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How long a wait for PCs, Macs with fixed Intel chip?

New PCs and Macs with Sandy Bridge chips had been expected to flood the market over the next weeks and months. But Intel's chipset glitch has thrown a wrench into the works.

How long is the wait for new PCs and Macs packing fixed versions of Intel's latest and greatest silicon? That question has PC makers, not to mention performance junkies, on tenterhooks.

Update: Note that Intel updated the shipment status on Monday after this article was posted.

Sandy Bridge is Intel's first full 32-nanometer processor and boasts improved graphics.
Sandy Bridge is Intel's first full 32-nanometer processor and boasts improved graphics. Intel

Intel announced on January 31 that it had stopped shipments of the "Cougar Point" chipset that accompanies its second-generation Intel Core ("Sandy Bridge") processor owing to a flaw that can affect access to a hard-disk drive, optical drive, or other device that connects to a computer using SATA technology.

Launched at this year's CES, Sandy Bridge--or "Second Generation Intel Core Processor"--is the first mainstream Intel chip to integrate graphics silicon directly onto the processor, allowing Intel to improve power efficiency as well as multimedia and gaming capabilities.

How long will it take Intel to get back up to speed?
Intel VP Stephen Smith's response to a question during a conference call on January 31 to discuss the chipset glitch provides probably the best idea of how long the delay will be for the Sandy Bridge dual-core chips that most consumers will get with their systems.

"We were planning to launch those mainstream systems with dual core in a few weeks. And this will likely push out the window of launch a few weeks relative to our plans," he said.

Smith continued. "And we need to understand from the OEMs [PC makers] how quickly they can refill their pipelines with this new Cougar Point chipset and get that into their build. Our expectation is that that can happen fairly quickly because really those lines are already set up for Sandy Bridge ramp. But net-net effect of launch is probably measured in a few weeks."

That sounds a lot like late this month at the earliest.

And what are PC makers saying about schedules?
Not much. PC makers are, for the most part, releasing details on systems that have been affected. Dell, for instance, said it pulled four systems, including desktops and laptops. Toshiba also listed a bevy of laptops that are being yanked from sales.

Hewlett-Packard is providing, by way of its online sales site, probably one of the most precise delivery target dates. An HP Pavilion dv7tqe laptop with a Sandy Bridge processor is now listed with a shipment date of March 4--roughly a month from now. Other Pavilion Sandy Bridge-based laptops also have a March 4 shipment date.

And note that HP's March date is for laptops with quad-core Sandy Bridge processors. The quad-core versions were the first Sandy Bridge chips shipped from Intel and configurations have been available with those processors from some PC makers since January. On the other hand, dual-core Sandy Bridge systems were not shipping from top-tier laptop vendors at the time of Intel's announcement on January 31 so estimated shipment dates are even less clear.

PC makers such as Panasonic and Fujitsu had made announcements in Japan for laptops with dual-core Core i5 Sandy Bridge chips slated for "spring." How the recall will affect these systems is unknown.

And retailers?
Retailers like Best Buy have been literally pulling Sandy Bridge systems off the shelves, scrubbing their online sale sites of systems, and postponing shipments that were expected to arrive in the near future. That said, for now, HP's online ordering estimates are probably a reasonable ETA for retailers.

A representative at Fry's Electronics in Palo Alto, Calif.--a major electronics retailer--told CNET yesterday that Intel had announced that replacements for motherboards with Sandy Bridge silicon should be out by the end of February.

What about Apple MacBooks and Macs in general?
Apple does not have any Sandy Bridge-based systems, nor has it announced any. Apple's MacBook lineup, for instance, consists of old Core 2 Duo processors (MacBook, MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro) and last-generation Core i5 and i7 processors (15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros). To be fair, last-generation Core i5 and i7 processors comprise the preponderance of laptop processors at PC vendors like HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Sony. So, with the exception of the small form factor MacBooks, Apple's processor lineup is no different from the PC guys.

But there have been fairly cogent arguments made and rumors floated that a Sandy Bridge MacBook refresh would hit soon. So, the question is, how far does this push out a highly probable future rollout of Sandy Bridge-based models? If Apple was planning a February or March refresh, then there are obvious delays. If the rollout was planned for late spring or early summer, then the delay would probably be minimal.

This schedule would also apply to Apple's iMac, for example, which currently uses last-generation Core i3 and Core i5 chips.

Sandy Bridge is a (very) new processor line:
Remember that Intel caught this glitch in the chipset early. Sandy Bridge was just announced in January and systems had just begun to make it to retailers and PC makers' online ordering databases. And those first Sandy Bridge systems were not mass-market but rather pricey, high-end PCs that relatively few people would buy. So, we may never know with any certainty how long unannounced systems from companies like HP, Dell, and Apple were delayed.

Updated at at 3:20 p.m. PST: adding information about Sandy Bridge shipping status update.