Intel has issued the following press statement:
"As part of ongoing quality assurance, Intel Corporation has discovered a design issue in a recently released support chip, the Intel 6 Series, code-named Cougar Point, and has implemented a silicon fix.
In some cases, the Serial-ATA (SATA) ports within the chipsets may degrade over time, potentially impacting the performance or functionality of SATA-linked devices such as hard disk drives and DVD-drives.
The chipset is utilized in PCs with Intel's latest Second Generation Intel Core processors, code-named Sandy Bridge. Intel has stopped shipment of the affected support chip from its factories. Intel has corrected the design issue, and has begun manufacturing a new version of the support chip which will resolve the issue. The Sandy Bridge microprocessor is unaffected and no other products are affected by this issue."
Intel explained to technical experts that the problem is caused by a single transistor in the chipset's second SATA controller which controls 3 SATA ports (the first one controls 2 ports). Apparently, an engineering oversight has caused the chip designers to use a low-voltage transistor in a circuit which would apply high voltage to it, resulting in higher than expected leakage current. This leakage current might accumulate over time and cause the circuit to fail.
It is worth noting that the first 2 SATA ports are completely unaffected by the issue as they reside on a different controller. Most laptops are designed to make use of the first 2 SATA ports only in order to save physical space, and hence most laptops are unaffected and will continue to ship as planned.
Intel has given PC owners the option of returning their Sandy Bridge motherboards for full refund - no questions asked, or to wait until fixed units are available in market (expected by April) and have them replaced for free. Intel has committed $700 million to fixing this problem.