In what will only be interpreted as more evidence of the dawn of the “Post PC era,” Intel announced today that it will quit the consumer motherboard business after 20 years and end all production and development of mainboards after its next CPU is introduced.
The company said it would wind down operations of its Intel Channel Board Division over the next three years with the final new designs released around the company’s upcoming “Haswell” CPU.
“We disclosed internally today that Intel’s Desktop Motherboard Business will begin slowly ramping down over the course of the next three years,” Intel spokesman Daniel Snyder told Maximum PC today. “As Intel gradually ramps down its motherboard business we are ramping up critical areas of the desktop space including integration of innovative solutions for the PC ecosystem such as reference design development, NUC, and other areas to be discussed later.
Intel's Tom Cove motherboard for the company's Clarkdale CPUs
Snyder said the move is no sign Intel believes for a second that desktops are doomed.
“The Desktop segment continues to be a major focus for Intel with hundreds of products across many subsegments and applications. Intel expects the broad and capable [desktop] motherboard ecosystem (i.e. Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and many others) to fully support Intel’s growing roadmap and large worldwide customer base,” Snyder said. “Intel remains very committed to the desktop business. We are making significant investments in the enthusiast platform with our K SKU portfolio and new 3rd Gen Intel Core Extreme Processors. In fact, Intel’s roadmap includes 227 desktop SKUs at 34 different price points, offering desktop solutions for a wide range of customers. In addition, Intel is also significantly investing in the growing All-in-One ecosystem, contributing to 30 percent growth over the last few years,” Snyder said.
Snyder declined to say why Intel chose to shutter the division but one can guess it wasn’t a huge money maker for the multi-billion company. While bad from a PR standpoint, the decision to exit from consumer boards isn’t likely to be felt too far and wide either. In fact, Maximum PC had a difficult time even nailing down exactly how many boards Intel currently sells to consumers. Asus currently is the leader with Gigabyte, Asrock, and then MSI falling into place. Asus and Gigabyte combined account for roughly 70 percent of all motherboards sold worldwide, according to Taiwan-based news site, DigiTimes.com. With these numbers, it’s no surprise that most enthusiasts didn’t even know Intel made motherboards.
Intel’s boards were rarely in the hunt in bling-appeal and on the bleeding edge. Intel’s board division had tried changing that tune though. In 2008, the division turned heads with its Skulltrail motherboard that boasted two Xeon’s rebranded as Core 2 Extreme QX9770 chips. The board even promised to support SLI but actually became a political football between Nvidia and Intel over the former’s license to make chipsets for the then new Core i7 CPUs.
The Skulltrail board was criticized as “ahead of its time” but found a home in that year’s Maximum PC Dream Machine example for being ahead of its time. Other board makers would emulate the Skulltrail to an extent with their own extreme dual-processor motherboards such as eVGA’s SR-series of boards. For the most part Intel boards have long been lauded as being “Intel reliable” but also utterly forgettable by enthusiasts looking for the next hotness in motherboards.
The eventual shuttering of the board division won’t impact Intel’s other board division known as the Customer Reference Board Group. The CRBG is tasked with developing test motherboards for the companies new CPUs and even issues design guidelines and tips to third-party motherboard vendors. CRB boards are usually supplied to OEMs and board makers to conduct very early testing. In fact, Intel’s consumer board division has long joked that it’s usually last in line in getting CRB boards and design criteria because Asus, Gigabyte and other paying customers rated higher.
No matter what Intel says, the move is likely to reignite rumors and continual conspiracy theories that it planned to ditch desktop computing entirely. Just a month ago, Intel was said to be abandoning all sockets for all future desktops once Haswell is released in favor of BGA products that would come soldered into motherboards. Such a move, many pointed out, would indeed signal a sea change for the DIY crowd who like the granularity of picking and choosing their processor separately from motherboards.
The rumor mill grew to such a fervor that Intel itself had to step in after AMD pledged that it would support sockets for the next couple of years by saying it would support sockets for the “foreseeable future” too.