The bean counters at Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and every other first-tier motherboard maker are working overtime crunching numbers and trying to get a pulse on the mobo market.
June hasn't been kind to any of the motherboard makers except MSI, which saw revenues jump 13.05 percent over the previous month. ECS took the biggest hit, recording a drop of 17.73 percent, followed by Asus at 5.53 percent. Gigabyte, Pegatron, and ASRock also skidded backwards to the tune of 5.48 percent, 3.1 percent, and 0.94 percent, respectively.
But while June wasn't particularly kind to most of the major motherboard players, they've all seen positive gains for the year, except for ASRock, which is down 11.94 percent. Asus is the biggest winner, having increased its revenues to 68.62 percent on year, while Pegatron and MSI recorded gains of 20.4 percent and 19.03 percent, respectively. Everyone else saw double digit gains as well.
Well here's something we didn't expect to see, at least not yet. According to reports, both Acer and Asus seem content with each one's respective netbook lineup and will see how the market plays out before deciding on whether or not to release any new models.
This doesn't include upcoming SKUs already slated for release, as both companies will inject a few more netbooks into the market around the middle of August. But after that, Acer and Asus want to see what kind of demand remains before forging ahead with more models, a stark departure from the near constant barrage of new netbooks from each camp the past two years.
What's even more interesting about this is that Intel plans to release its dual-core Atom N550 processor in the third quarter of this year. Outside of a handful of specialty netbooks sporting Nvidia's Ion graphics or AMD's Mobility Radeon series, dual-core netbooks are few and far between. Though netbooks have always been about portability first and foremost, one of the chief complaints is that they're simply not powerful enough, and a dual-core chip could give the popular PC segment a needed kick in the pants. However, Intel's price point for the N550 puts the price gap between it and the N455/N475 at around $11 to $22, which has made netbook makers hesitant in building models around the faster part.
Asus has managed to squeeze about as much performance as currently possible into its new netbook, the Eee PC 1215N. It all starts with a dual-core Intel Atom D525 processor clocked at 1.8GHz, which is supplemented by Nvidia's Ion graphics chipset. Nvidia's Optimus technology is also part of the package, allowing the 1215N to switch between the discrete Ion chipset and integrated graphics to extend battery life.
Other features include choice of 250GB or 320GB hard drive, 500GB of cloud-based storage (Asus WebStorage), Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and HDMI-out.
With the HDMI-out port and Nvidia's Ion graphics, Asus claims you'll have no trouble playing back Full HD 1080p content on your a large screen TV. Embedded hardware decoders include H.264, VC1, and MPEG2.
ECS may not be on your radar when shopping for new computer parts, but it may end up in your system anyway. According to reports, Asus plans to outsource a portion of its production of motherboards and videocards to ECS. If true, it's somewhat of a curious decision, given that the two companies are rivals of sorts, but apparently Asus wants to wean itself off of Pegatron Technology, at least partially, industry sources say.
None of this is official yet and Asus is keeping tight lipped, but the company did recently add Foxconn and Quanta as production partners for notebooks and Eee PCs, as well as employed Foxconn as its OEM maker of Garmin-Asus smartphones.
While Asus is looking to expand its production relationships, Pegatron has been picking up the slack by soliciting business from motherboard and videocard orders from Gigabyte, the sources added.
What differentiates one netbook model from any other of the same size? There are only a few flavors, after all: last-gen netbooks, with Atom N270 or N280 processors and Windows XP; current-gen netbooks, with Pine Trail Atom processors and Windows 7; and Ion-based netbooks, with Nvidia mobile graphics and middlin’ battery life. Well, you could wait for second-gen Ion netbooks, which promise excellent gaming power and 10-hour battery life. Or you could go for the Asus Eee 1201N, which offers first-gen Ion performance and—get this—a friggin’ dual-core processor.
The 12-inch 1201N is the first netbook we’ve tested with an honest-to-goodness dual-core processor inside—Intel’s 1.6GHz Atom N330, which you may remember from bare-bones Ion boards and nettops. Paired with the N330 is Nvidia’s first-gen Ion platform, which turns a 12-inch netbook into something approaching a gaming platform (if 7-year-old titles fit your idea of games). The last Ion device we reviewed, the HP Mini 311 (February 2010), used a single-core N280, while upcoming second-gen Ion netbooks will use single-core Atom N450s. So is there a niche for a dual-core Atom netbook with Ion?
Just about everyone knows that Nvidia’s hot new Fermi graphics chip is literally hot. So, when Asus bundled its new ENGTX480 card with a custom voltage tweaker for overclocking, we wondered if it was such a good idea.
After all, do you really need the card to run hotter? And with the speed of the ENGTX480, you probably don’t need the higher clocks anyway. The ENGTX480 ships with 32 shader processors (what Nvidia calls “CUDA cores”) disabled, yet the card still manages to be the fastest single-GPU card you can buy today.
Rolling out of T-Mobile this week is the Garminfone, which as you might have guessed is both a smartphone and GPS. Asus had a hand in building the device, opting to stuff a Qualcomm MSM7227 processor (600MHz) into the 4.57 inch x 0.5 inch by 2.46 inch smarthpone rather than the far sexier Snapdragon chip clocked at 1GHz.
Other design decisions include a 3.5-inch display with a 320 x 480 resolution, 4GB of internal memory, and a 3 megapixel camera. Living up to its namesake, the Garminfone comes with extensive navigation features with turn-by-turn directions, voice, weather, traffic, and gas prices, and you can even record your own custom voices as navigation prompts with Garmin Voice Studio.
Unlike other smartphones, where GPS is typically tacked on as an afterthought, the opposite holds true for the Garminfone - it's primarily a GPS with smartphone capabilities. Layered on top of Android is a custom home screen, though it does come preoloaded with Google Mobile Services giving you instant access to Google Calendar, Gmail, YouTube, and GoogleTalk.
The Garminfone is available now for $200 after $50 mail-in-rebate card and with a 2-year service agreement.
Most first-tier motherboard makers started off the year with lofty shipments goals, but it looks as though all of them will have to play catch-up after a disappointing month of sales. Asus, Pegatron, MSI, and Gigabyte each saw over 10 percent on-month revenue drops in the month of May, the mobo makers said.
Waning demand in Europe and China are largely to blame for the slumping sales, which the companies hope is only temporary. Asus was hit particularly hard, noting revenues of $674.12 million for May, a decrease of 22 percent on the month. However, Asus is still up by a whopping 79.71 percent on the year, and up over 80 percent in combined revenues for the first five months of 2010.
The same trend holds true for Gigabyte, though to a lesser extent. Gigabyte's revenues for May were down almost 11 percent, but up nearly 6 percent on the year, while accumulated revenues from January through May were up 17.63 percent on the year.
MSI's numbers are down, both for May (17.88 percent) and on the year (0.07 percent), though combined revenues were up for the first five months (21.74 percent).
A little late in the game or not, AMD recently said it wanted to focus more attention on the netbook market rather than jump into tablets. Helping AMD do that is Asus, which plans on releasing an AMD-based Eee PC later this year.
It's called the Eee PC 1015T, and according to the spec sheet on display at Computex, the upcoming netbook comes configured with an AMD V105 processor inside. The 10.1-inch netbook also sports an ATI Radeon HD 4200 series GPU, up to 4GB of DDR3 memory, 250GB/300GB hard drive with 500GB of cloud storage (Asus WebStorage), 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth 3.0, 6-cell battery, and Windows 7 along with the pre-boot Express Gate OS.
Otherwise, the Eee PC 1015T retains the familiar Seashell design as previous Eee PC netbooks along with a glossy finish. No word on when or where Asus plans to bring this one to market, or for how much.
There's a code among motherboard makers that says integrated graphics have to suck. To be fair, today's IGP boards are plenty powerful enough for everyday computing tasks and even some light gaming duties, but don't kid yourself, you're not going to build a respectable gaming machine without a discrete graphics card. Not yet, anyway.
Asus has apparently decided to challenge this notion that integrated graphics have to be second rate. How so? Well, they've gone and slapped a Radeon HD 5770 chip on an Intel X58-based motherboard they're calling "Immensity." What's more, that isn't even the only graphics trick up this concept board's sleeve - it also comes equipped with a Lucid Hydra chip, which means that you can add two more PCI-E graphics card for three-way CrossFireX action, or mix and match both ATI and Nvidia graphics cards.
Even though this is a concept board, it sounds as though Asus is fairly confident this one will eventually graduate from prototype status into a shipping product. Here's hoping Asus not only goes through with this, but starts a trend in the IGP market.