevity here):

There was a time in the early 1980s when Intel suffered terrible quality problems. [..] The problem was caused by dust, the major enemy of computer chip makers.

[The blank wafers were made by Monsanto, who worked hard to ensure that their wafers were dust-free. This didn't solve the problem.]

Monsanto engineers hired a private investigator to tail the next shipment of wafers to Intel. Their private eye uncovered an Intel shipping clerk who was opening incoming boxes of super-clean silicon wafers and then counting out the wafers by hand into piles on his super-unclean desktop, just to make sure that Bob Noyce was getting every silicon wafer he was paying for.

This is a nice little story about the perils of running a giant company, which makes me suspicious; it smells of urban legend. I haven't been able to find any other report of this story, so I'm wondering if anyone knows the truth about this. Did it really happen?

Edit: The story is taken from Cringley's 1996 book Accidental Empires.

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    It does seem very fishy that a major company like that wouldn't have measures in place to prevent such expensive parts from being opened in a non clean environment.
    – Joe W
    Jul 26, 2020 at 19:38
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    I read that story probably 30 years ago, including the bit about “making sure the CEO got all the wafers he was paying for”, and I think it was in a book, but I can’t really remember. Obviously can’t say if it’s true or not, but definitely something that wasn’t made up recently. @Joe I bet nobody ever thought that kind of thing could happen. It was a completely unanticipated threat vector. Wouldn’t happen again because now Intel (or TMSC or whoever) knows the story.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 27, 2020 at 14:50
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    @gnasher729 I question how it could be an unanticipated threat vector as I question how it would not be noticed that the items where unpacked before they made it into the clean rooms that are setup for production. Are you suggesting that no one would question why the boxes are getting opened before that point?
    – Joe W
    Jul 27, 2020 at 15:00
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    @gnasher729 On the website Cringley says that this story is taken from his book "Accidental Empires" (amazon.com/Accidental-Empires-Silicon-Millions-Competition/dp/…) Would it be that one? Jul 28, 2020 at 11:06
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    The story is probably BS. What is real is that Intel received NSF funding to measure other companies wafer quality. books.google.com/books?id=WlgTAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA112 (an Monstanto's wafers were found inferior to the Japanese ones.) Jul 29, 2020 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


An earlier source is The Mac Almanac (1994 by Sharon Zardetto Aker) (alternative link) at page 390:

At one point (the actual point is obscured by the mists of time—call it a couple of decades ago), the Intel company blamed its poor production yields of computer chips on Monsanto, the company providing silicon wafers used to make the chips. Monsanto already had a spic and span facility, but it spent several millions of dollars in research and revamping. To no avail: Intel's yields were still very low, despite Intel's also-immaculate environment.

Monsanto got tired of being unfairly blamed for the contaminants. Someone at the company had a brainstorm: if neither company was at fault, why not check what was happening to the wafers during shipment? Ah ha! A clerk at Intel, upon receiving each shipment of wafers, opened the boxes and counted the wafers by (presumably dirty) hand to make sure they were all there.

  • Yes, I heard this story several years ago. Sep 26, 2021 at 1:23

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