Question: As Intel and AMD integrate more functionality into their host processors, what opportunities remain for motherboard vendors to add value?
- Power consumption management, software features, third-party software bundle for added value, and develop a better usage model for desktops
- It is true that more and more functionality is being integrated into the CPU. This does not make the construction of a PC any simpler than it was before. Apart from getting the system to function well, users always demand better performance and quality.
- We think the motherboard design will be become simpler. More and more performance will rely on processors. What motherboard vendors can do is keep providing extra functions distinct from what processors can provide.
- Delivering high-quality components, innovative technologies, and implementing the latest industrial technologies in our products.
- I think the most valuable feature for future motherboards is saving power and enhanced performance.
- We've been worried about this for years and years, since the first chipsets integrated all the onboard logic into two chips. But so many new features and functions have been added to systems over the years as systems become more specialized that motherboards have actually gotten more complex, not less complex. Our boards now have a higher component count than they did 15 years ago. So the opportunity for us to differentiate our products remains high.
- There will still be room for differentiation to either kick the performance or functionality up another notch from the stock ASIC.
The fact that hybrids migrate graphic functionality to the processor might not actually change that much. As one person noted, the construction of the motherboard hasn’t gotten any simpler. Quite the opposite, in fact. We are now looking at motherboards that are more complex than ever before.
If you look at Intel's current desktop processor lineup (Clarkdale, Lynnfield, and Gulftown), one of the major things you will notice is that integrated graphics is limited to the entry-level space. It is only part of the Clarkdale and mobile Arrandale parts. This gives motherboard manufacturers some discretion on design. Because there is interface (LGA 1156) overlap between those Intel processor families with built-in graphics and those without, compatible motherboards don’t necessarily feature digital video output (DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort). This goes double for AMD, which sells chipsets that include on-chipset graphics capabilities.
This changes with Sandy Bridge and Llano. If the entire processor lineup now includes graphics, does that mean every motherboard manufacturer is going to provide some sort of output port on their motherboards? Not necessarily. It has been the natural course of things--to see more and more integration first into the chipset and now into the processor. When it comes to integration, the biggest problem for motherboard makers is design control. For example, when native SATA support was provided by chipsets, there was little need for motherboard manufacturers to decide whether or not to include a third-party controller. Even before the IDE-to-SATA transition, we found motherboard manufacturers including SATA support. The same went for high-quality audio and surround sound.
Previously, when motherboard manufacturers purchased chipsets, they still qualified designs by using the host processor. Moving the graphics engine onto the CPU doesn’t really change this process. In some ways it makes it simpler, because any design problem is going to occur on the implementation of the motherboard design rather than the host processor. But ultimately it is an issue of losing some design control. And while it is going to be harder to ignore onboard video designs, Intel and AMD both understand these concerns. Recently at IDF, Intel talked about the H67 and P67 chipsets. This mirrors what we are seeing in the current generation of chipsets. By dropping a Sandy Bridge-based processor into a P67 motherboard, the on-die graphics engine is completely disabled, including the decode engine. So, all media decode will either be handled by the discrete GPU or the CPU itself. Granted, some people are going to be disappointed that chipset designs can’t help pull 100% double duty due to bandwidth issues, but at the end of this day, the challenges motherboard makers face remain the same.
If nettops and netbooks are any indication of the trend, power consumption is going to be an increasingly important design issue. While Intel and AMD control most of any design's power requirements, motherboard manufacturers still have the ability to tweak those final few percent or add power management that makes for superior products.
On the performance side, motherboard makers still have plenty to tweak. Sure we'll have integrated GPUs set in stone for extended periods delivering middling performance, but we still won't see DX11 on Sandy Bridge. We will naturally see encroachment on the entry-level space as tech trickles down, but we simply don't see hybrid processor architectures evolving quickly enough to keep up with graphics development. This means that bus architecture and overclocking options are still ripe for the pickin'.