We have recently returned from Computex 2006 with our heads still spinning after viewing literally thousands of products from a multitude of suppliers. We already provided some pre-show coverage, but there's still lots more to see and talk about. This year's show was a general success and while several companies were launching new products in different market segments, the talk of the town was Core 2 Duo (Conroe) and AMD's expected response. AMD's first response in the short term very well could be the purchase of ATI; whether this truly makes business sense for either party is up for debate considering ATI's close relationship with Intel and AMD's long term partnership with NVIDIA, but privately representatives from both Intel and NVIDIA told us they were already discussing the potential effects of this merger internally.



While the focus of the latest Computex was definitely on Core 2 Duo products, we did see a significant amount of AMD AM2 products with the low to ultra low end being dominated by VIA and SIS. However, we were told by several motherboard suppliers that NVIDIA plans on aggressively pursuing the upper low end range of the AM2 market with expected board prices for the micro-ATX GeForce 6100 boards reaching US $53 and nForce4 ATX boards reaching US $60 price points in the near future.

Several of the manufacturers told us that NVIDIA is offering incentives on the nForce4 Ultra chipsets in order to move out this inventory, and we noticed a significant amount of AM2 boards based on this chipset and very few on the nForce 550 at the low end of NVIDIA's AM2 product roadmap. While NVIDIA does not appear willing to go after (at this time) the under US $50 market, the fact that they will be creeping up on this price point is sure to place additional pricing pressures on VIA and SIS at the top of their product ranges.

ATI's market plans in the AM2 segment were a little less clear as very few suppliers were showing the Radeon Xpress 300 or 1100 micro-ATX boards, essentially a Radeon Xpress 200 Northbridge (X300 integrated graphics) with DDR2 support and either the SB460 Southbridge in the 300 or SB600 Southbridge in the 1100 series, with price points starting around US $65. It appears at this time ATI will be offering the Radeon Xpress 1100 with an X16 PCI-E slot as an answer to the nForce 570 Ultra product around the US $75~$90 price point. The emphasis is clearly being placed on the Radeon Xpress 3200 (RD580/SB600) boards with planned price points from US $125 to $200. Hopefully, some of these Xpress 3200 product offerings will drop to the US $90 to $125 range to compete with the excellent nForce 570 SLI product range; if not then NVIDIA will continue to dominate in the mainstream market space.



One of the more pleasant surprises of the show was the rejuvenation of Abit. While we knew they were on the road to recovery, we did not expect the product lineup they displayed. Abit was at one time the top manufacturer of enthusiast level boards that catered to the overclocking community. However, Abit found itself in serious trouble over the past couple of years, and for all intents and purposes it was close to ceasing business operations. Fortunately, Abit entered into a long-term partnership with USI this past January that ensures their financial health for the foreseeable future. This strategic partnership also signals a return of Abit to their roots as a company driven to provide the computer enthusiast and extreme overclocker with the highest performance solutions available.

We spoke at length with Abit's PR managers David Jarlestedt and Peter du Preez about Abit's upcoming motherboard product lineup, the new Universal Abit branding strategy, and their entry into the Media Center PC market with the ViiV certified IL80-MV motherboard and new iDome digital speaker series. Let's take a closer look at Abit's new products along with those from Biostar and Thermaltake.

Abit
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  • Operandi - Sunday, June 11, 2006 - link

    Lian Li and SilverStone need companies like Thermaltake to make ugly ass cases to make theirs look good. ;) Reply
  • Griswold - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    Or the all-time classic:

    Optimus Prime called, he wants his chest armor back!
    Reply
  • Lonyo - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    Putting passive cooling on their "max" motherboard. It makes me sad. Reply
  • vailr - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    Only one PCI slot on Abit's "Top of the Line" board? No thanks. Would need at least 2, or preferably 3 PCI slots.
    And regarding the passive/heatpipe chipset cooling: these won't work with some of
    the Lian-Li mid-tower cases where the motherboard is oriented "upside-down".
    Reply
  • Chernobyl68 - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    That was my first thought when I started seeing all of the passive cooling solutions out there...how would it work with the Lian-Li case I plan to buy? do I need to reconsider my options? I thought all I was waiting on was an acceptable motherboard to be released before I make my new system but I may be waiting a bit longer.

    Chern
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Only one PCI slot on Abit's "Top of the Line" board? No thanks. Would need at least 2, or preferably 3 PCI slots.


    We discussed this at length with Abit, too late to change now but we told them there would be a backlash. Also, if you run CrossFire or SLI, that single PCI slot is gone.
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    quote:

    We discussed this at length with Abit, too late to change now but we told them there would be a backlash. Also, if you run CrossFire or SLI, that single PCI slot is gone.


    Major case of "Aim gun at foot, pull trigger".

    Unless Abit is willing to come up with some high quality PCIe peripherals to match, their high-end single-PCI slot boards are worthless, and releasing them will be a major monetary loss. With Crossfire/SLI, this means no Creative X-Fi (or insert other better-than-onboard-sound-card here), and limited choice of any other peripherals.

    Universally stupid.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    The only major loss is sound card support, as you can currently get Theater 550 TV Tuners in PCIe format. I'm personally finding onboard audio sufficient for my needs, especially with the latest HDA solutions. X-Fi sounds better and cleaner, but it's not something you really notice unless you have really nice speakers/headphones.

    It's sort of like integrated NICs - is there anyone out there that really cares about the difference between 700 Mbit vs. 950 Mbit GbE performance? The only time I touch those speeds is when doing theoretical tests; HDD speeds are the limit otherwise, and gaming? Don't make me laugh: games don't even stress a 10 Mbit Ethernet connection in most instances, and certainly don't need more than 100 Mbit.

    Anyway, my point is that integrated audio is fast nearing the point where few people worry about add-in sound cards. Get some digital speakers and use the S/PDIF connections on nice motherboards, and I'd love to see some people do a "blind" listening test. I'm sort of curious about what percentage of our readers still use add-in sound cards - I would be surprised if it's more than 10%.
    Reply
  • Odeen - Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - link

    There are a few problems with onboard audio. The sound quality is one of them. The second problem is the PERFORMANCE hit and the 3d sound rendering features available.

    Basically, onboard audio (and outboard audio processors without hardware DS3D and EAX support can emulate EAX, but not perfectly. EAX 4.0 is a no-go at all. And this emulation is tantamount to doing software 3D rendering - it's very slow, especially when dozens of sounds need to be located in 3D space and processed.

    Any gamer owes it to himself to use a sound card capable of 3D sound processing, or they're cheating themselves out of frame rates.
    Reply
  • BPB - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    Did they really think that people running Crossfire setups wouldn't at least want better-than-onboard sound? That alone is one PCI slot. The onboard sound looks good, but is it that good? Reply

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