Computex 2001 Manufacturer Report
Fierce competition is an elementary trait of the motherboard business. Many manufacturers went to Computex in order to attract attention with brightly decorated booths, lovely shows or pretty women. The main objective is of course gaining market share to assure their long-term existence. Diversifying their product portfolio is an important step to reach this essential goal. Most companies that are mentioned in this article are specialized in manufacturing motherboards. Besides that, they also make several other types of components that fit suitably into their product range. Typically, these companies also make graphics cards, sound cards, network cards, CD/DVD drives or bare bone systems.
There is a distinct trend: The computer will not stay in offices any more, but it will gradually conquer the living room, the kitchen your car or other places of our everyday life. Small-size computers, PDAs, set top boxes and DVD players are the devices that pertain to this vision.
Manufacturers that are able to provide a varied range of components or end devices will have the ideal basis for success over the next few years.
i845 Is Popular
This is one of the first i845 motherboards with DDR support (see the memory slots)
Almost all manufacturers agree on one point: Intel's 845 chipset alias Brookdale could easily become the 'new BX'. Analysts expect Pentium 4 sales to rise still in fall, since the new chipset supports PC133 SDRAM. The more expensive Rambus DRAM as an expense factor is history, making mainstream systems a good deal cheaper now - but also making them approximately 15% slower than current Pentium 4 systems with dual channel RDRAM.
Many companies were able to show working systems based on i845; an indication that the chipset has reached maturity. In addition, the chipset is also ready to run DDR SDRAM. Some companies are confident to have their final versions ready by the end of July - though Intel is currently not even planning to introduce this faster memory interface in 2001.
There is still hope: VIA is also working on a Pentium 4 chipset with DDR support. As soon as their P4X chipset is finished, Intel may be forced to release their DDR interface as well.
Leadtek: A Multimedia Company
Leadtek is primarily known for graphics cards. Regular readers certainly remember that Leadtek products have already been reviewed several times on Tom's Hardware Guide.
The company used Computex to present their varied product range. Besides the graphics cards, Leadtek now offers some motherboards, TV cards and controller cards. Finally, they are the first company to present a WebCam Server. The stand-alone device (see picture) has four composite video-in ports for video cameras. A RJ45 cable connects the device to any TCP/IP network, allowing all computers to access the WebCam Server. As you can imagine, the device allows you to install video surveillance systems at attractive prices. Thanks to the network port, the cameras can be checked independently from the operating system. This can also be done over the internet, with the frame rate depending on the internet connection.
Another interesting product is their Broadband Videophone, which makes use of existing IP networks and technologies like DSL in order to establish an audio/video connection. A short demonstration was quite convincing, which makes their claim of 30 fps seem realistic. Unlike ISDN, the image quality depends on the available bandwidth.
A GeForce2 MX400 graphics card using 3.5 ns SDRAM. The 64 MB board should be available soon and is expected to run a memory clock of 270 MHz.
Gainward's plan is to maximize the features. In line with this concept, all models are available in both standard version or with a TV in and out. If you choose the TV-out version, a splitter cable will be inside the box. This cable allows you to attach any video in or out device either via S-Video or via a composite connector. In the future, most cards will also be available with a DVI output for digital flat panels.
However, Gainward's specialty is the so-called Golden Samples. Those cards use the fastest memory available. Some weeks ago, we already reviewed the GeForce2 MX400 TwinView Vivo, running both the GeForce2 MX and the video memory at 240 MHz.
The latest version will come with 64 MB SDRAM memory and is expected to run with a 250 MHz chip and 270 MHz memory clock. In order to ensure stability, this graphics card uses six PCB layers - just as many as a GeForce 3 board. Common GeForce2 MX cards can live with four layers.
The Gainward drivers allow you to switch the graphics card into the so-called 'Enhanced Mode', which sets the card to the faster clock speed. Different from other overclocking tools, Gainward guarantees (!) their Golden Samples to run the Enhanced Mode speeds.
AOpen: The First DVD+RW Writer
If you need storage capacity above the CD's 700 MB, you can use DVD-RAM or DVD-R. Yet, both systems have disadvantages; particularly the high prices for both media and devices prevent a quick success in the market.
AOpen hopes to change everything with the release of the first DVD+RW Writer in September. The device will be able to read and write CDs, CD-RWs, DVDs and DVD+RWs.
So far, Pioneer is the only company that released an 'affordable' DVD-R (< $ 1000) device. The new AOpen drive does not support the DVD-R standard, but they claim that the DVD+RWs can still be read in any DVD drive or DVD player.
We will keep an eye on it and provide an article, as soon as the writer will be available.
Though AOpen is going to be a competitor for their Acer (which they are part of), they are ready to ship their first Notebooks, called Open Book. The picture shows the model 735, which comes with nice features like a FireWire port, 15" TFT, 100 MBit LAN, digital audio out (SP-DIF) and a video out.
Besides that, AOpen also presented their own power supplies (250, 300, 350 W) and several CPU coolers. As there are also AOpen cases, keyboards and mice, the company is now able to ship complete computers except the floppy and hard drive.
Gigabyte: I'm Blue!
The new Gigabyte Pentium III motherboard based on the Intel 815 EP chipset is very interesting for overclockers: The GA-6OXET is able to run 170 MHz FSB speed reliably. As the company uses the B-stepping of the 815 chipset, this board is also ready for the new Pentium III called Tualatin.
Gigabyte explained that the motherboard would technically be able to run even faster FSB speeds, if the PCI and AGP cards as well as the IDE controller were able to run such high clock speeds.
Gigabyte offers many motherboards based on almost all of the currently available chipsets (including the new SiS 733, 735 and AMD760).
As you could already read in our press release section, Asus was the first manufacturer to show a working system consisting of their nForce based motherboard (A7N266) and an AMD Athlon 1.4 GHz.
Some people were surprised to see more Asus motherboards that target the low-end: The A7S-VM (SiS730), TUA266 (ALi Aladdin Pro 5) and CUSI-FX (SiS 630) are all using low-end chipsets. In addition, Asus is also ready to release a board based on the SiS 735. However, the low-budget class can still be split up into high and low quality. Asus, as the most successful company in this business, definitely wants to gain market shares here by introducing their quality level into the low-budget sector.
Asus is the only motherboard company that seems to be promoting their motherboard accessories just as any other retail product. The latest product information guide also informs about USB and video add-ons, a chassis intrusion module, IrDA transmission hardware and of course the iPanel.
Asus AIMM: Dedicated 4 MB display cache for i815 based motherboards. This module will be plugged into the AGP slot.
Asus CIDB: The Chassis Intrusion Detection connector is no longer a useless feature, as Asus ships the corresponding module now.
An infrared port is available on almost all motherboards. Still many companies do not provide the required transmission modules. Asus IrDA is available.
ECS presented several new PDAs at the Computex. The EPD30 series is based on the Motorola DragonBall CPU and comes with a 160x160 monochrome display. The 4 MB memory can be expanded with Sony memory sticks. Customers have two operating systems to choose: Penbox OS or Mine OS. The devices are expected to be available for less than $ 100.
ECS is ready for Brookdale: They presented two new motherboards (one ATX, one MicroATX). In addition, the current Pentium III motherboards have all been upgraded to the latest chipset versions, supporting Intel's Tualatin.
They have several motherboards that support both SDRAM and DDR memory. ECS decided to use blue colored DDR sockets in order to make it easier to tell them apart.
Some weeks ago, we reviewed one of Azza's motherboards in our review of special edition 815 motherboards with their most important feature being the Azza-Up Panel. This little box includes two USB ports and the line in/out connectors. After installing it into a 5.25" drive bay, you can conveniently use these connectors at the front of your computer.
Currently, the Azza-Up is being reworked: Versions with four and even six USB ports are ready to hit the market soon. In addition, Azza will release a universal version that can be used with non-Azza motherboards as well.
CP Technology, a graphics cards and IA products manufactures in Taiwan, concentrates on graphics cards branded 'PowerColor'. Their portfolio includes many graphics cards based on various brand name chip sets, IEEE1394 FireWire controller, TV cards and other multimedia products, such as 2.4 Ghz wireless devices. The PowerColor branded products are available not only in the Americas and the Far East, and Europe being sold by local distributors and resellers throughout these regions.
IWill: Exclusivity On Schedule
IWill has been using 6 channel sound on several motherboards. Henceforth, a little board will also be included (see picture). On the top of the slot panel, there are two of the six outputs. The golden connectors in the middle are digital audio input and output. Right below, there is also one optical digital input and one output (e.g. for DVD or MiniDisc player). I was very surprised to hear that IWill is even going to ship an optical cable also. Usually, they have to be purchased separately, even if you get an expensive DVD player.
IWill is ready for Foster: The DX400-SN uses the i860 chipset.
Microstar International showed us several interesting products as well. For instance, we were shown a Dual Athlon system based on AMD's 760MP chipset.
MSI is the first company to ship a Pentium 4 motherboard that comes with only four PCB layers (see picture above). Due to the complexity of the i850 chipset, six layers have been necessary. A radical redesign was required to accomplish this piece of work, placing the fourth DIMM slots right beside the AGP slot.
Thanks to the reduced production costs of a 4-layer motherboard, MSI should be able to offer their motherboard at more attractive prices than the competitors.
InnoVision is a Hong Kong company that mainly concentrates on the graphics cards sector. In contrast to PowerColor, their portfolio also includes a graphics card based on ST Microelectronic's KYRO II chip and another two models, using the Trident Blade XP and Blade T64. The latter two cards being low-cost products.
InnoVision tries to have a tight portfolio; thus, they are able to offer their products at competitive prices.
Focus on Professional Workstations and Servers
Supermicro provides high-end hardware for the motherboard and server market. Compared to giants like Asus, they are a small company. Still they have a respectable market share in the high-end board arena.
Their latest motherboard is the P4DC6. This Dual-Xeon (Foster) motherboard is based on the i860 chipset (see picture) and includes an Adaptec 7899W dual channel U160 SCSI controller. Supermicro is the first company to use a RAID port which, once equipped with the required RAID expansion board (Adaptec 7902), will not waste a PCI slot, as it uses a completely different connector.
Besides a huge product portfolio, Supermicro also offers several high-end 1U and 2U solutions.
That is the RAID extension for the P4DC6.
Tyan already took part in many Tom's Hardware Guide motherboard reviews that showed this company's focus on system stability. Tyan's products are typically targeted to the server and workstation market.
In cooperation with AMD, Tyan developed the first Dual Athlon motherboard based on the AMD762 (760MP chipset). The Thunder K7 (S2462) is AMD's reference design, hence it is on the market a good deal earlier than their competitors. It features five 64 Bit PCI slots, 3COM network adapter on-board, Adaptec 7800W dual-channel U160 SCSI controller and lots of monitoring features.
Another highlight is the Thunder i860. Designed for Dual Xeon systems, it supports one or two Foster CPUs at up to 1.7 GHz clock speed. The motherboard is equipped with the finest components, like comparable products.
Tyan currently offers almost 20 motherboards using different chipsets from AMD, Intel, VIA and ServerWorks.
DFI: Happy Birthday!
Congratulations to DFI! They are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. According to Computer Resellers News, the company is also one of top ten players in the motherboard business.
For Computex, they introduced new motherboards based on the i845 and updated all Pentium III products with the latest chipset steppings in order to support the Tualatin.