Intel’s Cougar Point recall: what we know so far, who’s affected, and how bad is it?

Intel yesterday announced that it had discovered a “design issue” in the Intel 6 Series Express chipsets and Intel Xeon C200 chipsets (codenamed Cougar Point) which ship with some of its early-model Second Generation Intel Core processors (more popularly known by their codename Sandy Bridge).

From an end user’s perspective the scale of the Cougar Point recall may not at first appear to be particularly disastrous; however in reality it’s a major setback for Intel with the overall damage bill owing to the glitch estimated to run up to US$1 billion.

Furthermore with Intel’s previously stated expectation that Sandy Bridge CPUs would provide the engine for approximately 500 different models of notebook and desktop PCs manufactured worldwide in 2011 it remains to be seen how harmful the Cougar Point stumbling block is to the PC industry as a whole this year.

In any case here’s what we know so far after a day of developments with more to come as new facts come to light.

Happier (and recent) times: Mooly Eden vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group pictured at Sandy Bridge’s Australian launch just two weeks ago. (Photo: Intel)

What’s wrong with the chipset?
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.” APC spoke with Paul McKeon PR Manager for Intel Australia and New Zealand who told us: “Even though we picked up the fault in testing no customer has noticed it in the field. And in fact the way the problem is manifesting itself it would not manifest itself [in real-life use] for a couple of years.”

Who is affected?
Intel: “The systems with the affected support chips have only been shipping since January 9th and the company believes that relatively few consumers are impacted by this issue. The only systems sold to an end customer potentially impacted are Second Generation Core i5 and Core i7 quad core based systems.”

As such it seems at this point that the dual-core Core i3 and i5 Sandy Bridge processors set for release in PCs later this month will not be affected. To repeat: the issue is limited to the initial release of quad-core Sandy Bridge CPUs in i5 and i7 variants.

What is Intel doing about it?
Intel is responding by issuing a “silicon fix”: it has ceased shipment of the malfunctioning chipset and has commenced manufacture of a new version of the support chip. According to the company the Sandy Bridge CPU itself is unaffected by the glitch; the extent of the problem pertains only to the faulty chipsets. The updated chipsets will be released later this month with Intel expecting “full volume recovery” in April.

What will the long-term consequences be for the ongoing rollout of Second Generation Intel Core processors and the PC manufacturing sector as a whole in 2011? (Photo: Intel)

What do I do if I’m affected?
Intel: “For computer makers and other Intel customers that have bought potentially affected chipsets or systems Intel will work with its OEM partners to accept the return of the affected chipsets and plans to support modifications or replacements needed on motherboards or systems.”

What this means for end users who may have bought an affected PC is that you should contact the place of purchase or your PC’s manufacturer to seek further information and assistance. Paul McKeon confirmed to APC that “Intel is working with OEMs and retailers to work out a returns process.”

Where can I get further information?
For Intel’s newsroom press release which first announced the Cougar Point recall see here and for Intel’s blog post explaining the issue and advising customers on what to do next see here.

Additionally Intel has implemented a live chat facility on its Chipsets support site for the benefit of customers.

And finally for the enthusiasts amongst you(!) you can listen to an Intel conference call webcast which discusses the issue in detail here.

Plus of course APC will have more on the Cougar Point recall as developments come to hand.