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

    and Z68 won't be for everyon'e cup of Tea too :)
  • LeftSide - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Hopefully they won't impose a time limit on the full refund.
  • mike2100 - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Agreed. It might sound selfish to wait until the z68 is ready and cash in on the refund option, but I think it's fair for the trouble we'll have to go through for this oversight.
  • blowfish - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    reading between the lines, I think that is exactly what Gigabyte are suggesting - you get your refund when the new boards are available, rather than exchange your board, and then you can choose something better, hopefully for less money, hopefully Z68 That compensates you somewhat for the trouble you have to go to replacing the mobo yourself. I don't think it should put you in any kind of moral dilemma! In years to come, everone will be telling their grand-kids about the great Intel recall....
  • Hogan773 - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link the annals of time, this Intel thing will be one of the most important historical events for humanity.......

    ????? get real my man
  • Will Robinson - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    It's a wonder we don't see more of these bugs given the high performance and complexity of modern chipsets and new CPU architecture.
    Intel seem to have acted quickly and this looks like a solid recall with them stepping up to bat to cover it.
    That's a decent response and deserves some respect.
  • Ben90 - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    I agree completely. Its very impressive how these billion transistor chips built on such a fragile process can survive and thrive. Even when run out of spec via overclocking or shoddy power regulation, most microprocessors outlive their warranty period by quite a bit when even 1 failed transistor could ruin the entire system.
  • akula2 - Friday, February 4, 2011 - link

    Look my friend, bugs are everywhere in this world. Look at inside your body or bugs that trigger your cells to go haywire. So, silicon bugs are nothing much to crib about and that too they are human made! You are asking too much with Intel. What about a person who I know has spend hundred of thousands of dollars on a Ferrari 458 Italia, only to watch his super car catching some quick fire? Even that mighty Ferrari fell for a buggy blue in the wheel assembly? Imagine, glue taking out an entire Ferrari? Intel's problems are of Peanut size :)
  • jwmcpeak - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    Since the retailer/distributor will handle the return/exchange, will it be up to them to determine how the exchange takes place? Sending in a motherboard and waiting for the replacement is ridiculous and unacceptable. It's the motherboard, not an optical drive or keyboard.
  • geofelt - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - link

    1) The replacement should be done direct by the motherboard manufacturer, the same as if the motherboard was defective(which it is) and still under warranty. The original vendor may be out of business, or otherwise not able to handle an exchange.

    2) The replacement should have a credit card advance shipment option. The motherboard manufacturer would take your credit card info for the retail price of the motherboard, and ship out a replacement, including a prepaid shipping label. The charge would be cancelled when the returned motherboard is recieved. That way the end user is without a computer only for as long as it takes to swap cards.

    3) Intel needs to do something for the end users also. Perhaps a discount coupon for an Intel product like a SSD.

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