Intel Identifies Chipset Error on Sandy Bridge Support Chip, Halts Shipments

This morning, Intel announced it had detected a serious error in one of the support chips that ships with its 2nd Generation Core Series CPUs (aka Sandy Bridge), and has stopped shipment of the affected chipsets while it manufactures new versions of the chip for shipment to customers in late February. The company expects full volume recovery in April and, accordingly adjusted its revenue projections lower by about $300 million. Due to the delays in shipping the chipset, OEMs may also choose to delay shipping some or all of the their new Sandy Bridge notebooks, though none of the notebook vendors has commented yet.

The flaw involves a a an Intel Series 6 support chip, code-named Cougar Point, that interacts with SATA-linked devices such as the hard drive and optical drive. On several of a system's SATA ports, faulty metal on the chip  can cause  the signal to degrade over time, leading to errors, reduced speeds, and eventually an inability to read or write from that port.   The problem is undetectable on a new motherboard and only appears on a small percentage of systems - Intel says around 5 percent - over a period of weeks, months, or years.

"It's beyond what we see as our quality standard and decided to take an aggressive action," said Intel Vice President Steve Smith. In a conference all with press and analysts, Smith explained that though no end user has seen the error, Intel discovered the issue and wanted to address it before it could affect users.

The error does not affect the first two SATA ports on the motherboard, which operate at SATA 6 Gb/s speed. It also has no effect on the 2nd Generation Core Series CPU itself or other Intel components.

Considering that 2nd generation Core i5 and Core i7 systems have only been shipping since January 9th, and only in the more expensive quad core format, very few end users should own affected notebooks. However, if you did purchase a 2nd gen Core i5 or Core i7 system in the past few weeks, please contact your manufacturer. Intel will be working with OEMs to provide replacement motherboards as necessary.

Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.