After a rough start to the summer, motherboard manufacturers are seeing sales pick up this this month and have turned optimistic about the third-quarter. Shipments are on pace to grow 20 percent on month in July, and if things continue this way, shipments will grow 15-20 percent sequentially for the quarter.
This is a far different picture than the gloom and doom scenario top-tier motherboard makers were painting just a short time ago. But as demand has started to pick up in Europe and China, so has their confidence that they'll be able to move more boards than previously thought.
So far this year, Asus has shipped roughly 10.3 million of its own-branded boards, followed by Gigabyte with 8.4 million units. ECS shipped the third most boards with 4.4 million units, followed by MSI and ASRock (a subsidiary of Asus) at 3.8 million and 3.9 million units, respectively.
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.
Without a whole lot of fanfare, MSI has gone and released a handful of pictures of its upcoming X58A-GD65 motherboard. From the looks of things and what we know so far, this will serve as MSI's flagship X58 board.
Every bit the next-gen part, the X58A-GD65 will come with six SATA 3Gb/s ports, two SATA 6Gb/s, two USB 3.0 ports, and twin eSATA ports. It will also include MSI's so-called "Military Class" components, which consists of Active Phase Switching, DrMOS, high-end capacitors, and a handful of other goodies.
The rest of the board's construction consists of six DDR3-2133 memory slots, three PCI-E x16 slots (supports 3-way SLI or quad CrossFireX setups), Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, and 7.1 channel audio.
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.
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).
VIA has made a living by cramming big features onto small packages, and that's certainly the case with the company's new EITX-3001. Built around the Em-ITX form factor, VIA's fanless next-gen device measures just 17cm (W) x 12cm (L) and sports a trumped up feature set.
"With the VIA EITX-3001 we're offering a full-featured board that is the ideal starting point for much slimmer, fanless and rugged devices," said Daniel Wu, Vice President, VIA Embedded Platform Division, VIA Technologies, Inc. "The VIA EITX-3001 combines versatility with ruthless stability at extreme temperatures in a form factor that is ideal for space constrained industrial and commercial environments."
The tiny board sports the latest VIA Nano E-Series processor clocked at 1.3GHz and pairs it with the company's VX855 media system processor. Between the two, the EITX-3001 is able to handle 1080p HD video. It also comes with integrated Chrome9 HCM graphics, five USB 2.0 host ports, Gigabit networking, support for 5-wire/4-wire resistive touch interface connectors, and HDMI.
Quite frankly, we're a little surprised the BIOS has lasted as long as it has, and so we're not the least bit shocked that MSI is already making preparations to retire the antiquated standard. In its place will be UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface), essentially a modernized bootloader originally developed by Intel and now backed by a number of heavy hitting tech giants, including AMD, American Megatrends, Apple, ARM, Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, Phoenix Technologies, and more.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an MSI spokesperson told THINQ.co.uk that UEFI is literally right around the corner and that the BIOS is not long for this world.
"MSI will start to phase in UEFI starting from the end of this year, and we expect it will be widely adopted after three years," the anonymous MSI tipster revealed.
The spokesperson went on to say that the first new UEFI products will be built around Intel's Sandy Bridge chipset, which will extend from the entry-level on up to the enthusiast sector. These boards will materialize towards the end of the year and into early 2011.
"We won't consider UEFI as an expensive premium feature, but as a must-have for everyone!," the spokesperson added.
J&W doesn't have much of a presence in the U.S. (Evertek Computer Corp. is the only U.S. vendor listed on J&W's "Where to Buy" page), and chances are, you've never heard of them. But if J&W continues to release motherboards like the Minix 890GX-USB3, the company won't remain obscure for very long.
Their latest Minix board is built around the mini-ITX form factor and is the first such board to support both USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps. As you might have guessed, it's powered by AMD's 890GX IGP chipset, which includes onboard ATI Radeon HD 4290 graphics with DirectX 10.1 support.
Packing a lot of power into a small package, the Minix 890GX-USB3 also comes built around AMD's AM3 socket and boasts support for the Phenom II series, including AMD's latest six-core processors, as well as the Windows-based Core-Unlocking utility.
"We planned to launch this motherboard since 2009 and the specification was revised several times to make it the 'best-of-the-best' mini-ITX motherboard on the market. Many users have the misunderstanding that small cannot be powerful, or mini-ITX is only capable to play HD videos, and we wanted to prove that mini-ITX can be small and powerful," said Ken Wong, Product Marketing Manager of J&W Technology Ltd.
Maximum PC readers love their desktops, and that's why it warms our hearts to hear someone else agree for a change, even if his reasons for doing so are remarkably self -serving. Gigabyte's Henry Kao (vice president of motherboards) is making the somewhat bold prediction that laptops, not desktops will die off as a result of the rising popularity of smart phones and tablet PCs. Because of their "internet capabilities" Kao said "users will eventually stop buying notebooks for their mobile computing needs. Instead, everything done away from the desk or even on the road will be through a smart phone or tablet".
To this end Gigabyte is predicting a boon in the future for more powerful desktop PCs that users can return to for more complex tasks. "Once those people have those mobile devices, people need performance desktop at home or the office," said Kao. In another somewhat unusual twist for a PC executive, Kao labeled the iPhone and iPad as game changers in the mobile computing space.
Kao predicts the full death of the notebook will take three to five years "100 percent replacement won't happen overnight". His argument in favor of desktops carries at least some merit, but I think many in our community would be willing to pick a fight over anyone who claims the iPad is capable of replacing a full-featured notebook for day-to-day tasks. I suspect tablets will need to go through a few more iterations before we reach that point, making the three to five year timeline somewhat ambitious.
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.