Intel pulls a fast one in Sandy Bridge fiasco

Thinking of buying an i5- or i7-based PC? Check the motherboard first. Intel intends to continue selling the defective chip sets

If you're thinking about buying an i5- or i7-based PC any time in the next few months, there's a little slight of hand you need to know about.

Last week in my Tech Watch blog I told you about Intel's Sandy Bridge woes: Intel shipped its fancy new i5 and i7 chip sets with faulty transistors. In its haste to reuse an old design, Intel shipped 8 million chip sets with transistors that are subject to failure. When the transistors start wearing out, they clobber the SATA 2 port on the motherboard.

Intel stopped manufacturing the faulty chip sets, and many board manufacturers announced replacement plans to swap out bad mobos for good ones, as soon as they become available.

Now Intel's come up with a plan that makes me wonder what their quality control folks have been smoking. Here's what Intel says:

Both Intel and its customers are focused on delivering the highest quality PC systems based on Intel® 2nd Generation Core® Processors. As a result of these discussions and specific requests from computer makers, Intel is resuming shipments of the Intel® 6 Series chipset for use only in PC system configurations that are not impacted by the design issue.

Only computer makers who have committed to shipping the Intel® 6 Series chipset in PC system configurations that are not impacted by the design issue will be receiving these shipments.

In other words, Intel will keep shipping these faulty chip sets, but only to motherboard manufacturers that promise to put them in systems that don't use the SATA 2 ports. (Note that SATA 3 ports aren't affected by the bug.) It isn't clear -- at least, I couldn't tell by reading the press release -- whether Intel is insisting that the mother board not have any functioning SATA 2 ports or if those ports must be electronically  disconnected or even physically removed. The statement is vague enough that Intel may be shipping faulty chip sets to PC vendors who promise to put their hard drives on the SATA 3 connection, not the SATA 2 connection.

Unless Intel modifies or clarifies its position, here's where you stand. If you buy an i5- or i7- based PC in the next few months, the motherboard may have this basic defect. Chances are good you won't bump into the SATA 2 problem -- depending on how Intel defines "not impacted" -- but if you install a SATA 2 device in the future, that device may some day start misbehaving. If you do anything else that requires a SATA 2 connection, maybe you'll get lucky -- or maybe you won't. The description we have at this point isn't detailed enough to tell what kind of restrictions will be put in place and how Intel will monitor those 8 million chip sets to make sure they're treated properly.

Kind of makes you feel warm and fuzzy about Intel, doesn't it?

No way I'm going to touch an i5 or i7 PC until the new chip sets are out and the mobo is specifically identified as running a "B3 stepping" chip set. Those are the good ones.

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