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Intel Identifies Cougar Point Chipset Error, Halts Shipments

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 134 comments

Early Monday, Intel identified a problem with its Cougar Point chipset family affecting SATA 3 Gb/s ports, specifically. Though it's only expected to affect 5% of systems over three years, enthusiasts pushing lots of data should wait for a fixed platform.

If you were as excited about Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors as we were earlier this month when they soft-launched, then today’s news will come as a shock (especially if you already bought one of the second-gen Core i5 or Core i7 desktop processors available online; Core i3 still isn’t selling).

In essence, Intel identified a problem with the SATA 3 Gb/s on its Cougar Point chipsets last week. SATA 6 Gb/s ports are unaffected. The issue is hardware-related and requires a silicon-based fix at the metal layer, which of course means that all of the currently-shipping P67- and H67 –based motherboards are affected. It’s severe enough, especially for the enthusiast community most likely to be populating multiple SATA ports and pushing heavier I/O workloads that we’d want to recommend holding off on Sandy Bridge-based builds until boards with a fixed version of the chipset ships out. This will happen within “weeks,” according to Intel, as motherboard vendors will start getting updated core logic in late February for a full volume recovery in April.

Intel’s Steve Smith, vice president and director of PC client operations and enabling at Intel, says that the specific problem occurs over time, and is affected by temperature and voltage. It’s more likely to manifest in configurations with lots of data being moved across the SATA 3 Gb/s ports—that’s why OEMs are encountering a problem now. The company says it would have expected roughly 5% of systems to be affected over a three-year period. That's a serious enough figure to compel Intel to halt shipments and incur a total cost to replace/repair existing systems of $700 million.

If you’re already a P67/H67 owner, the problem relates to connectivity between the SATA ports and hard drives. That link can degrade over time and, in a worst-case scenario, you’ll boot your machine to find attached storage simply isn’t identified at all. None of your data is at risk—anything on the drive already can’t be affected by the link degrading and ultimately failing, after all.

Why wasn’t the issue identified during validation, before Sandy Bridge launched? Intel says Cougar Point did in fact satisfy its validation procedure, and was only caught after more strenuous OEM testing. Should OEMs be the ones to catch problems like this? No. But that’s what happened here. That'll likely have ramifications for the way Intel tests its products in the future.

Unfortunately, motherboard vendors, first, and early adopters, second, are the ones to be most seriously affected here. The motherboard manufacturers are going to have to stop production and wait a month for updated Cougar Point. They’re only getting the news today. Enthusiasts won’t be as immediately affected. Boards that shipped out already, in most cases, carry a three-year warranty, offering some form of protection. Sandy Bridge notebooks haven’t shipped out in volume. And Z68 won’t be delayed, Intel says. Everyone else: you’ll want to wait until “fixed” boards start shipping in March/April.

Add your comment Display 134 Comments.
  • 4 Hide
    dotaloc , January 31, 2011 4:15 PM
    it should have been identified by more rigorous testing.

    that said, at least they aren't just going to ship it anyway. good for them for repairing the error as best they can at this point.
  • 2 Hide
    geekapproved , January 31, 2011 4:36 PM
    Wow Intel is really messing up lately. First the P55 had the cpu sockets burning out and now the P67 has this problem. That's what happens when you try to release too soon. Hopefully AMD learned their lesson with Phenom I.
  • 0 Hide
    James296 , January 31, 2011 4:37 PM
    oh boy, this is going to attract amd fanboys like a bear to honey. anyway atleast they caught this early, through not early enough some would say.
  • 1 Hide
    davewolfgang , January 31, 2011 4:38 PM
    Very good for them for nipping this in the bud now. Yes - I'm sure their testing for future products will be a LOT more stringent. But with that - and them readily stopping and fixing this problem will put a little more trust in future Intel products. (We've all seen what happens when a hardware manufacture tries to "hide" flaws....)

    Just for clarification - this is with the MB Chipset - NOT with SB CPU's themselves.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , January 31, 2011 4:41 PM
    This is bad, really bad. It means that every single Sandy Bridge motherboard so far is defective and has to be replaced (since chipsets are soldered, and short of extremely labor intensive manual rework, there is no way to replace them). And motherboard manufacturers are a real pain to deal with; good luck finding someone who can even speak English, let alone understand this recall.

    Worse, how will we know if a board we buy in the future has the fixed chipset? The board manufacturers aren't going to eat the losses, so I expect the defective parts already in the pipeline to continue being used until they run out. That could take the better part of a year.

    Looks like I'll have to wait until 2012 to upgrade to the i5-2500K.
  • 2 Hide
    jpmucha , January 31, 2011 4:43 PM
    That's unfortunate... I don't think I've seen this issue yet, but I have my 4 data drives on the 3GB/s ports. At least the data itself is supposedly *safe*.

    Will they start calling the updated silicon P67A so there's a way to know which Cougar Point generation is part of the boards? Depending on how the manufacturers do it... they may or may not bump the PCB revision... since the replacement CP chip will be pin compatible... so probably no new layout. This could turn into a minor nightmare... unless they're very good about recalling bad stock, and paying cross-shipping fees, etc...

    Those with SB parts will probably have to live with the bug for a month or so before the fixes come down.
  • 3 Hide
    campb292 , January 31, 2011 4:44 PM
    Those are the breaks for those who adopt early. Hopefully GB, ASUS, others will offer replacements for those early adopters - but even if they do, what a hassle. I would just return the board and wait a couple weeks for replacements to arrive. Who wants something that "might" have a defect that is so bad they stop production.

    But again, I wouldn't have been eager to buy the gimped chipset in the first place. LGA1366 and it's replacement for the win.
  • -1 Hide
    x4dm , January 31, 2011 4:46 PM
    The one question I have is let's say my mobo has 4 SATA ports and I am only using 2 of them. When one of the ports goes bad, can't I just swap my HD to a different one?

    Also, while I really wish Intel would have caught this sooner, I have a hard time believing anyone that already purchased an x67 mobo will still be using it in 3 years. At least Intel didn't do the J&J thing like they did with the stealth recall of Tylenol.
  • 2 Hide
    jpmucha , January 31, 2011 4:47 PM
    Josh GThis is bad, really bad. It means that every single Sandy Bridge motherboard so far is defective and has to be replaced (since chipsets are soldered, and short of extremely labor intensive manual rework, there is no way to replace them). And motherboard manufacturers are a real pain to deal with; good luck finding someone who can even speak English, let alone understand this recall.Worse, how will we know if a board we buy in the future has the fixed chipset? The board manufacturers aren't going to eat the losses, so I expect the defective parts already in the pipeline to continue being used until they run out. That could take the better part of a year.Looks like I'll have to wait until 2012 to upgrade to the i5-2500K.

    I would be pretty sure that part of Intel's $700M losses are eating the chips already in the OEMs hands... so there will be no 'old stock' (chipsets) making it to 'new' boards. It sounds like the 'old' mobos already in end user hands should be RMA'd. I'm hoping they eat the delivery costs too... or make it so I can get an immediate exchange at Micro Center... For anyone around at retail stores... have they cleared the shelves of LGA1155 boards?
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , January 31, 2011 4:51 PM
    AMD riding intel a bit too hard forcing intel to falter slightly, whether it delivers or not, bulldozer will have an interesting effect on things
  • 1 Hide
    ulysses35 , January 31, 2011 4:59 PM
    @ IntelForceFault.... what planet are you on ? AMD can barely keep up with the old tech that Intel has let alone pressure them into a mistake.

    Bulldozer may or may not be more competitive with Intel chips - that argument will only happend when they Finally launch their new cpu.
  • -1 Hide
    dgingeri , January 31, 2011 5:00 PM
    wasn't there a similar problem with the i820 chipset?
  • 5 Hide
    rjandric , January 31, 2011 5:05 PM
    Tick-tock-tick-crash...
  • 2 Hide
    davewolfgang , January 31, 2011 5:06 PM
    Quote:
    AMD riding intel a bit too hard forcing intel to falter slightly, whether it delivers or not, bulldozer will have an interesting effect on things


    Considering this was only found after probably "longer term" testing - especially when it was related to heat issues - doesn't mean it's going to "kill" Intel.

    (I'm guessing the heating up and cooling off expansion/contraction after many, many repeated on/off cycles is what caused this flaw to finally "show up". One that probably most users that aren't hard core gamers, photo/video editors and engineers running CAD programs would really even run into. IMO)

    But is looks like Intel, by reports I've read on other sites too, is taking FULL responsibility and will cover the replacements. Now there's hoping the MB makers will not try to take "advantage" of that too...
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , January 31, 2011 5:09 PM
    @ulysses35

    intel, a company who's well ahead of the game with significant capital, feels no pressure so release a product with a half @ssed chipset....... what so they can just sc#w their patrons over for the fun of it

    never said bulldozer would be competitive, just said that it rattled intel enough for them to release a flawed chipset, intel is so far ahead of the game they could probably easily lose a year or two and still beat AMD to the punch right, why rush the implementation of sandy bridge (cost them a nice $700mil)
  • -2 Hide
    nforce4max , January 31, 2011 5:14 PM
    I am so glad that I moved over to AMD, even if their performance is not as great.
  • -1 Hide
    pacioli , January 31, 2011 5:17 PM
    I just ordered my sandy bridge parts on Friday... UPS is delivering the MoBo today...
    My jaw is dropped!!!
  • 0 Hide
    slycraft , January 31, 2011 5:18 PM
    ulysses35@ IntelForceFault.... what planet are you on ? AMD can barely keep up with the old tech that Intel has let alone pressure them into a mistake. Bulldozer may or may not be more competitive with Intel chips - that argument will only happend when they Finally launch their new cpu.


    lets hope bulldozer whoops sandy bridge's buttt.....this will spark competition and will give users better products..... pleaseee beat intel AMD so then Intel can turn Around and beat you and the cycle repeats....

    lets hope it isn't sub par AMD though i fear the worst
  • 1 Hide
    pacioli , January 31, 2011 5:20 PM
    WTF!
    I am so mad right now...
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