When Intel announced last week that it had detected a problem with a support chip that affects the SATA ports on its new 2nd-Generation Core series (aka Sandy Bridge) motherboards, the notebook industry seemed paralyzed. Though the scope of the problem is small and no end user has been affected, delays in shipping new motherboards without the problem chipset seemed likely to cascade through the supply chain, leading most notebook vendors to delay their new releases until well into the spring. We even heard from a number of vendors who either cancelled press events or told us they would be unable to send us promised review units because of the bug.
However, today, Intel revealed that it is working with a number of vendors and who have found workarounds that will allow them to use the affected motherboards without compromising quality. This means that the vendors will be able to release their new notebooks as scheduled or, at least, sooner than they would have. It also means that you'll be able to buy Sandy Bridge notebooks again in the very near future.
Because the chipset error does not affect the first two SATA ports on the motherboard, Intel has agreed to resume shipments of the affected boards as long as OEMs promise not to use the other four ports. On notebooks, the only devices that attach to SATA ports are the hard drives, optical drives, and eSATA ports. Considering that most notebooks have just one hard drive, one optical drive, and no eSATA ports, most systems should be able to ship without a problem. Notebooks that have dual hard drives or eSATA ports can still ship as long as the vendor uses a third-party SATA controller card for those extra ports.
An Intel spokesman was not at liberty to disclose the names of vendors who plan to use the workaround and, thus far, no vendors have announced whether they intend to use this solution or wait for Intel to ship the revised version of its motherboards. He was also unable to tell us exactly when notebooks with the workaround would start shipping. However, this is great news for anyone who wants to purchase notebook in the next few weeks, because it looks like we'll be seeing more product hit the shelves, without compromising quality.