Flaw Found in Intel's New Chip Sets

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

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

Internal Connections

A chip set is the circuitry that connects a processor to the rest of the computer, such as the memory and I/O. Intel's newest chip sets 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 chip sets was not completely removed from one particular area, High says.

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

The problem only affected a certain portion of Intel's chip set shipments because it was a manufacturing error, and not a design flaw, High says. 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 chip sets actually reached end users, High says.

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

PC Purchases

Customers interested in buying PCs from Hewlett-Packard and Dell based on Intel's new chip sets 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 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 spokesperson says. The company is planning to work with server vendors and BIOS companies to distribute a work-around.

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