Intel’s Sandy Bridge was for long a secret. It slowly materialized into bits and leaks in the form of performance numbers. It all came true for PC enthusiasts at CES this year and it seemed like a success, more or less, for Intel. It was a perfect New Year’s gift for those who were waiting to replace their dual core processors with the new faster Core i5s and Core i7s. A new socket was devised for the new processors and to implement this, new chipsets, specifically the P67 and H67 were designed. If you’ve been following the news over the last week or so, you would have heard about Intel’s major goofup with these new chipsets.

The noise is about the issue with Intel’s new 6 series of chipsets which have a flaw in the SATA component. The symptoms start off with some performance loss but could eventually cause all the SATA 3 Gbps (SATA 2.0) ports to fail over time. The ports 2 -5 are the ones affected in this case. The ports are numbered differently for boards from other manufacturers. There are no issues with the SATA 6 Gbps (SATA 3.0) ports. The problem cannot be fixed by a BIOS update and requires a hardware fix. If you’ve bought a Sandy Bridge processor recently, there is a chance you might be affected.  Intel’s B2 stepping of the H67 and P67 are the ones hit by this issue.

Sandy Bridge over Troubled Waters

Sandy Bridge over Troubled Waters

Most of the motherboard manufacturers have come out with official announcements. The only solution for manufacturers is to stop selling those boards for the time being. Boards that have been shipped out are also being called back.

If you’re one of those affected, you may be able to get a replacement for the motherboard from the manufacturer. Look up your motherboard manufacturer’s site for information on the steps to do so. Gigabyte has designed a tool that helps users identify if their Gigabyte motherboards have the SATA issue or not. Other manufacturers such as ASUS have pages setup that have the list of affected products. MSI too has a similar page set up for the purpose.

Manufacturers are claiming that the fresh batch of motherboards will only start flowing in anywhere between the end of February and sometime in April. This is of course assuming that Intel’s batches of B3 stepping chipsets are supplied on time to the motherboard manufacturers. Manufacturing has already begun.

There are many companies affected. It’s not just the motherboard manufacturers who will have to fix these issues. Remember that laptops based on the Sandy Bridge laptops were also built. Fortunately, the number of Sandy Bridge powered laptops in comparison to motherboards is fewer, so replacement and fixes will be somewhat quicker and cheaper.

As a customer, is there the need to panic? If you haven’t bought a Sandy Bridge board yet, it would be advisable to wait a month or so till official B3 stepping boards hit the market. If you’ve already got yourself a P67 or H67 board, replacing the board as soon as possible isn’t absolutely necessary. If you are using the SATA 3Gbps ports, you might notice a tiny hit in performance with hard drive intensive applications. If you want to play it safe, you could switch over to the SATA 6Gbps ports for the time being. You can go claim a replacement from your manufacturers once the new boards are available freely. Like we said earlier, it’ll still be a month or two before that happens.

If Intel is to be taken seriously on their claims, the chances of the typical desktop users getting affected are tiny. At the same time, people have jumped the gun. We’ve all experienced poor quality products at some point of time or the other. Random reboots, blue screens, and compatibility issues were problems caused by bugs in a motherboard. Those bugs could’ve been fixed through BIOS updates and were rarely ever.

A recall based on minor performance drop in rare cases is something that seems blown out of proportion. Intel will spend close to $700 million in the process of replacing the chipsets. Intel introduced that press release on the lines of “As part of ongoing quality assurance, Intel Corporation has discovered a design issue in a recently released support chip”. A mess this size should have been averted by the number of tests done before a chipset goes into mass production. The discovery of such a glitch at this stage comes as a hit to Intel’s quarterly earnings and also its reputation.

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