The delay of new laptops and desktops using Intel's second-generation Core processors may not be as long as initially thought. In a statement last night, Intel said that some of its customers had decided to go ahead and use the original 6 Series chipset, which has a minor design flaw, and that production of the updated Sandy Bridge chipset was running ahead of schedule.
This wasn't too surprising.
The glitch, which has to do with the SATA ports that connect the processor to the hard drive and other components, will only impact performance of less than 5 percent of PCs, and even then only after years of use under certain operating conditions. Moreover it only affects two of the six SATA ports on the chipset. In its statement, Intel said only computer makers that "committed to shipping the Intel 6 Series Chipset in PC system configurations that are not impacted by the design issue" will be able to use the original chipset. Translation: Don't use the bad SATA ports.
Intel also lucked out a bit. The design flaw is in the chipset, which is manufactured on an older 65nm process, and not the CPU, a more complicated design manufactured on an advanced 32nm process. It also showed up in one of the later steps in the manufacturing process. All of this makes it much easier to fix. Intel now says it will begin shipping the chipset with the fix implemented in mid-February. Last week Intel said it could take until April to get to volume production on the repaired chipset, though in a conference call executives said they hoped to be able to "pull-in" production since the fix was relatively easy.
The "Sandy Bridge to nowhere" will still go down as Intel's costliest mistake to date with a total price tag of around $1 billion. By the time it discovered the problem, Intel had already shipped around 8 million chips to customers, though only 500,000 or so had actually purchased one of the first systems, which were only available with quad-core processors. My colleague, Sean Portnoy, covered how the computer companies were addressing this in this post. But it sounds like Intel has moved quickly to correct the error, and it now looks like we should start seeing mainstream laptops with Sandy Bridge dual-cores within a few weeks.