February 01, 2011, 12:46 PM — Intel's Sandy Bridge chipset is probably still going to force a major change in the microprocessor market, but the disruption may be put off a bit following Intel's revelation of a major flaw in the chipset that could cause five percent of computers running it to fail within three years.
The big deal about Sandy Bridge was that it incorporated GPU functions that would go a long way toward eliminating the need for add-on graphics cards, mostly from Nvidia, at least for mid-range machines.
Despite the newness of the function and the likelihood that it's the new tech that will fail in a product that incorporates both new and old technology, it's not the PCI Express modules or the Core processor that is flawed.
The flaw is a weakness in the 3Gbit/sec SATA ports that are part of the adjoined "Cougar Point" Intel 6-Series Platform Controller Hub (PCH) chip that handles connections between the main processor to the rest of the devices on the motherboard.
It showed up during testing not at Intel, but at OEMs that were stress-testing the new chipset with heat and high voltage before building them into their own products.
Under pressure, and possibly under heavy flow of data across the SATA connections, those connections can fail at the hardware layer, meaning all the motherboards with the P67 or H67 versions of the PCH have to be replaced.
Intel promises to have replacements on the way out the door in late February and be up to full-volume shipping by April.
It has shipped just short of 8 million Sandy Bridge chipsets, and will have to recall more than 100,000, at a cost of about $700,000.
That's bad financial news, but not horrible for a company the size of Intel.
The problem doesn't affect the Core processor at the heart of the chipset, which means it's not even properly the center of the Sandy Bridge processor, which are or will soon ship as the Core i5, Core i7 and Core i3 chips.