Fixed Intel chip to ship in mid-February

The chipmaker last week stopped shipments of the "Cougar Point" chipset that accompanies its Sandy Bridge processor. Now it says it has a fix for the flaw.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read
Intel Sandy Bridge

Intel said today it would begin shipments of fixed Sandy Bridge chipsets in mid-February.

The chipmaker announced a week ago that it had stopped shipments of the "Cougar Point"--aka, the Intel 6 series--chipset that accompanies its second-generation Intel Core ("Sandy Bridge") processor owing to a flaw that can affect, in a small percentage of systems, access to a hard-disk drive, optical drive, or other device that connects to a computer using SATA technology.

"Intel has started manufacturing on a new version of this support chip. Intel now expects to begin shipping the new parts in mid-February," Intel said today.

The chipmaker also said that after "extensive discussions with computer makers...Intel is resuming shipments of the Intel 6 Series Chipset for use only in PC system configurations that are not impacted by the design issue."

"Several customers [PC makers] still wanted to buy the current [not fixed] version of the Cougar Point chipset to continue Sandy Bridge sales. They will work closely with Intel to ensure 'known good' configs," an Intel spokesman said in an e-mail.

The issue affects SATA ports 2 through 5, not ports 0 and 1. Therefore, some laptops, which use only those two "good" ports, for example, would not be affected, according to Intel. In more technical terms, the affected ports 2 through 5 are 3 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) SATA 2 ports. The "good" (0 and 1) ports are 6Gbps SATA 3 ports. In a small percentage of systems performance degradation may occur on the "bad" ports.

The glitch caught the PC industry and retail channel by surprise. PC makers and retailers, who were just beginning to transition their laptop and desktop lineups to systems based on the Sandy Bridge processor, had to bring sales to an abrupt halt last week.

Retailers like Best Buy had been literally pulling Sandy Bridge systems off the shelves, while PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard had pushed out shipment dates for the first Sandy Bridge laptops until March.

PC makers are eager to ship systems with the latest Intel processor because it offers improved power efficiency and better performance. In particular, it speeds up gaming graphics and multimedia tasks at virtually no extra cost because the graphics silicon is built directly onto the main processor--a first for an Intel mainstream chip.

And a highly-anticipated Sandy Bridge update for Apple's MacBook line is also due. A prolonged delay due to the glitch had the potential for thwarting Apple's plans.

But with Intel's updated schedule of mid-February for fixed chipset shipments, consumers can rest easy that delays will be relatively brief and painless, according to Intel.

Luckily, Sandy Bridge is a new processor line and Intel was able to catch the glitch in the chipset early. And on another serendipitous note, most of the systems with the flawed chipset had been shipping in relatively small numbers, as they were not mass-market but rather pricey, high-end PCs that relatively few people would buy.

See related CNET article.

Updated at 2:50 p.m. PT and again at 4:15 p.m. throughout.