Motherboard makers have had a tough go this past year as consumers cut back spending, but if September is any indication, the worst may be behind them.
Several first-tier mobo makers -- including Asus, Pegatron, MSI, ECS, and Gigabyte -- reported on-month revenue increases for September, which serves as a ray of light in a year where most motherboard companies are down about 20 percent from this same time last year.
The biggest winner appears to be Gigabyte, who saw its month-on-month numbers surge 17 percent and is now only down 2.77 percent from last year. Gigabyte was also one of the most active mobo makers, shipping 5 million units in the third quarter. Only Asus shipped more boards at just under 6 million, but the company also recorded the biggest year-on-year decrease with revenues down 22.3 percent from last year (up 3 percent on the month).
We're all about a hardcore naming scheme that eschews the now overused 'Extreme' nomenclature, so we applaud Asus for its new TUF (The Ultimate Force) series, at least in title.
Kicking off the TUF series is the Sabertooth 55i. Based on Intel's P55 chipset and built around Asus' own 'Marine Cool' concept unveiled at CeBIT earlier this year, the Sabertooh comes equipped with the new CeraMIX heatsink. Through the use of ceramics and a microfin surface texture, the CeraMIX heatsink purports to dissipate heat more rapidly than traditional anti-oxidant compounds, Asus says.
Other TUF attributes include direct memory cooling by way of a CoolMem fan frame that encloses most standard 40mm or 50mm computer fans and fits directly below the memory slots, military-certified capacitors and MOSFETs, E.S.P. (Effcient Switching Power. Drat! We were hoping for a board with a sixth sense), a 12+2 power phase design, and other goodies.
More proof that Intel's P55 platform packs enough punch to satisfy power users and mainstream users alike, MSI's P55-GD80 motherboard helped Taiwan overclocker Coolater set a new Core i7 overclocking record. Using the aforementioned board, Coolater was able ramp up his 2.8GHz Core i7 860 CPU all the way to 5.39GHz.
"The MSI P55-GD80 owes much of its outstanding overclocking ability to its equipped MSI-exclusive technologies, such as the one second auto-overclocking feature OC Genie, the SuperPipe cooling system that effectively drops the operating temperature by 50C, and 1>4 phase total DrMOS power supply design," MSI said in a related statement.
According to the validated CPU-Z screenie, Coolater ran a 245.39MHz bus speed with a 3926.2MHz frontside bus and a 1.672 vCore. And of course at nearly 5.4GHz, LN2 was involved in keeping the proc cool.
In the small form factor graphics market, Nvidia’s Ion has been stealing the headlines lately, but it turns out VIA might be gearing up to give them a run for their money. Built on a new standard known as “Pico-ITXe”, the company has released their EPIA-P710, which claims to be capable of full 1080p video playback using nothing more than passive cooling. Of course we were skeptical at first, but they have finally backed up their claims by posting a short clip on YouTube showing the board in action.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this new part is how full featured it is given the size. It sports 3 USB 2.0 ports, has both SATA and IDE, as well as Gigabit Ethernet support. As you might expect, the current build is pared up with a VIA C7 1.0 GHz processor, but apparently this is still more than enough to handle anything the VX855 Media System Processor can’t handle video wise.
Mainboard maker DFI has a rather interesting product on the way. The upcoming Hybrid P45-ION-T2A2 motherboard is capable of running two computers on a single board. It supports both a high performanceP45/LGA775 based systems, and a low power Atom/Ion based system.
They include a small external button assembly that can be used to switch on the fly between platforms. The two platforms can both be run at the same time, or you can shut down the one you aren’t using. The back panel is a bit confusing. There are some shared ports as well as dedicated ports. It has a block of four shared USB ports that are available to both systems. The audio and DVI ports are also shared. Each system has a dedicated set of USB ports and an Ethernet jack as well. The Ion chipset on the Atom side has its own dedicated HDMI port for some low-wattage HD video action.
Overall, this is a terribly impressive feat of engineering. Watch the video at the link to get the full effect. The possibilities for true multitasking are a bit staggering. Imagine encoding video on the LGA775 platform while outputting HD video with the Ion from the same box. There’s no firm release date or price as of yet. Would you consider getting one?
Some sources are saying that, at least internally, Intel is talking about shipping one million Lynnfield processors for desktops by the end of 2009. Should Intel meet its goal, it would put the pressure on motherboard makers to keep up.
Asus and Gigabyte are each on pace to ship 400,000 P55-based mobos by the end of the year, leaving 200,000 units for other manufacturers to pick up the slack. MSI, ECS, and ASRock are expected to ship around that many mobos, but all it takes is for one manufacturer to miss its goal for there to be more CPUs than there are mobos.
Asus looks to be the most active for the rest of the year. According to company VP Joe Hsieh, Asus' expects to ship between 5.5 to 6 million motherboards in the third quarter, 6 million in the fourth, and 22 million total. Going forward, Asus says P55-based boards will account for 10 percent of all shipments.
Holy smoke, somebody was ready for Intel to launch its socket 1156-based Core i5/i7 platform. EVGA, best known for its videocards but who has also churned out a handful of high-end motherboards, today announced not one, not two, but SEVEN P55-based mobos.
Taking up the flagship position is EVGA's P55 Classified 200. Sporting a sexy red and black color scheme, the P55 Classified is aimed at the "ultra enthusiast" and includes mounting holes for both LGA 775- and LGA 1156-based heatsinks. It also brings to the table a 10 phase digital PWM, Vdroop control, EVGA's E-LEET overclocking utility, onboard Clear CMOS, Power, and Reset buttons, 300 percent more socket gold (bling!), an onboard CPU temp monitor, lower inductance capacitors, and several other marketing bullets that will hit hardcore overclockers squarely between the eyes.
Way on the other side of the spectrum sits EVGA's P55 Micro LE, an entry-level board that still manages to pack a 6+1 phase PWM, Vdroop control, one-touch overclocking (EVGA Dummy OC), several dedicated read points to measure voltages with your voltmeter, and more.
Other boards -- specs of which you can check out here -- include the P55 Micro, P55 LE, P55 SLI, P55 FTW, and P55 FTW 200.
Everyone in the motherboard business seems to be having a tough run to end the summer, and that includes Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS), who announced consolidated revenues of just under $186 million for August, down 2.8 percent sequentially. That also represents a drop of 10.4 percent on year.
ECS has had a rough time maintaining the kind of motherboard shipment numbers it had grown accustomed to before the economy took a dump. The mobo maker shipped just 1.43 million units in August, which is down 9 percent on month and a significant 20.3 percent on year. Notebooks, on the other hand, climbed to 200,000 units, ECS reports.
Despite the continued struggle to push more motherboards into the marketplace, ECS says it is retaining a positive outlook towards the second half of 2009 and expects revenues to turn back around. Part of the optimism is no doubt related to Intel's recently released Core i5 platform and the resulting demand for P55 chipset products.
MSI joins a growing list of manufacturers to take the easy route and describe a new product as 'Xtreme.' In this case, MSI is referring to its just-released Xtreme Speed motherboard series, which seeks to capitalize on Intel's also just-released P55 platform.
According to MSI, Xtreme Speed boards will integrate three high-power features, including:
OC Genie - Detects and sets performance-optimized CPU, RAM, and chipset settings with the press of a button.
SuperPipe - An 8mm full copper heatpipe that MSI claims is 60 percent thicker than traditional heatpipes. MSI says you can expect boards equipped with its SuperPipe to run up to 50C cooler than those without.
DrMOS - Technology which combines a Driver IC, a Top MOSFET, and a Bottom MOSFET into one chip. MSI says the shorter distance ultimately results in 4 times faster phase switching speed and over 90 percent better power efficiency.
In addition to the above, Xtreme Speed boards will come with MSI's True Blu-ray Audio, power eSATA, a USB safeguard to prevent damage from short-circuits and ESD, active phase change switching (APS), and a handful of other goodies.
The summer hasn't been particularly kind to Silicon Integrated Systems, who saw its revenues for August tumble 25.8 percent on year to $413.4 million. However, that figure also marks the eighth consecutive month of growth for the entry-level and IGP chipset maker.
SiS said it expects growth to continue to the tune of 20 percent for the third quarter, and they're probably right. The growth in August can mainly be attributed to rising sales of entry- and mid-level PC chipsets, as well as Xbox 360 southbridge chipsets, the company said. And with the Xbox 360 recently receiving an attractive price cut, SiS could potentially do very well in the console sector.
SiS currently supplies budget chipsets to Asus, ECS, and Clevo, among other less recognizable brands.