Things are looking a little brighter for Asus, and according to company president Joe Hsieh, motherboard shipment growth for the second quarter is no longer expected to decline quite as sharply as previously thought. Asus had originally predicted a 10-15 percent sequential drop in motherboard shipments, but has now adjusted its outlook to a 5-8 percent decline.
The reason for the revised outlook is strong demand in China. Asus claims a 30 percent share in China's motherboard business, and according to Hsieh, continued strong demand will help the company ship more boards in the coming months.
On the consumer side, don't be surprised if motherboard prices start to rise. Raw material prices are getting more expensive, prompting Hsieh and Co. to evaluate charging more for motherboards, while other mobo makers are in the same situation.
Been out of the motherboard loop for awhile? Even if you haven't, be prepared to learn some new terminology. In a bid to increase market share and separate themselves from the competition, motherboard makers have upped the marketing ante with new or revised terms.
Asus, for example, is touting support for IEEE 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet on a bunch of its new boards. According to Asus, the standard can bump up energy savings to the tune of 81.3 percent just by reducing power delivery when there's no or low network activity.
Gigabyte, meanwhile, has begun advertising its USB Power feature, which the company claims delivers more power to its USB ports, enough to charge Apple's iPad.
And then there's MSI, who recently released a pretty big Hydra driver update for its Big Bang Fuzion motherboard and has been advertising Quantum Wave audio technology and other marketing bullets.
Overclocking enthusiasts have a pair of new motherboards to choose from, both from Asus, and both part of the company's Republic of Gamers (ROG) line. These include the Rampage III Extreme (X58) and Maximus III Extreme (P55), and they're loaded with high end amenities.
Some of the features would be wasted on the casual overclocker, such as the new LN2 mode. What this essentially does is trick the internal diode with a temporary false temperature reading, which should reduce or eliminate cold boot problems when using liquid nitrogen.
High level overclockers will also appreciate the new Extreme Engine Digi+, which is Asus's fancy way of describing its dynamic multi-phase power management scheme.
SATA 6Gb/s and USB 3.0 support are both present and accounted for, as is 10-channel audio, but we're most intrigued by the new USB-based BIOS flashing system. Flashing a BIOS with a USB stick is nothing new, but this one doesn't require a CPU, memory, or videocard. Asus says all you need is a working power supply, so if you pick up a brand new CPU that requires a BIOS update to work, you won't have to fumble around looking for an older chip just to flash the BIOS.
The Rampage III Extreme and Maximums III Extreme are available now for $399 and $349, respectively.
Dropped Wi-Fi signals isn't the only thing early iPad adopters have had to contend with. Trying to charge the tablet has a caused a few headaches as well, at least for those entrenched in the PC camp. The problem, says Apple, is that some USB 2.0 ports and accessories don't provide enough juice for charge the iPad. And in some cases, the iPad will charge, but only when it's in turned off or in Sleep mode.
If you happen to own a recent Gigabyte motherboard, however, you're in luck. The mobo maker announced this week that it has come up with a driver update that solves the problem.
"Gigabyte’s unique USB power design is able to deliver extra power for devices that require more than the 500mA delivered from a traditional USB port. With a simple On/Off Charge driver update which can be found on the Gigabyte website, Gigabyte motherboard users are able to take full advantage of USB charging of their iPad, giving them more options and convenience when recharging their new device," Gigabyte said.
The driver works with a whole bunch of Gigabyte boards, including those for the Intel X58, P55, H57, H55, and AMD 800 chipsets.
Gigabyte’s original GA-P55-UD6 (reviewed December 2009) held the distinction of not only being the first board we tested with Intel’s LGA1156 socket, but also our preferred go-to board for months on end. It was only after Asus’s beautiful Maximus III Formula showed up in our March issue that the GA-P55-UD6 was dethroned.
It didn’t take Gigabyte long to fire a shot back, though, with its GA-P55A-UD6 board. At first glance, you’d think there was no difference between it and its predecessor. But up close, you can see slight changes to the board that make room for USB 3.0 and SATA 6 chips, as well as a slight repositioning of the PCB-mounted reset button. The most obvious physical change is the reduction in the number of inboard SATA ports. The GA-P55-UD6 had 10 ports whereas the GA-P55A-UD6 has eight. Both boards have two eSATA ports, compliments of a JMicron JMB362 part.
Intel isn't the only one getting jiggy with six-core desktop chips, AMD's planning a six-core party of its own. One motherboard maker who won't be showing up fashionably late is Asus, who this week announced a full range of mobos ready to support the upcoming Phenom II X6 parts.
"Besides being ready to support six-core processors, the Asus M4 Series gives users of every level the best performance and value with tis Core Unlocker feature," said Joe Hsieh, General Manger of Asus Motherboard Business. "This has received notable recognition from many of the world's top media organizations for deliver a phenomenal boost in performance."
There are several M4-based boards representing a variety of chipsets ready to support the 6-core parts, all of which will require a BIOS update. If you're planning to upgrade, be sure to check out which BIOS version you need (see list here) and get to flashing!
The Declaration of Independence lists Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness as unalienable Rights, but our founding fathers forgot one: USB 3.0. Asus hasn't forgotten, and whether you're more of a mainstream Joe or a hardcore Harvey, Asus wants the world to know you deserve a SuperSpeed USB product.
"The availability of super fast data transfer to consumers is not a gimmick; it is the way of the future and means to providing better technology to people around the world," Asus recently stated. "Knowing this, Asus now offers USB 3.0 on a wide range of products beyond motherboards. This includes notebooks, the Eee PC range of netbooks, all-in-one PCs, and even digital media players. All of these feature designs specifically tailored to accommodate USB 3.0 connectivity so that its true benefits are available in full."
The motherboard is arguably the most important product, and here too Asus pounds its chest, noting that they were the "first to include USB 3.0 on a motherboard, offering the new technology not just as-is, but optimized to realize its potential."
It will soon be tough to find a new product that doesn't incorporate the new spec, and looking at Asus product line alone, the company has implemented USB 3.0 support on every modern chipset imaginable (Intel P55, X58, 3450, H57/55, g41, and P43, and AMD 890GX/890FX, 880/870, 770, 785G, 780, and 790FX).
Gigabyte is apparently taking this whole USB 3.0 specification thing pretty seriously. As a result, the company claims it has shipped 1 million USB 3.0-capable motherboards, capturing 1/3 of global USB 3.0 market share in the process.
"Reaching the 1 million USB 3.0 products mark is a testament to Gigabyte's strategy of innovating for the high-end product category, and then driving those innovations down through our product line quicker than our competitors in order to boost sales volumes," said Henry Kao, Senior Vice President, Motherboard Business Unit, Gigabyte.
It's also a testament to Gigabyte's rise in the enthusiast community, though the company's USB 3.0 offerings have been spread out among a range of motherboards, including Intel's X58, P55, H57, H55, P45, and P43 chipsets, and AMD's 790FX, 790X, 770, and 785G chipsets.
USB 3.0 ups the ante with transfer rates up to 5Gbps, which is up to 10x faster than that of Hi-Speed USB (USB2.0).
Let's forget for a moment that developers have yet to really tap into the potential of multi-core processing. Now that you've tossed the wet blanket aside, close your eyes and picture not one, but TWO Intel hexacore processors running in tandem. Such a setup would equate to 12 physical cores and 24 CPU threads of computing power, and one badass system.
We won't even talk about the dent this kind of configuration would put on your wallet (no wet blankets, remember?), but will mention that if you want to build one, it's entirely possible. EVGA this week unveiled its Classified SR-2 motherboard with -- drum roll, please -- dual 1366 sockets. And yes, it supports 6-core CPUs.
"We have literally created a new form factor to fit all the amazing things on one board," EVGA said. "Whether you are an extreme gamer, overclocker, power user, workstation suer, server admin, folder/cruncher, or just a PC enthusiast, this is the ultimate motherboard. This board will encode your movies, render your images, or even load your games faster than you ever thought possible."
While you're going all out, the SR-2 will accommodate 4-way SLI, up to 48GB of memory, USB 3.0, and SATA 6Gbps drives. Other features include 8-phase PWM, 8-channel audio, eSATA, a pair of GbE ports, and more.