When, a month or so ago, Intel discovered a long-term problem with just one transistor on one chip used in their new Sandy Bridge Motherboard chipset, the discovery must have been of extreme concern to the company. Many of their computer chips had already been built into fast new motherboards, and these had been delivered by manufacturers to dealers who had sold many of them to the public as part of their new range of coveted Sandy Bridge powered PCs.
Reviewers have been full of praise for this new Intel chipset, but would it all now turn sour from bad publicity?
The problem was not likely to become apparent to users for some time, as it arose from a transistor in one of the SATA (hard drive) interfaces which was found to be being supplied with the incorrect voltage. Over time this component will degrade as a result, but until it does, computers with this latent defect will run without difficulty.
To Intel’s credit they decided to instigate a recall of all the faulty boards with their unfortunate chipset installed, and they have arranged with all manufacturers that the offending chip is removed and an updated replacement chipset is put back. For a period, while replacement motherboard chipsets could be manufactured, retailers have been holding back on sales of these new PCs.
However, they should be back on sale with the problem chip replaced, by about now.
Chipset replacement will be done to all existing computer systems via the stores and online suppliers that sold them. Intel clearly wasted no time to manufacture substitute chips and those have been delivered to the electronics industry motherboard fabricators. The result is that reports from within the computer manufacturing industry suggest that things had gone smoothly and now there should be stocks available for sale, of the new (revised chipset) equipped PCs.
Laptops are generally not affected by this problem.
Intel has estimated that the recall will cost them about $300 million for the cessation of the production facility and re-commence output of the new (fault free) chips, but that is only part of their costs. A further $700 million has been estimated as their costs for the replacement of the existing affected hardware.
With computer hardware now being so complicated, with such high demands on its performance, it is amazing how seldom such problems as this one occur, and the maturity of a company like Intel in undertaking the recall on a fault yet to be seen by users, is commendable.
The recall has been handled well and relationships with the motherboard manufacturers faced with removing the faulty chipsets from every board and re-soldering the new versions back in, remain good. Although from now on it will be the motherboard manufacturers which will bear the brunt of the work.
For the PC buyer, although no sellers should still be selling PC systems with the old chipset installed, you can check by looking out for, or asking, whether the system has “B3 stepping” or “Rev 3” in the product specification, before buying. If it does you are reported to be OK to go ahead and buy one of these speedy new systems.