Intel Sandy-Bridge Cougar Point Flaw and Editorial Analysis


Intel announced today that it has discovered a flaw in the Sandy Bridge desktop chip sets that are part of the Cougar Point family, and I am looking for a workaround.

Details of the flaw were not given, other than to say that SATA performance with hard drives and DVD drives would degrade over time. Intel also announced that a fix has been implemented and the old Cougar Point chip sets have discontinued production with the new, fixed versions already in production. Details from the release:

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Jan. 31, 2011 – As part of ongoing quality assurance, Intel Corporation has discovered a design issue in a recently released support chip, the Intel® 6 Series, code-named Cougar Point, and has implemented a silicon fix. 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. The chipset is utilized in PCs with Intel’s latest Second Generation Intel Core processors, code-named Sandy Bridge. Intel has stopped shipment of the affected support chip from its factories. Intel has corrected the design issue, and has begun manufacturing a new version of the support chip which will resolve the issue. The Sandy Bridge microprocessor is unaffected and no other products are affected by this issue.

I will see if I can recreate this on the boards I have on hand. Apparently this is only an issue for the 3.0gbps ports, meaning the 6.0gbps ports and add-on ports like Marvell ones will not be affected. Also, it appears as the failure basically occurs in some portion of the population over time, so this is not an everyday issue.  One plausible workaround for the time being may be using a SATA HBA or SAS RAID controller instead of the onboard Intel ports. I will see if I can reproduce what Intel is reporting and see if the add-in card makes a difference.

One major negative with NVIDIA and AMD out of the chip set game for Intel CPUs is that an issue like this disrupts the entire supply chain. Two other bits of concern are:

1. What happens to those boards already in the field

2. How does Intel recoup the $300m in lost revenue during the chip set transition and $700m for materials already in the field.

The first item is one that we will find out soon, but if there are large user calls for RMAs of current Cougar Point boards, the motherboard manufacturers could be in for a rough time from a logistics, supply chain, and financial standpoint.

The second item is perhaps the more interesting. Intel stated that it did not believe this recall would have a material impact on fiscal year earnings, which would lead one to believe that Intel will recoup the losses through slower price cuts, especially with a clear technology advantage over AMD.

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  1. I’m curious if this will delay the Cougar Point Xeon chipsets (C202/204/206) also. It’s been almost a month since the consumer Sandy Bridge came out, but still no sign of the Xeons.

  2. From what I have read Xeons look like the end of Feb for UP. I could see that being delayed if they are using the same south bridge.

  3. I know some manufacturers have already delayed Sandy Bridge motherboard releases due to this new bug. My guess is that it needs to be fixed before the Xeons are shipped because Intel tends to use basically the same ICH w/ RAID in the desktop and server chip sets, just adding some software features.

    Also, after talking to some OEMs, people were shocked about this.


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