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Friday, February 11, 2011, 08:50 pm PT (11:50 pm ET)

Source: Intel error pinches Apple's MacBook Pro updates but delays minor

A widely publicized chip design error on Intel's part has disrupted Apple's plans for its next-generation MacBook Pro models, but the impact will be largely immaterial to both the company's bottom line and its customers, AppleInsider  has been told.

Intel said late last month that a design flaw in all of its 6 Series Cougar Point chipsets — due to support new Sandy Bridge Core processors bound for mainstream notebooks and desktops like Apple's MacBook Pro and iMacs — would delay volume launches of those chips due to a lapse in production while it corrected the glitch.

The impact on Apple due to the setback hasn't been immediately clear. However, one person familiar with the matter tells AppleInsider  that some — not all — of the company's upcoming MacBook Pros were affected by the situation. According to this person, the Mac maker elected to make minor tweaks to the logic boards of those models, but that those changes would translate to a delay of less than two weeks.

Reading between the lines can only lead to speculation that Apple was an early recipient of some of those Cougar Point chipsets from Intel, and that the changes it's making involve tweaks to SATA ports that those MacBook Pros will utilize.

Those chipsets offer support for a total of six SATA ports, but Intel acknowledged the only problem with the chips was the potential for four of those ports — 2 through 5 — to "degrade over time, potentially impacting the performance or functionality of SATA-linked devices such as hard disk drives and DVD-drives."

However, an Intel spokesperson confirmed that that the problem does not affect SATA ports 0 or 1, so any system builders that received those parts would be clear to ship those chips in systems that utilize only ports 0 or 1. For its part, Apple makes use of only two SATA ports in its current MacBook Pros, according to iFixit teardown specialist Kyle Wiens, and has no reason to require more going forward.

"There are two connections on the board — one for optical drive, and one for HDD,"  he said. "The other internal devices (trackpad, keyboard, SD card reader, etc.) use USB."

MacBook Pro


In total, Intel said it shipped roughly 8 million of the Cougar Point chipsets to system manufacturers before it discovered the error but that "relatively few consumers" were impacted by this issue because the only systems that actually made it into end consumers hands' were those based on its new Sandy Bridge Core i5 and Core i7 quad core processors for desktop systems. The rest of the chips — presumably some of which went to Apple — hadn't yet been built into systems available to consumers.

As such, the launch window for Apple's new MacBook Pros, which have been rumored to "feature a slight change in chassis design" and speculated to employ the Sandy Bridge Core processors listed in the chart below, remains hazy. Still, evidence from those familiar with the matter and checks within the company's supply chain suggest a period sooner than later — likely between late February and early April for volume shipments.

Intel Sandy Bridge Core chips


Apple as early as last month began drawing down inventories of its lower volume MacBook Pros, namely the 17-inch model, in anticipation of the transition. For instance, some of the company's largest resellers including Amazon direct, MacMall and J&R Computer World (1,2,3) have long run dry of this model. And just this week, MacConnection and MacMall appear to have run into trouble securing more of the two high-end 15-inch models (1,2,3,4), which are now both out of stock.

People familiar with the buy side of operations for big box retailers like Amazon and Best Buy say Apple initially offered restocking dates of late January for those MacBook Pros but then missed those dates and pushed them out a week late. This trend has continued for the past two weeks, where a restocking date is supplied, only to be missed and rescheduled.

According to those same people, such anomalies in Apple's Mac supply chain only manifest in the face of a significant production problem or on the cusp of major product line refresh.