In the golden age of motherboards there were dozens of manufacturers and profit margins were nice and healthy. Manufacturers could differentiate themselves based on performance, quality and features. The CPU folks had a different plan in mind. AMD and Intel have been on the road to integration for the past two decades and the motherboard manufacturers have largely suffered because of it.

When the memory controller was in the chipset and there were 3 or 4 competitors in the chipset space, motherboards actually performed differently. These days the memory controllers are integrated onto the CPU die and performance is as high as possible. SATA, audio, ethernet and USB are all either fully integrated into chipsets or only require a small support chip on the motherboard itself. Within the next decade or so these features will move onto the CPU die as well.

My first 430VX motherboard that eventually spawned into AnandTech set me (actually my parents, I was 14) back around $130. Prices haven’t really changed, yet the expectations from end users have gone up. Granted there’s this new ultra high end market that didn’t really exist back then, but the majority of motherboards sold have far more features and don’t cost much more than what they used to.

The pressure is on the motherboard makers to deliver affordable P55 solutions. Without affordable motherboards, Lynnfield will fail - so Intel and end users are both expecting a healthy supply of ~$100 motherboards. As I’m about to show you, doing so is quite difficult.

This is the LGA-1156 socket:

The socket itself costs a couple of dollars, but even that is significantly more than LGA-775. The motherboard makers I spoke with pegged the LGA-775 socket at well under $1 per socket. The bulk of the 1156 socket isn’t the cost of the device, but rather the licensing fee that has to be paid to Intel for each socket. I’ve heard numbers approaching $7 per socket, per board once you include the licensing fees. As volumes go up, the price per socket will go down, but for smaller manufacturers this is a tough pill to swallow. It’s far easier to build an expensive motherboard than it is to build a cheaper one.

Intel realizes this and helps the manufacturers with rebates and marketing assistance. So the license fee ultimately may be lower for some makers but getting specifics on this is impossible. Worries of lawsuits abound :)


Click to Enlarge

For the most part the motherboard makers look at the socket and associated licensing fees as part of the chipset cost. Despite Intel moving the north bridge and memory controller on die, Ibex Peak, otherwise known as the P55 PCH is no cheaper than P45:

Chipset Price
Intel X58 IOH $70
Intel P55 PCH $40
Intel P45 MCH $40
Intel ICH10R $3

 

If you start at $40 for the motherboard, you’ll need to add another $10 for a 6-layer PCB. A 6-layer PCB is necessary if you want to run SLI at this point, otherwise you can get by with a cheaper $5 4-layer PCB. Mentioning SLI also requires validation and support from NVIDIA. That’s $30,000 up front plus an average of $5 per motherboard.

  Low End Mid Range High End
P55 PCH $40 $40 $40
NVIDIA SLI License $5 $5 $5
6 Layer PCB $10 $10 $10
Audio Codec $2 $2 $2
PCIe Gigabit LAN $3.50 $3.50 $7.00
Power Delivery Circuits $12 $16 $23 - $55
Misc PCB Components $8 $12 $15
Heatsinks $6 $10 $25
Labor/Overhead $9 $10 $24
Logistics/Sales $9.50 $13 $18
Total Cost $105 $121.50 $201

 

An audio codec and Gigabit ethernet will together set you back about $5. Figure more for more expensive codecs and another $3.50 if you want dual GigE ports.

P55 motherboards will have a range of 4 to 24-phase power delivery circuitry. Each phase costs about $2 in components although the high end motherboards with high quality MOSFETs/chokes/capacitors will reach $3 per phase for the digital solutions. If we look at Gigabyte’s 24-phase UD6 that would be about $48 just in power delivery circuitry for the motherboard without volume discounts.

The power connectors, switches, LEDs, I/O back panel and other components on the motherboard cost anywhere between $8 and $15 depending on the type of motherboard. Figure $8 for an entry level micro-ATX board and $15 for the highest end boards with slots and ports aplenty.

What about those fancy copper heatpipes and elaborate heatsinks? They start at $6 and go as high as $25 for the really high end motherboards with high-content copper blocks and pipes.

Then there’s assembly, labor and overhead in testing and producing the motherboard. You can count on about 10% of total material cost for an entry level board, 12% for midrange and 15%+ for the high end boards. The lower the volume the higher the overhead; the more testing required, the higher the overhead as well (gotta make sure those $250 boards work right).

The final costs are related to packaging, sales and actually getting the boards to distributors. Figure about 10% per board on average.

All of this roughly adds up to a low end board costing $105 without worrying about profits. It's only through rebates or very large scale manufacturing that a motherboard maker can even come close to making a profit on an entry-level board. Mid range boards are a bit easier to make but my mid range estimates are definitely on the lower end of the spectrum. For the high end you're looking at raw costs over $200, but at those price points it's far easier to turn a profit.

While we'll definitely see P55 motherboards hit the $100 price point, it's worth realizing how difficult that is to do. As P55 matures, these costs will fall (particularly the chipset) but initially it's going to be a tough race to the bottom.

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  • lopri - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    You never cease to amaze me.

    What objective is this article set out to achieve? If I may ask. Oh and I'd like to know how much it cost to manufacture CPUs, too. And don't stop there. Please let us know how much it cost make GPUs as well. How about SSDs? I'd like to know the true cost of X25-E and X25-M.

    Thank you. ^_^
    Reply
  • Titanius - Monday, August 24, 2009 - link

    If you have nothing better to say, STFU! We don't need people like you to waste comment space because you don't have anything better to do than criticizing everything you encounter.

    So once again, make your point or STFU!
    Reply
  • RamarC - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    the point of the article was to A) give you a reasonable/rational expectation of how much a p55 mobo should cost and B) give you some tech info behind the pricing. i honestly don't see why any techie would be bitchin' about a 1 page article that has this info. i just got a q9550 to upgrade my p45 mobo, but if one of my buds has $400 to spend i can with certainty tell him/her they can get afford an nice i5 upgrade next month. Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    And what exactly are the reasons that an article like this should not be posted up Lopri? You've offered nothing constructive.


    Reply
  • lopri - Sunday, August 23, 2009 - link

    My comment wasn't directed to you, so I hope you don't take any further offense than you already have.

    When something is done/said, we know it is not just about that something. It is also about when, where, how, by whom it is done and said. And of course there is a question of 'Qui Bono?'

    As you can see from the various comments so far, users are not dumb. Plus, in my 'pervert' eyes this article serves exceedingly obviously a pretext for the follow-ups. Is it too much to ask for AnandTech to put users' interest as the utmost importance, instead of those of you-know-who's?
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, August 24, 2009 - link

    Hi,

    Perhaps you're looking into this too deeply. I think the comments section does not always show the complete picture. The number of comments in comparison to reads is miniscule. A lot of users did not know how much the chipsets cost. People were asking why the boards cost so much and the goal of the article is to show that a significant portion of the costs are due to how much P55 costs before you've even thrown a component on the board (the rest is informative in many ways because some people do not know).

    The blame lies in how much Intel is charging for the base kit making it difficult for the vendors to segregate the P55 costs from i7 boards significantly as users expected it to be. At least within the first few months of launch.

    regards
    Raja
    Reply
  • mufdvr3669 - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    We will be sure to run the next article thru u to get your approval before posting it to make sure it is up to your standards on what is deemed acceptable. Reply
  • taltamir - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    why in the blazes would the lowest of low end P55 mobos have dual gigE (remember the intel P55 include one gigE) and SLI? Reply
  • Pneumothorax - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    That's what bugs me about the latest iX mobos. WTH are tehy putting 2 crappy Marvell / realtek gige when they can put a superior intel one instead for the same price! Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Saturday, August 22, 2009 - link

    Probably because they already have stock of the said parts due to volume purchasing.
    Reply

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