Intel finds flaw in new chipsets, recalls some units

Intel Corp. has discovered a flaw in its recently launched chipsets that can preclude a system from starting up normally, and is planning to recall a certain amount of those chipsets from system vendors and channel partners, a spokesperson confirmed Friday.

The 915 G/P and 925X chipsets, formerly known as Grantsdale and Alderwood, have a flaw in the I/O controller on the chipsets that can prevent a PC from starting normally, said Howard High, an Intel spokesperson.

A chipset is the circuitry that connects a processor to the rest of the computer, such as the memory and I/O. Intel’s newest chipsets incorporate a number of features that are expected to improve performance over the next several months, including the PCI Express interconnect technology and support for DDR2 memory.

Chips are built in layers, with circuits added atop other circuits. During the manufacturing process, a thin insulating film is applied to each layer before the next layer is built so signals do not leak between levels.

At certain points on the chip, that insulating film is removed to allow the layers to communicate with one another. However, the insulating film on some of Intel’s new chipsets was not completely removed from one particular area, High said.

The film is partially blocking one of the connection points and is not allowing signals to cleanly travel between levels, High said. This can cause the system to hang or fail during the startup process, he said.

The problem only affected a certain portion of Intel’s chipset shipments because it was a manufacturing error, and not a design flaw, High said. Intel is not disclosing what percentage of its shipments were affected. The bad parts were shipped to system vendors prior to Monday’s official launch, and the company believes that very few chipsets actually reached end users, High said.

Intel has identified the particular chipsets containing the flaw, and is working with PC vendors and resellers to remove those chipsets from circulation, High said.

Customers interested in buying PCs from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. based on Intel’s new chipsets will have to wait for several days, according to their Web sites. HP’s m1000 series Media Center PC went on sale on the company’s Web site on Wednesday, but on Friday the site informed customers the new PC would not ship until at least July 6.

Dell’s Dimension 8400 won’t ship until at least July 20, according to Dell’s Web site. That particular system will take 15 days to build, as compared to the three days it takes Dell to build a Dimension 2400 based on older technology, according to the site.

Spokespeople for Dell and HP could not immediately be reached for comment.

Intel was not the only chip company to report processor bugs this week. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) also reported a bug in its Opteron server processor that could cause a server to fail. However, AMD’s bug was caused by testers in AMD’s lab running synthetic software instructions that only occur in very rare cases, an AMD spokesman said. The company is planning to work with server vendors and BIOS companies to distribute a work-around.

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