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.