The Problem with High-End Laptops
However, the issue is a massively bigger deal for other companies, especially if you're building Sandy Bridge-based laptops that were designed with a fixed chassis and motherboard. One spokesperson from a high-end laptop maker described the problem to us, saying: 'Our main issue from the laptop side is that all the optical drives in all the Sandy Bridge laptops we have available are on port 2, and the eSATA port is on port 3 on all of them. I mean, the ones that have only got space for one hard drive – that's on port 0, but it's the nature of the products that we sell that they've all got an optical drive and an eSATA port.'
This isn't an issue that you can fix by sampling installing a third-party SATA card; it effectively means that two parts of the laptop might just stop working a few years down the line.
If a laptop's eSATA port uses SATA port 2 or 3, then t could stop working in a couple of years
This also presents a big issue from the point of view of sales and competition. A couple of days ago, Intel released a statement saying that it was going to resume shipments
of the faulty B2-stepping silicon, before the fixed B3-silicon became available. The idea was that computer systems that weren't affected by the issue, either because of the design or because they came with components that addressed the issue, could now be shipped before the B3-silicon became available.
'There are several ways to address the solution,'
Salvator explained to us.'A motherboard swap is one option. Using only ports 0 and 1 is another option. If additional SATA ports are required, a discrete PCI-E SATA controller card would be yet another option.'
As such, many system builders, including Scan, have started selling Sandy Bridge systems again with the faulty silicon, while explaining the issue to their customers. The customers can then choose to swap out their motherboard when revisions become available at no extra cost, or to buy the system with a separate SATA controller card if they want it.
We'll go into this in more depth later, but you can see that the way Intel has handled the situation with B2 silicon has already put some companies at a much greater disadvantage than others. If you can get around the problem in a roundabout way, then you can still get some sales from Sandy Bridge during the next couple of months; if you can't, then you're absolutely scuppered until the fix becomes available, especially as many of Intel's OEM partners are now withholding stock until it can be replaced with a fixed version.
This has resulted in quite a big divide between companies in terms of how the issue has affected them. Some are still managing to sell systems, while others don't have the option unless their customers are happy not to have several working components. With this in mind, what sort of costs are actually being incurred as a result of this issue?
If your Sandy Bridge laptop has a SATA optical drive hooked up to one of the offending ports, then you may not be able to watch Blu-Ray movies on it in the future
Intel's estimated $1 billion costs will be covering the cost of compensating OEM partners such as motherboard manufacturers, but this is meaningless to smaller-scale system builders and retailers. It would be extremely difficult for Intel to compensate system builders accurately anyway. One affected system builder explained to us that 'I can't see how it would work even if they could offer it - you can put a price on the cost to OEM partners, but I don't know how you could even begin to look at sorting out compensation packages for system builders like ourselves.'
Even so, the situation clearly results in hidden costs to the industry, but how much are we talking about? One high-end laptop manufacturer told us that 'the honest answer, in terms of how it's actually affected sales, is that it's cut our turnover in half for this month and next month.
'From a business point of view, it's had quite a big effect on us, because January, February and March are actually the second busiest times of year – the first are September and October when you have a lot of student sales – and obviously it is the biggest technology launch of the year as far as we're concerned. It's not just a new graphics card; it's a whole new mobile platform, which requires a completely new chassis. It's not just the profit we'd make on it; it's the whole turnover issue that it causes, and also everything that we had planned around it.'