Looking back at 2000 - Part 1: CPUs, Chipsets, Motherboardsby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 2, 2001 4:38 AM EST
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The Battle for Slot-A Motherboards
Just four months after the release of the Athlon, the battle for Slot-A motherboards continued. What battle you may ask? For those of you that don't remember the struggle AMD's Athlon had to face before getting to where it is today, here's a quick refresher.
The initial success of the Athlon was directly dependent on the availability of reliable motherboard platforms. Unlike AMD's previous CPU releases, the Athlon was actually available very close to its announcement putting Intel in a very interesting position.
For once, a processor that was not only faster than the fastest Pentium III but also actually available in decent quantities was threatening their dominance. Intel's solution? Since they couldn't possibly stop the flow of Athlons into the market they went after the next best opportunity, put some pressure on the motherboard manufacturers.
We noticed the first signs of this pressure at Fall Comdex 1999, where very few if any Athlon motherboards were present on the show floor while there were tons of i820-based solutions everywhere. Later on, with ASUS' refusal to promote their first Slot-A motherboard and their refusal to even ship the boards in ASUS boxes, it was very clear that Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers were in a difficult position between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, selling Pentium III motherboards was making them money and it was what was keeping them alive. With all due respect to AMD and the Super7 platform, Super7 sales weren't keeping any of these motherboard manufacturers alive, it was Slot-1 and Socket-370 motherboard sales that were bringing in the bucks. On the other hand, the Athlon definitely had a potential for success, unfortunately none of the manufacturers would be able to capitalize upon that success if they didn't promote their Slot-A solutions just as well if not better than the rest of their product line.
This obviously did not please Intel and it angered them even more when AMD partnered up with a handful of motherboard manufacturers to make their Slot-A solutions featured and available at the launch of the Athlon. Here's where the pressure came into play. By controlling the number of BX chips and amount of support that these motherboard manufacturers received, Intel was able to quite successfully control the promotion of their Slot-A motherboards.
At the time, talking about promoting Slot-A motherboards with the marketing departments at these motherboard manufacturers was a touchy subject; the best example being ASUS. They knew very well that their Slot-A solution, the K7M, was the best Slot-A motherboard available at the time. However the board wasn't being promoted at all, it was very difficult to find and even then the board was only available as an OEM solution in a white box, not in ASUS' usual packaging.
Luckily for AMD, the first quarter of 2000 brought about some very big changes in the way the Athlon motherboard market was handled. Manufacturers started being a little more forthcoming with information regarding their Slot-A projects, and for the most part, other sacrifices were made in order to promote Slot-A motherboards. Eventually even ASUS, in spite of their wonderful relationship with Intel, went back and started promoting the K7M on their Web Site.