Update: Unedited desktop vendor responses added to the bottom of the post. We'll add more as they come in.
Following the news this morning about the serial-ATA chip flaw in Intel's new Sandy Bridge-supporting chipsets, we immediately thought of the two (soon to be three) Sandy Bridge-powered PC's we've reviewed since the January 9 launch.
In addition to the PCs we've gotten our hands on from Falcon Northwest and Origin (and soon Maingear), virtually every other large and small desktop vendor has been shipping Sandy Bridge-equipped PCs for the past few weeks.
In light of this chipset flaw, whether you've spent $5,000 on a gaming system or $1,000 on a more modest desktop or all-on-one, you'd be right to want to know whether you need to send your system back, as well as who is going to pay for and parts, labor, or shipping costs.
First, the problem. According to Intel: "In some cases, the Serial-ATA (SATA) ports within the chipsets may degrade over time, potentially impacting the performance or functionality of SATA-linked devices such as hard disk drives and DVD-drives."
A vendor who requested anonymity (Update: Intel is now on the record with the details of the flaw) told us the problem actually affects serial ATA ports two through five on a six-port motherboard. The affected ports are all Serial ATA II, so if you ordered a higher-end Serial ATA III/6.0 hard drive (and the vendor connected it to the right port), you should be safe (upgrade path anxieties not withstanding). If you do have components connected to the afflicted ports, we're told you may not ever see the issue. Intel told Anandtech regarding the frequency of the flaw: "over 3 years of use it would see a failure rate of approximately 5 - 15% depending on usage model." If the issue does manifest itself, you will experience slower read and write performance, but data integrity, according to Intel, won't be an issue.
If the flaw does indeed occur irregularly, and over time, it may not be something we can reliably test for ourselves on current Sandy Bridge boards. We didn't notice performance issues on the three Sandy Bridge systems we've already tested. If there's no guarantee that you will ever encounter the problem, you may even want to gamble, rather than suffer the downtime and general hassle of shipping your new system back for repair, especially when it's unclear how long you'll have to wait before the replacement motherboards are ready.
On the other hand, whether you've spent $5,000 or $1,000 on a brand new desktop, you'd be right to want to feel confident that your new PC will deliver the performance and reliability you paid for.
As to who will pay for a return or motherboard replacement, we have asked several vendors for comment. From what we gather, this news was a surprise to most, if not all of them, and they are still working out details with Intel regarding the particulars of any recall. Following are the responses from each desktop vendor we've heard from so far. Don't interpret the absence of comment as a sign that a vendor will be unresponsive, however.
We recently began shipping models with the affected Intel chipsets to our retail and e-tail customers, and we're currently working with these partners to determine whether any end-users have received these systems. We will be collaborating with Intel to rework any systems with the affected parts, and we expect to have an update by end of day tomorrow about any potential impact to consumers and the associated recall plan, should one be required. Because we are still early in the launch cycle for our Sandy Bridge product line, we expect the impact to Acer's business and our customers to be minimal.
Everyone is affected by this development, especially us as we are the top manufacturer of motherboards besides our notebook and AIO business. Certain notebooks will be affected and we will have those details tomorrow.
Asus updated us today (2/2/2011), with this link to a lengthy response on its press site.
Dell and Intel are in communication regarding the design issue in the recently released Intel 6 Series (Sandy Bridge) support chip, code-name Cougar Point. This affects four currently-available Dell products, the XPS 8300, the Vostro 460, the Alienware M17x R.3 and the Alienware Aurora R.3, as well as several other planned products including XPS 17 with 3D. We're committed to addressing this with customers who have already purchased one of the four products and will provide further details on this as it becomes available.
HP is working with Intel and our distribution partners to address this industrywide issue. The issue relates to only a small fraction of HP PCs sold or ordered since on or about 9 January 2011 when the Intel technology became available commercially. HP and Intel are working together to minimize any inconvenience to customers.
For HP, the issue is primarily limited to certain consumer notebooks and certain consumer desktops. One commercial desktop PC model marketed to small business customers in the Europe-Middle East-Africa region is affected. No other commercial desktop products currently shipping are affected. No HP commercial notebooks, ProLiant servers or workstations are affected.
To deliver a high-quality experience to our customers, on 31 January 2011 HP stopped manufacturing products with the affected Intel technology and initiated a shipment hold on products in HP and channel inventory.
Customers can return their affected product and choose a comparable product or receive a refund.
We will continue to work closely with Intel and our retail partners to address the needs of our customers.
In response to how it will respond to customers who have purchased Intel-made motherboards at retail with the affected chipsets:
All we are saying now publicly is here: http://newsroom.intel.com/community/intel_newsroom/blog/2011/01/31/intel-identifies-chipset-design-error-implementing-solution?cid=rss-258152-c1-264102
As you may have seen, Intel today issued a press release concerning their discovery of a design issue in their recently released support chip, the Intel 6 Series, code-named "Cougar Point, and has implemented a silicon fix. Possible Lenovo models affected may include the latest generation of IdeaPad laptops. Of these, we have shipped approximately 10,000 units with the affected Intel chip worldwide. Lenovo is working with Intel on the technical details and will have an update as soon as possible. In the meantime, we want to reassure our customers that Lenovo stands behind its products. If any Lenovo products are affected by this issue, we will work with our customers to find an appropriate remedy.
Today we were made aware of an issue with Intel's Sandy Bridge platform, Cougar Point. This issue relates to the chips used in all P67 and H67 motherboards compatible with Sandy Bridge processors, but it does NOT affect the Sandy Bridge processor itself.
It should be emphasized that Maingear has over one man year of testing and validation invested in Sandy Bridge and we have not see one instance of this issue in any test platform or customer system. Furthermore, we were just made aware of this issue this morning by Intel, and NOBODY, not a single motherboard partner, OEM, or integrator has had any information on this prior to today.
Customers who have a system today should not worry and may continue to use their system. When we have our replacement motherboards in March, we will pay shipping back and forth and of course cover the labor costs associated with swapping out the motherboard. All current Sandy Bridge customers will have their motherboard warranty extended to 3 years from the date of purchase as well, covering the new motherboard.
Alternatively, customers who have a Sandy Bridge system but do not want to send it back in, and customers who have yet to have their system ship but want it to ship immediately are eligible to receive, at no charge, a SATA 3G discrete hard drive controller so they may be able to expand their storage as needed without utilizing the affected SATA ports 2-5.
Customers who have yet to receive their system may alternatively call in to have their order halted until we get replacement motherboards in March.
Maingear will have more information as the situation develops.
We are working closely with Intel and ASUS on all motherboards that we have in the field that are affected. We are proactively contacting customers to provide a replacement motherboard and all costs including parts, shipping, and labor will be covered by ORIGIN as per our standard warranty coverage.
Puget Systems has a lengthy response written up on its Web site. You can read it here.
Sony has not shipped any Sandy Bridge systems with the affected chipset. We are currently in discussions with Intel, but we are not in a position to comment on the specifics.
Intel has announced a potential failure in a section of the SATA controller in the newly released Cougar Point chipset. This potential failure will not affect the majority of systems we have produced that have only one or two hard drives and a single optical drive due to the various other SATA configuration options used on our motherboards. For some other systems, it is theoretical that a future potential problem exists that may slow the performance of the system over time. Our lab testing over the past many months has never produced the degraded performance that may potentially exist, but we recognize the future potential is real and respect Intel's advice to notify customers of the issue. Velocity Micro is working with Intel and our customers to identify the best course of action to satisfy each customer. We will be contacting customers individually to discuss the appropriate course of action by providing our complete analysis of the Cougar Point SATA errata, the impact on the customer's specific unit, and to provide a menu of choices for customers to decide which action they wish to take.
We'll keep adding responses as we get them.