PC makers scramble in wake of Intel chip flaw revelation

Dell, Lenovo, HP and Falcon Northwest make plans for dealing with the flaw

Some PC makers are halting sales of PCs with Sandy Bridge processors as they try to work out issues related to Intel's faulty chipset, companies said on Wednesday.

Dell and Hewlett-Packard have removed from certain online stores desktops and laptops that paired Intel's latest Core i5 and i7 processors with a defective chipset that included a design flaw. Dell and HP are also providing remedies such as refunds or motherboard replacements to customers who have already purchased systems.

Intel earlier this week said a design flaw prompted a halt in shipments of its 6-series chipset code-named Cougar Point, which was used with new Core processors announced in early January. Intel said the Serial-ATA (SATA) ports within the chipsets could degrade over time, which could impact performance or functionality of storage devices such as hard drives.

The chip maker said that flaw could delay launches of laptops by a few weeks, as the chipset is closely paired with the new Core processors.

HP has stopped manufacturing products with the affected Intel technology and is holding shipments on ordered products, said Marlene Somsak, an HP spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

"Customers can return their affected product and choose a comparable product or receive a refund," Somsak wrote.

The issue is primarily limited to some HP consumer laptops and desktops, Somsak wrote. One commercial desktop PC that HP markets to small business customers in the Europe-Middle East-Africa region is also affected.

HP has also cancelled an event scheduled in New York City on Feb. 15 where it was planning to provide briefings on future business laptops. The briefings have been postponed, Somsak said. The event was being held as Intel plans to launch new Sandy Bridge processors for business laptops later this month.

Dell has pulled sales of four PCs, including the XPS 8300 desktop, the Vostro 460 desktop, the Alienware M17x R3 gaming laptop and the Alienware Aurora R gaming desktop.

"We expect to have more information next week on when these products will become available again," said David Frink, a Dell spokesman, in an e-mail.

Customers who have already bought Dell products will be supported under the existing warranty and service terms. "Once we have new chipsets from Intel in early April, we will provide a motherboard replacement that corrects the design issue at no cost to our customers," Frink said.

Specialist PC maker Falcon Northwest has delayed the launch of laptops with Sandy Bridge processors as its suppliers have halted chipset shipments, said Kelt Reeves, CEO of Falcon Northwest.

Falcon Northwest's desktops have also been affected. Falcon Northwest uses desktop motherboards from Asustek Computer, which has put a hold on supplying motherboards based on the Sandy Bridge chipset in the wake of Intel's announcement, Reeves said.

The chipset problem has a bigger impact on laptops than desktops, Reeves said. Adding SATA controllers to laptops as a workaround would be difficult because of limited space, while desktops have space to accommodate new controllers from third parties in lieu of the faulty controllers, he said.

Reeves said he never came across chipset issues in lab tests. But Falcon Northwest is making customers aware of the issue and continues to build Sandy Bridge desktops using the workaround while motherboard supplies last.

Lenovo said that the chipset issue affects models including its latest IdeaPad laptops and IdeaCentre desktop PCs.

"We have shipped a limited number of units with the affected Intel chip worldwide," said Kristy Fair, a Lenovo spokeswoman. She said the company would offer an update as soon as possible.

Intel has posted instructions on its blog for how to identify the defective part. The company has fixed the design issue and will start shipping a new chipset by the end of February.

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Tags intelDellHewlett-PackardLenovohardware systemslaptopsdesktop pcsFalcon Northwest

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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