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.

  • 2
    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 at 19:38
  • 2
    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 at 14:50
  • 1
    @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 at 15:00
  • 1
    @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? – Paul Johnson Jul 28 at 11:06
  • @JoeW I agree there are lots of obvious questions; wouldn't Monsanto have labelled the packages with "Only to be opened in clean-room conditions"? How did this 3rd party private eye gain access to Intel's goods inwards bay? But I'm looking for evidence. – Paul Johnson Jul 28 at 15:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .