Intel began touting its Sandy Bridge chipset technology at its 2009 developers forum as a means of delivering top-notch video performance and to counter a challenge from upstart AMD.

When the technology finally rolled out Jan. 3 in Intel's latest i7 and i5 processors -- featured in computers from a host of manufacturers -- hobbyists eagerly snapped up the products.

However, under extremely heavy use, computers with this chipset began to have issues with the Serial ATA controller -- basically, the device that connects the hard drives and optical drives to the motherboard.

Intel announced Jan. 31 that millions of the chipsets it has shipped are defective and eventually may need to be replaced. The tech company, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has stopped shipments of the flawed chipset and will incur a cool $1 billion in missed sales, it says.

Computer manufacturers, including Hewlett Packard, Samsung and Dell, are facing headaches, too, with delayed or missed shipments of their latest products.

Early adopters potentially got bit. But what do they and other consumers need to know?

First of all, if you have an affected system, it's perfectly safe to keep using it. Problems won't crop up right away for most users. The faulty chipset eventually could slow down or stop one of your hard drives or optical drives.

Second, the flaw affects more desktop PCs than laptops -- about two to one. More desktop motherboards with the flaw were shipped. Also, the chipset flaw could affect desktops more for technical reasons: Desktops have a third and fourth SATA device, while laptops typically have two.

Dell says some of its XPS, Alienware and Vostro models are affected and owners will be notified about the replacement process. Samsung has posted a statement on its website offering returns on its affected models. Other manufacturers are preparing recall plans and will notify consumers and end-users about returns or replacements.

Most consumers won't notice the flaw in the short term, and it won't cause immediate failure. But be sure to notify the manufacturer that you've bought the computer; fill out the warranty registration card online and send it in. The manufacturer likely will contact you with instructions on how to return the unit for replacement. Otherwise, consumers and end-users can do little about this issue except wait.

Also, don't panic if you end up getting an i7 or i5 computer in 2011 and later find out it is a Sandy Bridge unit. Intel has fixed the problem and plans to resume production at the end of February.

James Derk is a tech columnist and owner of CyberDads, a computer service firm in Evansville, Ind. Contact him at

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