Mobo makers caught off guard by 6-series chipset issue


— 12:45 PM on January 31, 2011

We know that at least one major player in the motherboard industry was "completely surprised" by Intel's 6-series chipset flaw. Indeed, the fact that none of the big motherboard makers are ready with official statements on the issue suggests that they were notified of the problem only recently. That's not entirely unexpected given that Intel says it first discovered something was amiss last week and only just last night decided to halt chipset shipments.

Intel has already allotted $700 million to cover the cost of repair and replacements. However, because the flaw in question requires a "metal-layer change" to the chipset, any repair would seem to require swapping silicon. We don't yet know how motherboard makers will facilitate replacements or repairs, but Intel won't start delivering its new chipset stepping until the end of February. The chip giant expects "volume recovery" in late March or April, and it could take that long for existing Sandy Bridge users to get fixed hardware in their hands.

Fortunately, there appears to be no serious danger associated with using 6-series chipsets in the interim. The flaw is only expected to cause bit errors and port failures in roughly 5% of systems—although Intel cites notebook usage patterns for this stat—over a typical three-year lifespan, and it purportedly won't harm attached devices like hard drives or SSDs. Temperature is named as a contributing factor, which leads me to suspect that desktop implementations may be more resilient than their mobile counterparts.

Folks who wish to avoid the issue can always use the 6-series chipsets' dual 6Gbps Serial ATA ports, as only the old-school 3Gbps ports are affected by the bug. The problem is limited to the chipset itself, so the auxiliary storage controllers featured on many enthusiast-oriented motherboards should work as advertised.

We've contacted mobo makers for their official response and asked how customers who bought affected products will be handled. We'll publish additional details as we receive them.

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