Intel wants bad chips back

Chipmaker needs to check for manufacturing errors in a component of its highly touted new desktop PC chipsets.

John G. Spooner
John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
2 min read
A manufacturing error has Intel calling back a number of controller chips for its Express 915 and 925 desktop PC chipsets introduced Monday.

The error, or "fab excursion" in Intel parlance, creates an electrical problem in a chip known as the ICH6. The problem can cause a computer to freeze or fail to start up, an Intel representative said Friday. The ICH6 chip, or integrated controller hub 6, works with the chipset and controls data input and output for desktop PCs.

Intel credits one of its customers, who alerted the chipmaker about PCs seizing up, for helping to discover the error before Monday's launch of the components and some computers that use them. After an investigation that involved Intel dissecting the chips, company spokesman Howard High said, the chipmaker began contacting customers that purchased ICH6 manufacturing lots that might contain the affected chips. Intel has asked those customers to send the lots back for testing.

The ICH6 manufacturing problem was first reported by the computer enthusiast Web site HardOCP.com.

The manufacturing glitch may dim the chipsets' luster somewhat, even though Intel said that it caught the problem relatively early and that the problem is likely to affect only a small number of motherboards or PCs. One Intel executive had described the 915 and 925 chipsets as one of the most significant platforms that Intel has introduced in the last 12 years.

Intel believes that chips affected by the manufacturing error were contained within its own distribution network and within PC and motherboard manufacturers, making it unlikely for a PC or motherboard with the affected ICH6 to reach a consumer or a business, High said.

"We think there's almost no product that's gone out to end-users," High said. "It's captured at a place where we can get the product and check it, make sure it's up to our standards and, if not, replace it with another product."

Widespread manufacturing errors by Intel are rare. The chipmaker prides itself on its manufacturing and uses a procedure called "copy exactly," through which it launches identical chip manufacturing processes and procedures across its network of manufacturing plants.

Errata, or chip design errors, which can also cause problems in PCs, are reported more frequently than manufacturing errors. A chipset erratum delayed the launch of Intel's first Pentium 4, for example, during 2000. Intel usually creates workarounds for major errata, then fixes the problems in subsequent revisions of its chips.