Sandy Bridge recall rippling through the industry

Intel chip-set recall leaves manufacturers scrambling, could bring multi-billion-dollar knock-on effect on hardware and software industries

On Monday Intel announced it had found a fatal flaw in the 6-Series "Cougar Point" chip set used in the new Sandy Bridge processors -- the second-generation i5 and i7 processors many of us have been waiting for. The company immediately stopped shipments of the processors, causing the entire PC manufacturing industry to hold its breath in anticipation of the fallout.

The problem revolves around a bug in the SATA 2 (3Gbps) ports that, over time, can result in extreme slowdowns. Fixing the problem entails swapping out the faulty "B2 stepping" chip set (possibly the entire motherboard) for a "B3 stepping" chip set. Although the defective motherboards were only available between Jan. 9 and Jan. 31, 8 million of them went out the door. It will take months to get enough B3 boards into the pipeline to replace the old ones, and industry analysts figure Intel will spend about $1 billion atoning for its sins.

AnandTech has a thorough technical analysis of the source of the problem -- namely, a transistor that's being fed too much voltage. The transistor is a vestige of an earlier design retained in an engineering oversight, and it can be completely disabled without any ill effect. But in order to disable the transistor, the entire chip set (or motherboard) has to be replaced. There's no rush, though, because the degradation takes years. That's still a rather hard sell for owners of the defective chip sets.

Shoes are starting to drop around the industry.

  • Asus announced it will allow customers to swap or return defective systems.
  • Gigabyte recommends that "customers who purchased GIGABYTE 6 series motherboards contact their local dealer (retail store where you purchased the motherboard) at the end of April for a motherboard exchange."
  • Taiwan-based MSI has stopped producing the affected motherboards. It hasn't come out with a definitive return or replacement strategy, but it does offer a temporary work-around. (With the Chinese Lunar New Year in full swing, every business in Taiwan is closed for the rest of the week.)
  • On the retail systems side, Toshiba has yanked all Sandy Bridge laptops, offering a full refund.
  • Dell has pulled the XPS 8300, Vostro 460, Alienware M17x R3, and Alienware Aurora R3 -- all Sandy Bridge products -- from its website.
  • HP cancelled an industry briefing set for Feb. 10, where the company was expected to include announcements about many new notebooks.

It looks like this little transistor problem will have a multi-billion-dollar knock-on effect on both the hardware and software industries. With the widely anticipated Sandy Bridge processors now held in abeyance, expect to see a significant effect on sales for the major hardware vendors, including Apple and its MacBook Pro. Windows sales should take a hit, too.

If your company's looking to buy a handful of PCs, you might want to consider waiting a couple of months. Supplies of first-generation i5 and i7 PCs have to be stretched to cover the Sandy Bridge gap. While your friendly hardware salesperson would've been glad to sell old first-generation i5 and i7 stock last week, this week the tide has changed. Best to bide your time.

This article, "Sandy Bridge recall rippling through the industry," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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