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Intel’s Sandy Bridge issue could affect Apple the most

By Ed Oswald, Betanews

A design flaw within the chipset supporting its new line of Sandy Bridge processors may delay the launch of next-generation computers, and Apple could find itself affected the most.

Intel’s latest chip is the first from the company to include integrated graphics silicon on the chip, while also using the company’s advanced 32-nanometer manufacturing. This is said to allow PC manufacturers to offer systems that have much better graphics capabilities and much greater power efficiency than its predecessors.

It is expected that the problem will cost Intel at least $300 million, although another $700 million has been set aside for any necessary repairs and replacement costs. One positive is that the issue was caught early in Sandy Bridge’s release, meaning that only a fraction of the estimated eight million “Cougar Point” (the code name) chipsets in manufacturers hands have actually made it to consumers.

Sandy Bridge will officially launch on February 20. Intel could not say as of Tuesday whether the flaw would delay this launch, although corrected chips that have only just started to be produced would not be ready before the end of the month. It would likely not be until April before the chipmaker ramps up to the volume demands of its customers.

Cougar Point chipsets allow for the connection of up to six Serial ATA devices, such as DVD drives, HDDs, and the like. Under extreme conditions, Intel found that devices on ports 0 and 1 would degrade in performance. No degradation was experienced on ports 2 through 5.

A possible workaround would be to ship devices based on the faulty chipset using only the unaffected ports, however that would obviously defeat the purpose of the new chipsets.

Based on the history of Intel and Apple’s partnership, it’s likely that Sandy Bridge would make it into the next-generation iMac and MacBook Pro computers. With the delays due to the issue likely in the range of up to three months, the new time frame for shipment would fall near to the time where Apple is expected to update its notebook line.

If there are no plans to update the line before April or so, the delay may not be noticeable to the consumer. However no manufacturer would be able to ship computers based on the Sandy Bridge architecture before the end of this month, and likely in limited quantities if so.

Intel would not comment on Apple’s plans, and as with most issues the Cupertino company was not responding to requests for comment as it deals with speculation on future products.

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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