Yesterday Intel announced the largest stop shipment/recall I can remember it ever making (excluding FDIV). The product in question? All 6-series chipsets, a necessary part of any Sandy Bridge (aka 2nd generation Intel Core microprocessor, aka Intel Core i7/i5/i3 2xxx) system. The problem? A transistor with a thin gate oxide being driven by too high of a voltage. The aforementioned transistor is present in the clock tree circuitry of the 3Gbps SATA ports that branch off of all 6-series chipsets. The 6Gbps ports are unaffected. Over a period of 3 years, at least 5% of all these chipsets will have some failure on the 3Gbps SATA ports. The failure could start in the form of errors on the SATA link and ultimately result in an unusable SATA port. No damage to attached hardware should result.

Because of the nature of the problem Intel has set aside $700M to deal with the replacement (ahem, not recall) of up to 8 million impacted 6-series chipsets. After stopping shipments and production of the 6-series chipsets, Intel began talking to its partners about how to proceed yesterday.

The fix for the problematic transistor requires a hardware change. The 6-series chipset design doesn’t have to be redone, but there’s a metal layer change that must be made. The result is a new stepping of the 6-series chipsets. Intel shipped with stepping B2, and the fixed version will carry a B3 stepping.

Just half an hour ago, Gigabyte sent its replacement strategy for all of its own motherboards.

The key messages are as follows:

1) Gigabyte has stopped shipment to and recalled any unsold 6-series B2 motherboards from distributors and dealers.

2) Any Gigabyte 6-series B2 motherboards that have already been sold will be accepted back for replacement with a B3 board, regardless of condition. I asked Gigabyte if this meant that non-working boards could also be returned, Gigabyte said yes - all eligible 6-series models with B2 stepping chipsets will be accepted back.

Elligible Gigabyte 6-series Motherboards

3) Gigabyte says that it should have 6-series B3 chipsets in April.

4) The replacement program will happen at the dealer/distributor level. You will have to exchange your board at the location you purchased it from.

5) Customers can either exchange their board (you'll have to wait until April for this to happen) or you can get a full refund sooner (immediately?). Gigabyte recommends going the refund route as that gives you more flexibility for what you want to do next.

6) The replacement board you get will be a brand new motherboard based on the B3 chipset. Gigabyte isn’t ready to disclose if there will be any new design features to these boards as well.

7) The cost of the product exchange will be handled by Intel and Gigabyte (presumably Intel is footing the entire bill).

April is two months away, that’s later than the end of February. I’m guessing the first recipients of B3 stepping chipsets will be large OEMs and notebook manufacturers. The component guys will likely come second. Getting replacement motherboards won’t happen on April 1st if that’s when Gigabyte gets chipsets either. This could end up being an April/May thing instead of March/April.

Sending all returns/exchanges through the distributor/retailer channels is an interesting approach. I would rather Gigabyte handle the whole thing (e.g. send us an eligible board, we’ll send you a new one) but I can understand if getting the distributors/retailers to help makes things easier.

The refund option is a nice one, although I'm not sure whether etailers will let you return your CPU as well once it has been used. I suspect that's something you'll have to take up with the vendor itself. If you plan on sticking with a Sandy Bridge system, your best bet is probably to keep using your system as is today and just exchange when the time comes.

I'm glad Gigabyte will be providing brand new motherboards for users who opt to exchange and that Gigabyte is accepting boards regardless of condition. Gigabyte hasn't yet decided what it's going to do with all of the returned boards.

Until April rolls around, the best you can do is use the 6Gbps SATA ports on your Sandy Bridge board. We’ll keep you posted as we get more of these notices from manufacturers.

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  • akula2 - Friday, February 4, 2011 - link

    What would happen after 3 years? You inferred people should be throwing out their boards once in every 3 years so it should be OK to ignore about this bug? I don't think that's a good thinking.
  • akula2 - Friday, February 4, 2011 - link

    What you offered is a workaround solution. Anyway, it should OK with most of the folks out there.

    To me, still that chipset has the bug to deal with in the long run. Say, what happens when I add couple of things like this:

    SSD 6Gb/s - 128 GB - 1
    HDD 6Gb/s - 2 TB - 1
    HDD 3Gb/s - - 2 TB - 2

    Plus there will be, DVD Combo, PSU etc. I wish to add a few more. Then what?

    Plus, we'll wasting one pcie slot filling up that controller card. Isn't it? It's always better to get the board replaced to get peace of mind (bugs always plants doubts in the minds of the many people so people tend to loose their confidence or try to be ovr cautious with everything. After all, we are talking about a running MOBO, isn't it?).
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    I'm with you on that. I HATE changing out components in a build. PSU is probably the most common annoying replacement, but mobo is IMO the worst. Had a Gigabyte mobo that crapped out after 3 months of use and it stunk having to ruin all of my cable management, remove all the components, etc. to replace. I'd do as you do (unless they sweeten the deal with the replacement by offering something worth the trouble).
  • MeanBruce - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Know how ya feel dude, just getting a new refurb BoneTrail 2 mobo back from Intel RMAed to NAMO. You can probably complete the acronym North American Motherboard Operations in Kentucky. Gonna take me hours to get all the cabling back to normal. At least they honored the three year warranty, two and a half years into it. With this new Intel chipset mess they are gonna be damn busy! ;)
  • Etern205 - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    2 weeks?
    You should try 2 months as that how long I've waited for my CPU since it wasn't out on the market yet, and my old system died so I didn't want to spend my money on old stuffs.
    The 2 months was the most horrible experience ever! After the lesson, I went and bough myself a notebook so if my desktop is waiting for parts, at leas I still have a machine to use. :)
  • ssj4Gogeta - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link

    Well you won't need to do a reformat since it's the same mobo model you'll be getting back (probably). Even if the mobo isn't the same, a repair install works fine some times.
  • bckai - Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - link

    At least someone has decided what they're going to do about this whole debacle. I'm wondering how much of a mess it's going to be though with everyone having to go through the retailers to get this sorted out. For example, I bought mine (albeit an ASUS board) online through a merchant on eBay who is a subsidiary of another larger retailer. It hurts my head just having to think about what sort of hoops I'll have to jump through if ASUS decides to go down this path. Here's hoping they'll just deal with it on their own instead of using the middle man.
  • peterf - Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - link

    "Sending all returns/exchanges through the distributor/retailer channels is an interesting approach. I would rather Gigabyte handle the whole thing (e.g. send us an eligible board, we’ll send you a new one) but I can understand if getting the distributors/retailers to help makes things easier."
    I much prefer the approach they have taken to this one. If it was the other way around (you enter your serial number in, they send you a new board with a prepaid shipping label back for your old board) then that would be the best option. Having to mail your board in and wait for weeks would suck, though.
  • ggathagan - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Manufacturer's distribution channels aren't set up to handle traffic from thousands of individual users, they're set up to bulk ship to distributors who are, likewise, set up to handle smaller bulk shipments to retailers.

    The retailers are the folks whose distribution setup is geared toward individual purchasers.
    If the manufacturers attempted to handle the RMA's directly, you wouldn't get your replacement board for about a year.
  • wolfman3k5 - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Hey GIGABYTE, are you going to ship a proper uEFI BIOS this time around?

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