Monday, April 13, 2009

DFI beats Biostar to a punch

Short version: I now have an I7 920 to test with, an actual processor. I don't, however, have a motherboard to couple WITH that processor. The only Intel motherboard I have is the D975XBX motherboard. So, while poking around on Newegg, I found something in the Intel section that actually made my mouth drop.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813136066

Yes, that is actually a Micro-ATX motherboard with two 16x PCIE slots. There's just one... big... problem. It's $229. Where this gets interesting is an email that was sent to Intel, well, last year.
I'm also.. .extremely... interested to know if Intel is working on SLI or Crossfire compatible MicroATX motherboards... given that so far the SLI / Crossfire market is largely confined to full-size ATX motherboards... which is great if you have space for a full tower, but not so great if you are trying to drive a 1080p display for home-theater purposes and want something smaller... (like Apevia's X-Qpack).

and then a follow-up
Going back to the dual-fgx on a SFF board... reason why I bring it up is that I'm having a hard time believing no manufacture has tried on in the market. I can just see OEM's like Dell and HP that have high-end market brands (Alienware / VoodooPC respectively) going haywire over a SFF board that would give them more options for chassis designs. From outward signs, with companies like Thermaltake entering the SFF chassis market ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811133045 : http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811133035 ) it seems like a no-brainer to give consumers another option to use in the smaller computers.

I also ran the suggestion a couple times on Gamenikki.com, seeing this as a killer product, and fired off versions of the following in emails as far back as January 2008:
The basic premise of this letter is to suggest a hardware product that is not currently available in the market, that might be of interest to AMD and Asus to produce. Specifically speaking to myself, I needed to replace a couple of failing Socket 754 and Socket 939 motherboards within these past few weeks. Since these processors are far from new, I was unable to locate desirable hardware for either processor, and settled on Open-Box products off of Newegg.com that fit the specifications I needed.

I would think then that the replacement hardware market for older AMD HyperTransport compatible hardware is ripe for a special product. If I understand HyperTransport and AMD processor design correctly, and correct me if I don't, process changes should only require changing the wiring from the socket to the northbridge, and from the socket to memory slots. Ergo, hardware designs such as location of the PCIE slots, SATA controllers, Back Panel I/O devices, and other physical locations shouldn't change. I believe I've semi-witnessed this process in effect on Biostar's T-Force lineup where the board layout changed little between subsequent revisions.

I would think then that a template established for Socket 939, 940, 754, and perhaps Socket AM2 processors could be shared. Similar arrangement to most of the components would perhaps save on production costs.

Where this gets odd is what I'd actually like to see on a Micro-ATX board. I'm a fan of the Apevia X-QPack chassis, which accept Micro-ATX motherboards. However, most motherboards that are built for Micro-ATX are not as feature rich as ATX counterparts. One of the reasons why I'm familiar with Biostar's T-Force series is that they were a series of Micro-ATX motherboards with the feature loadout I would expect on normal ATX board.

There, however, was one product missing from the BioStar line-up. A dual-graphics card Micro-ATX moterhboard.

What I'd like to see then, and I think it's possible, is a Micro-ATX CrossFire motherboard using the latest Radeon Xpress Chipsets, but coupled to Socket 754 and Socket 939 sockets. The resulting product I think would be unique in the retail markets. As far as I am aware, no major vendor is currently producing motherboards for such processors. Any entry into the Socket 754 and Socket 939 markets now would have a significant percentage of the market to itself. By coupling a new motherboard with newer chipsets and CrossFire support, purchases of older AMD kit would have a significant reason to purchase the new upgrade, without having to leave their old parts completely behind.

I believe this might also be of interest to the OEM markets as well, the likes of Dell, HP, and Gateway. Many of their smaller chassis use Micro-ATX motherboards. Giving them the design option of shipping a CrossFire enabled system in a Micro-ATX format might be an enticing product difference.

BioStar was one of the first major motherboard vendors to really catch on to the benefits of the MicroATX format, and their T-Force lineup of motherboards coupled high-end over-clocker friendly chipsets with mATX format motherboards. As the emails I sent out indicated, I fully had expected Biostar to lead the charge on developing dual-gpu enthusiast mATX boards.

Well, the DFI motherboard is a killer entry alright, but not in the way I had imagined. One of the reasons for wanting a MicroATX format board is that they generally cost less, not only due to a smaller physical size, but because such boards often sacrifice extra components such as additional drive headers.

On the flip side, while there are other mATX boards with 2 PCIe slots available, including one by Jetway for AMD processors, almost all of the others only have dual 8x PCIe slots, rather than dual 16x slots. Hopefully then, if other vendors offer similar products, the pricing could go down.
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