The stars are aligned to build your next homebrewed rig, or to simply upgrade your existing platform. Assuming you didn't procrastinate, you should have received your tax refund by now, the Sandy Bridge situation is largely a thing of the past, and this might be as low as motherboard prices are going to get for awhile.
Remember when you could buy a high-end AMD motherboard for around a C-note? You have to think all the way back to the Barton glory days, when the Asus A7N8X Deluxe and Abit NF7-S v2 dominated any talk of bang-for-buck ratios. But that was a long time ago, and if you want a top-of-the-line motherboard today, you're looking at spending north of $200, particularly if you're invested with Intel. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like mobo prices are coming down anytime soon, and in fact they may be on the rise.
So maybe we're exaggerating a little when we say Asus stole our idea for a cardboard case, but for the record, former Maximum PC Associate Editor and current Contributing Writer, David Murphy, beat Asus to the punch by three and a half years. Printed in our October 2007 issue and viewable online here, The Murph went up against Senior Editor Gordon Mah Ung in our $500 PC Build Off challenge, and in an attempt to save a few pennies to apply to other upgrades, Murphy stuck his parts inside a cardboard box and called the abomination a system. If you thought his idea was brilliant, you'll love Asus' motherboard box/case concept.
The whole Sandy Bridge situation is finally starting to settle down, allowing Intel to put the chipset snafu behind them and move on. So too can OEM system builders, who have been receiving corrected 6-series motherboards since mid-February. That includes Puget, who announced it's now shipping systems using the corrected B3 revision motherboards.
If you view the art of overclocking as a necessary step in the PC building process, then Gigabyte's new X58A-OC motherboard might be just the slab of silicon you've been waiting for. Gigabyte's pitching it as the "world's first overclocking motherboard," a bit of stretch when you think back to boards that have come before it, particularly in DFI's heyday, though we're more apt to believe the X58A-OC was "designed from the ground up for extreme overclockers." There are some neat features here, some of which we've never seen on a motherboard before.
We'll assume you're up to speed on the whole Sandy Bridge situation that's been covered at length here and elsewhere on the Web, but when new boards do start rolling off the assembly line, how can you be sure you're getting the newest revision? With regards to MSI, the company plans to slap a B3 revision sticker on updated P67 and H67 motherboards. There's another way you can ensure you don't get stuck with old inventory.
News and rumor site Fudzilla is reporting that Intel will begin shipping the B3 stepping for its 6-series chipset part by Monday, February 14th. For those of you who live in a cave under a rock on another planet, the original 6-series chipset contained a "design flaw" that affected several SATA ports. Only SATA ports 0/1 were unaffected, as well as those that might have been provided by a third-party (like Marvell, for instance). The B3 stepping is supposed to address this.
Intel yesterday announced it discovered a design issue in its 6-Series chipsets intended for Sandy Bridge processors and opted to halt shipments of new boards. News of the flaw spread almost immediately across the Internet, though it took some time for popular vendors to pull potentially affected motherboards from their virtual store shelves. Today is a different story.
A quick glance online shows that Sandy Bridge boards are increasingly difficult to come by. While you can easily find and purchase Sandy Bridge processors, which Intel ensures are in tip-top shape, we couldn't find a single socket 1155 motherboard at Micro Center, MWave, Newegg, TigerDirect, or ZipZoomFly.
While the issue puts Sandy Bridge builders in limbo, the financial impact to Intel is estimated at $700 million, which is the total cost to repair and replace busted boards and systems.
To keep abreast of this ongoing situation, be sure to bookmark our continually updated FAQ, in which we post more questions and answers as additional info surfaces.
It's probably not fair to call ASRock an underdog anymore, if it ever was. Asus gave birth to ASRock back in 2002 with the intent of going toe-to-toe with ECS and other vendors in the entry-level market. Here we are nearly a decade later and ASRock is now the third largest motherboard maker in the world, DigiTimes says.
ASRock shipped 8 million of its own branded motherboards in 2010, leapfrogging both ECS and MSI to take third place, albeit a somewhat distant one.
Ahead of ASRock is Gigabyte, which shipped around 18 million of its own branded boards in 2010. And up in first place is who else but Asus, which missed its goal of shipping 25 million boards last year but retained the top spot by cranking out 21.6 million mobos.
Getting back to ASRock, the company has been able to attract a following by offering big feature-sets for comparatively low prices. The company also isn't afraid to take design risks, as it first did with its 939Dual-SATA board back in the day. This inexpensive board was the first to combine both an AGP and PCI-E port on the same board without introducing a significant performance penalty.
Talk about awful timing. With the recent launch of Intel's much anticipated Sandy Bridge platform, we imagine a good number of DIY system builders have already begun mapping out their next system overhaul. That's fine and dandy, but be sure to set aside a little extra for the motherboard.
Chewei Lin, general manager of Asus' motherboard division, says that his company made the decision to raise quotes for mobos, according to DigiTimes. The decision wasn't made out of greed or to cash in on Intel's new platform, but to cope with the labor shortage in China, the falling NT dollar, and higher material costs, particularly copper, Lin said.
How this all shakes out in the retail market remains to be seen, and Lin claims this won't affect the consumer side too much, but as far as contract quotes go, industry sources expect motherboard prices to jump 5-10 percent on average, and up to 15 percent in some cases.