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Intel Cougar Point Chipset Delayed But Not As Bad As It Looks

Today Intel announced there was a design flaw with its Cougar Point chipset. This is the series 6 chipset for the next generation Sandy Bridge based desktop and notebook PCs. The Sandy Bridge MPUs are not affected at all.

The problem was discovered in an Intel reliability lab. While testing for accelerated life time performance, it was discovered that one transistor in the SATA interface had a probability of failure within 2 to 3 years. This is the port for the slower and older SATA devices. Even if most customers may never use this port, Intel still decided to pull the chipset.

The good news is that the fix is fairly simple and is in the next to last metal layer. All wafers that have been processed up to this point are still okay. The Cougar Point chipset is manufactured on 65nm. Most of Intel’s MPUs are run on 32nm. Intel has a large amount of capacity at 65nm. Speaking with an Intel spokesperson, the company will be able to deliver the revised chipsets in a matter of weeks.

The SATA ports in question are ports 2 through 5. If a system has been delivered in which ports 2 through 5 have not been activated, this is not a problem and the system is not subject to recall. In the meantime, all other Cougar Point chipsets that have already been delivered to customers will be returned. The rollout for the Sandy Bridge systems by OEMs will be delayed about one month. These systems are likely to ship in April 2011.

Semico Spin

Intel has acted very swiftly and decisively to resolve a problem before it even crops up. One could argue that only legacy SATA drives would be affected and how many of those would ever ship with a Sandy Bridge system. However, Intel chose to be prudent and pro-active. Ever since the infamous Pentium FPU bug in 1994, Intel has been very careful with any product it releases.

Why this problem is not as bad as it looks.

Cougar Point is an important enabling technology for selling Sandy Bridge which is the high revenue device. However, it is not as complex design as an MPU and the flaw is easily resolved. This problem was caught shortly after OEMs had launched their first systems. Sandy Bridge was released at CES Las Vegas, Jan. 5, 2011. The number of parts is relatively small at this point.

In its press release Intel stated that this issue will “…reduce revenue by approximately $300 million…” for 1Q 2011. “Total cost to repair and replace affected materials and systems in the market is estimated to be $700 million.” Speaking with Intel these figures are a worst case scenario. To put things in perspective 4Q 2010 revenues were $11.5 billion. There are no details from Intel at this time on how product recall will be performed with its customers.

Knowing how the pipeline works for MPUs, Semico assume that Intel has been delivering Sandy Bridge MPUs in advance of the initial OEM release date. Further system shipment appears to be delayed by one month. Intel most likely is still supplying Sandy Bridge to its customers. The initial phase for the OEM ramp up is usually relatively small, especially in the beginning of the year, a historically slow period for PC sales. Semico does not see this delay as having a major impact on final end of year shipments for Sandy Bridge systems. The high volume MPUs currently are Westmere based Core i7, i5, and i3 which use a different chipset.

Intel has taken an aggressive approach to maintain its overall quality and image.