Is ASRock Making Graphics Cards?

When it comes to rumors that swirl on the internet, it's usually a few drops of truth mingling with so much hot air. So it is with the recent rumor, first floated by Digitimes, that ASRock is going to start making discrete graphics cards. We went deep and asked sources within the industry, and we can confirm that the rumor is only sort of true.

To be clear, ASRock itself has remained completely silent. Our multiple overtures to the company for information have gone unanswered. However, competitors and OEM/ODM folks in the business have provided us with, at least, some interesting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, which has given us a coherent picture that's different than the one presented by the rumor mill.

No matter who we asked, the same three magic letters kept cropping up: MXM. Although all of our sources conjectured that ASRock has made a deal with AMD and wants to enter the market for MXM modules, the likelihood of ASRock producing dedicated graphics cards for the consumer gaming or cryptocurrency mining markets is considered small. After all, AMD already has problems supplying its own exclusive partners in full, and ASRock is not building a secret fab of its own. (If it was, scores of engineers and other qualified personnel would be disappearing in droves.)

Note that we've heard nothing about Nvidia MXM modules--only those with AMD chips. That's not surprising, because Nvidia doesn't need any additional partners at the moment, whereas AMD needs to stay scrappy and nibble away at Nvidia's market share however it can.

But why MXM now? Some time ago, ASRock published pictures of a new STX motherboard, the H110-STX-MXM, and with it presented an unnamed MXM card with an AMD chip on it. This 120W circuit board is from Everlast, a Taiwanese specialist in printed circuits. It's not especially complicated to lay out MXM cards; compared to manufacturing complete graphics cards, you don't have to worry about cooling. With MXM, the standard leaves little room for maneuvering or creativity.

If you follow ASRock's efforts in the small form factor (SFF) PC sector, the idea of manufacturing MXM modules in-house makes much more sense. Buying these modules from its direct competitors, like MSI, is not only financially less than ideal for ASRock, but it also produces dependencies that any company would want to avoid. In addition, ASRock engineers likely gained experience with, shall we say, “spatially compressed” technology until the closure of its own notebook division a few years ago. MXM modules, of course, are also available from major OEMs such as Pegatron or Clevo, but that supply is tied up in the notebook market. The takeaway, in any case, is that MXM supply is a major issue for ASRock if it has to rely on third parties.

The H110-STX MXM is just one of many examples of what ASRock can and will do in the area of mini-PCs. With the company now positioned well on AMD mainboards, and AMD much better provisioned with suitable products (up to the new Ryzen APUs), this step has actually been long overdue.

In sum: Don't expect ASRock to suddenly start competing with AIB partners with discrete graphics cards for gaming and cryptomining. According to our numerous sources (even though we have no word directly from ASRock), ASRock is simply looking to make its own MXM modules to service its mini-PC business. We'll continue to follow this story if there are any further developments from ASRock.

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  • akamateau
    There are a few facts that do support the thesis that ASRock IS going into the GPU AIB mining market.

    1. ASRock is already building very high gpu mobo's for miners: H110 Pro BTC+. Building a mining specific GPU AIB just makes sense.

    2. Dr. Lisa Su announced that AMD was increasing production of GPU silicon. "“The graphics channel is very low, and we are certainly working to replenish that environment”, said CEO Dr. Lisa Su. Because the availability of graphics cards is “lower than we would like it to be,” she added: We are ramping up production."

    3. Mining Specific GPU AIB without the video chips or HDMI or display port hardware would result in smaller boards at far less cost. Any drop in cost would be more attractive to miners.

    4. If ASRock is committed to fair market prices as they have been historically then ASRock would be a moderating force in the market place. ASRock would gain the mining market for it's existing mobo market and gamers would see prices return to normal.

    5. Several times it was pointed out that AMD is having problems with supply or that any ASRock mining GPU would have to come at the expense of current OEM's. Well that would appear to be a deliberate obfuscation of the truth. Dr. Su has announced increased production. And nobody knows what is going on.

    The timing of this agreement would seem to coincide nicely with AMD's announcement of a GPU ramp last month.

    The Digitimes piece SPECIFICALLY points out that ASRock would be expanding to build out AMD GPU cards and then goes on to point out that AMD has not increased production which we all know is not true. Why just AMD GPU's if not for mining specific GPU cards?

    AMD nor nVidia have profited by the price gouging that the OEM's and sellers have benefited from. They have certainly benefited from increased GPU sales.

    I would say that while AMD has increased production of GPU's that happened back in early January or before, while partnering with ASRock to supply them with the lions share of that production silicon would also make sense. The gaming market is very hungry.

    Miners simply do not need most of the marketing crap that is currently associated with GPU AIB: custom molded "aggressive" plastic cases or driver improvements for games or ANY of the video circuitry and board real estate. HBM2 is also not needed; DDR4 SDRAM would work fine. Expect to see bank water cooling as well from ASRock.

    The authors of this piece pointed out that AMD is having difficulties supplying GPU's now. Well nobody really knows that for certain. And if AMD were diverting a large percentage of that overproduction to ASRock, then nobody will see that until ASRock releases.

    This piece also struggled very hard to downplay what will be self evident within a few weeks. In other words "Tom's Hardware Doth protest too much." The Digitimes piece pointed out that an April release would be likely. That would be kinda hard to achieve if AMD has NOT increased production of GPU's.

    It would also make sense for AMD and nVidia BOTH to delay release of any next generation GPU silicon as the demand by miners may yet again create consumer unhappiness if the GPU OEM's price gouge.
  • TJ Hooker
    Anonymous said:
    3. Mining Specific GPU AIB without the video chips or HDMI or display port hardware would result in smaller boards at far less cost.

    Do you have any source that shows removing display outputs would result in any significant decrease in board size and/or cost? Other manufacturers have already put out mining cards without display outputs (e.g. Gigabyte P106-100) and they were the same size as normal GTX 1060s. Don't know how they compared in price.

    Quote:
    Miners simply do not need most of the marketing crap that is currently associated with GPU AIB: custom molded "aggressive" plastic cases or driver improvements for games or ANY of the video circuitry and board real estate. HBM2 is also not needed; DDR4 SDRAM would work fine. Expect to see bank water cooling as well from ASRock.

    Driver improvements for gaming have nothing to do with the specific card/manufacturer. They're developed by AMD for all AIBs. Unless you meant BIOS?

    Also, the most popular coins to mine (e.g. ethereum) are memory bound, meaning you want the fastest, lowest latency memory possible. I really don't know how DDR4 would perform. Given this, I don't know how much ASRock will be able to improve the graphics card shortage, given that AMD has already stated that it is driven a large part by VRAM shortages.

    This also means that water cooling is of questionable value, given that you're limited my memory speed and not thermals. The core is usually underclocked/undervolted for increased efficiency.
  • Crashman
    Small is not a "form factor". If it were, you could give me the specs, because form factors have specs.

    Don't be the southerner who asks if I want orange or root beer when I ask for a Coke.