February 08, 2011, 9:31 PM — Remember those faulty Sandy Bridge 6-Series chipsets that Intel owned up to--the ones that caused a massive product recall that's been delaying the rollout of new computers built around Sandy Bridge processors?
Well, Intel has changed its mind about the recall. Kinda. It's now letting some manufacturers buy the faulty stock, but only if the computers they build won't be impacted by the flaw.
I can't decide whether this is genius or insanity.
Here's the case for genius: The exact flaw relates to two specific SATA 3 Gbps data lines offered by the chipset but the chipset has other SATA lines too. In a notebook computer, for example, only two 6Gbps SATA connections will ever get used--one for the hard disk and one for the optical drive. There won't even be the physical sockets for any additional SATA storage. So if manufacturers don't use the faulty ports, they'll have a fully functioning computer.
Additionally, Intel is probably selling the "faulty" silicon for a knock-down price, and that could mean lower-priced yet cutting-edge hardware for all of us (hooray!).
Here's the case for insanity. Intel has effectively tiered its 6-Series "Cougar Point" chipsets into two ranges: broken and fixed. If you buy a new computer with a Sandy Bridge chip in the coming year, you will have to ask the sales representative if it has the good or bad chipset.
Is Intel going to change its "Intel Inside" stickers to read "Fixed Intel Inside?" (If AMD wants to use that joke, they'll have to get in touch with my agent.)
None of this is new or even surprising. Chip manufacturers love to recycle silicon that's not 100% effective. The slower chips in a CPU product range are in all likelihood fast chips that failed testing at higher speeds. This is perfectly acceptable, because the chips are sold as slower chips and function correctly for years.
And provided the flaw is worked around, the 6-Series chipsets will function perfectly well for many years, too.
There's also an environmental argument here that appeals to me. Silicon chips take masses of energy and natural resources to produce, and suddenly not all the faulty 6-Series chipsets are going to landfill. I'm almost tempted to buy one of the "faulty" chipsets to encourage this kind of creative thinking.