MSI And Shuttle
After visiting Gigabyte, it was time for a short trip down the strip to the Wynn Resort to visit MSI’s suite. We talked to Rajiv Kothari and Jason Lee about the company’s graphics cards and motherboards.
On the motherboard front, MSI is pushing forward with a new line of boards they’re calling "Big Bang." These boards are optimized for multi-GPU configurations; initial offerings will be based on Intel’s P55 chipset, intended for Lynnfield quad-core CPUs (though they’ll work with any LGA 1156 processor).
The first Big Bang board, called the Trinergy, will be built with an nForce 200 chip, adding another 32 PCI Express lanes, multiplexed from the processor's 16 lanes. This configuration supports either dual x16 PCIe graphics cards or three cards in x16/x8/x8 mode. Nvidia cards need to be identical GPUs, though some limited mixing and matching is allowed with AMD cards in CrossFire mode (you can run a 5870 and 5850 together, for example.)
The Trinergy is shipping now. Shipping shortly is the Fuzion, which uses LucidLogix’s Hydra multi-GPU load balancing ASIC. The Hydra allows you to mix and match graphics cards, even if the GPUs are from different manufacturers; for example, a Radeon HD 5870 and GeForce 285 GTX. Tom’s Hardware recently benchmarked a pre-release Fuzion board. The initial results were interesting, but inconclusive. Still, the idea of using whatever graphics hardware you have on hand is alluring, so we’re looking forward to the final version of the board and more refined drivers.
Both boards will ship with a small, discrete PCI Express x1 sound card, known as the QuantumWave. The card is currently the only sound card that’s THX-certified, as well as supporting EAX 5.
MSI isn’t just offering high end boards, nor Intel-only boards. On display was a new Socket AM3-based board built with the as yet unannounced AMD 890 chipset.
MSI is also looking to make a strong statement in graphics cards, developing custom cooling solutions, allowing it to ship factory overclocked boards that are both faster and as stable as reference designs. Case in point is the new R5870 Lightning.
The board uses a custom heat-pipe cooler, and the PCB itself is slightly shorter, but slightly taller than the reference board. Shipping with the board is MSI’s Afterburner software, which allows granular tweaking of the GPU and memory clocks. On the Lightning board, Afterburner also allows users to tweak the voltage of the GPU core.
The Lightning looks to be a great board, and MSI is promising similar designs for Nvidia’s Fermi GPUs when those become available.
Shuttle's Laptop Infrastructure
The day wrapped up with a brief press conference put on by Shuttle. It’s interesting in that what was announced wasn’t a pure end-user play. Rather, Shuttle is offering a complete infrastructure they’re calling SPA. The company is offering two sets of configurations, one based around Intel’s standard mobile CPUs, while uSPA will be a netbook suite.
The idea is to make a complete line of products and services which allow small system integrators and regional distributors to sell branded laptop PCs. All the local OEM needs to do is pick one or more displays, then configure whatever GPU, CPU, memory, drive, and motherboard configuration they want. Shuttle will even offer support for customized branding and ID, with minimum orders of a few hundred possible.
The next step beyond this is to offer DIY laptop components for technology enthusiasts. Shuttle acknowledged that they’re studying that idea, but also noted that it may be some time before you can design and build your own laptop from the ground up.
So that’s CES Friday. I’ll be checking out more of CES tomorrow, so look for our final report and wrapup in the next piece.