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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  • timchen - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    I actually have a hard time believing this (5% in 3 years) is the estimated failing rate. What is the RROD rate after which Microsoft is trying to hide? 33% in a year?

    If you think, among the 6 million boards they are getting back, if only 5% of them will fail in the foreseeable warranty period , that is 0.3 million boards only. Spending a billion on this is like spending $3000 to replace a single defective board.

    No, I would assume the only reason to have this treatment is that it would be apparent for at least half of the boards. maybe 5% is the number that goes to a completely halt.
  • tonyfreak215 - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    I think it has more to do with their reputation. Intel is a standard. They probably look at the loss of a billion dollars as nothing compared to the damage their reputation could/would cost them.
  • Malih - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link

    not only intel reputation will go bad, but board makers reputation will suffer too, and this might break good relationship intel has with board makers.

    and with the potential competition from amd's upcoming chips (Llano and Bulldozer), this year would be a really bad year for intel if they let this one slide.
  • ggathagan - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Remember that the percentage of *projected* failure is a statistical calculation.
    That figure is not based on real-world incidents.

    Spending a billion dollars on this is chump-change compared to what could happen if Intel didn't take these steps to nip the problem in the bud.

    The alternative is what happened regarding NVIDIA video chipsets for laptops:
    NVIDIA tried to deny the problem ever existed.

    Now, not only do they have to foot the bill to replace the defective chips, they also have to pay all of those lawyers.
    In addition, they have to try to re-gain the confidence of the end-users and the manufacturers who can choose an ATI/AMD chip as easily as an NVIDIA chip.
  • AnnihilatorX - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link
  • cactusdog - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link

    haha, i posted it twice of them is just above this post.
  • fc1204 - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    this reminds me of the time when a company designing the controller chip for the flash disk drives for gambling machines got a batch from its foundry fab that had a variation in the process timing and had to fork over a year's worth of profits to cover the loss of business at the casinos. the chip designer had the profit margin of $1 per chip while the casino is a casino. i always wondered what if it had been intel that was the flash disk controller designer would the same result have happened... apparently yes. but then again, i really wonder if the end users of these flawed chipset pc's really did get their fair shake like the casino.

    i am sure the arguments for and against will pretty much sum up the fairness debate in the industry food chain.
  • Belard - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    "Sandy Bridge (aka 2nd generation Intel Core microprocessor, aka Intel Core i7/i5/i3 2xxx)."

    Isn't Core2... a 2nd Generation? It was based of Core1 (AKA Centrino platform - which was better than the mainstream P4). Then we get this Nvidia inspored Core i3, i5, i7 which should donate class and socket type - but not.

    Shouldn't Sandy Bridge be a 4th generation with its totally incompatible chipset to the previous i5/i7 etc?
  • Beenthere - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Glad to see Gigabyte do what is right for customers. Intel will just raise the prices of their CPUs to pay for the defective products they shipped.
  • cactusdog - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link

    Gigabyte/Asus shouldnt be praised for anything. They are obligated to fix broken boards for the warranty period of 3 years, for any reason. Anyway Intel are footing the bill for the recall and is paying a fee to the manufacturers. WHat other option could they possibly have?

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