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Written by Olin Coles   
Saturday, 08 January 2011

The State of Intel Desktop Motherboards

How an industry leader remains at a disadvantage in the market they created.

The view from the top is very nice, but the price of admission is an unpleasant reminder of what it takes to lead an industry. Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), formerly known as Integrated Electronics Corporation, is the world leader in computing innovation. Intel designs and builds the essential technologies that serve as the foundation for the entire planet's computing devices. With very few serious competitors in the microprocessor segment, Intel enjoys a dominant lead over an entire industry. Strangely enough, the sentiment runs opposite when you analyze their motherboard segment.

Very recently Benchmark Reviews tested the Intel Sandy Bridge processor series that was launched for mainstream consumers. Supplementing our processor launch, we also published articles on the Intel desktop motherboards DP67BG and DH67BL and also featured the ASUS P8P67 and P8P67 EVO motherboards. Most visitors positively welcomed the new technology, and made plans to purchase Sandy Bridge products as they became available. In the various discussions around the web, community members asked which motherboard brand offered the best solution. More often than not, those asking for advice listed brands such as ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, ASRock, and Biostar. This had me wondering: why not Intel?

Apparently there's a major misconception when it comes to the desktop motherboards Intel sends to the media. Despite the inaccurate description by some media, Intel's desktop motherboards are not 'reference designs' at all. They are actually retail-boxed motherboards that sell side by side with the other brands, and not simply a product used as the starting point for other manufacturers to build from. After further research, it seems that many of our own readers have discounted these Intel motherboard reviews and somehow considered them less important than those solutions offered by Intel's partners.

There's a lot of irony here, because Intel's desktop motherboards are generally much less expensive then other products with similar features and specifications. The qualification process for Intel-integrated components ensure that desktop users get the stability and longevity of server-quality hardware. In fact, since Intel offers the industry's best warranty policy and customer service record, it seems to me that it would be easy for them to seize the leadership role in the motherboard segment as well. Nevertheless, they remain at a disadvantage to their competitors. Because Intel is the industry leader for so many technology innovations, everyone watches them.

Intel's business partners, who are also eventually become their competitors, look up to them (as well as each other) for feature concepts that can implemented on an upcoming product line. Using the Sandy Bridge series motherboards as an example, Intel had to start the engineering phase of their H/P67-Express products followed by hardware qualification and later present designs to their partners in preparation for a new business cycle. This allows their partners to observe the native functionality, and implement (often superficial) features beyond this to create brand identity. Intel then goes on to sell their fully-tested and qualified motherboards on the retail market, while their partners release products of their own with even more bells and whistles.

It's true what they say about perception: it's reality. It doesn't matter that performance between each and every Intel P67-Express motherboard will always be within 5% of each other; consumers will believe that bigger heatsinks and a higher price tag will promise them more product than another. Competitive overclocking aside, casual computer builders fall into this marketing trap and completely dismiss entire brands because of their price or appearance. But what do you get for your money?

In our review of the ASUS P8P67 EVO motherboard, I focused most of my attention on proprietary features and functionality. In many ways, you could say I played into the marketing propaganda, and forgot that these items also add potential instability to the system or incompatibility with Operating System drivers and other software. I did, just like you will, forget that the motherboard industry includes Intel first and foremost... not as a 'reference' alternative. In the end, if Intel really wants to secure the leading position among motherboard manufacturers it will come down to product pricing.

ASUS is currently the market leader in motherboard sales, followed by Gigabyte, then Intel, and MSI. The recent Sandy Bridge launch has really caused some manufacturers to think outside of the box, while others simply filled the box with dozens of similarly-featured options. ASUS traditionally offers a value line of products, then mainstream, followed by performance, and finally an enthusiast series. Gigabyte attempts to compete by matching segments with some of their own products, but their prices have occasionally been higher than the leading solution. MSI differentiates itself by only concentrating on the enthusiast segment, as evidenced by the launch of their P67A Big Bang Marshal motherboard at the 2011 CES.

For Intel to win this segment, they must successfully complete three difficult tasks: 1) convince consumers that they're as good or better than the competition, 2) continue to offer aggressively priced motherboards, 3) deliver features not available from their partners. Without taking a firm position with their business partners, they will have no choice but to continue accepting defeat in the motherboard market.


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Comments 

 
# RE: The State of Intel Desktop MotherboardsServando Silva 2011-01-08 22:37
The last Intel's motherboard I was interested in, was the Bad Axe 2 975X. Since then, I've not seen interesting motherboards from they, perhaps until now. But again, I fall in the overclocking category, which really reduces possibilities a lot. If it wasn't just because of the overclocking "features", I would take any stable motherboard anytime (including Intel).
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# I love Intel MBsHank 2011-01-10 08:22
I personally bought three different LGA775, two of which I still use today. Both of those are Intel motherboards. They have been offering up the least expensive motherboards with just as many features for a long time and any time I buy a motherboard, they are on the top of my list simply because of their price.
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# Maybe not..Ross 2011-01-10 10:06
For less I can buy a motherboard with better components with more features. I've also had a Intel server board die due to leaky caps and most Intel boards I've seen for 1155 still have some non-solid caps...
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# If they want to dance ...Succellus 2011-01-13 02:52
If intel want to dance they will have to learn and dance accordingly to the market.
Most fuss and huss is done around the silly overclocking conception pushind onto consumers by companies like... intel.
What is an overclock ? An overclock is simply a existing feature which the hardware is capable on test but for some few reasons come to the market veiled.
Overclock per se is now a whole market just to make hardware work as intended from the start but for "security" has been restrained.

Now if those who does ships and component don t play along the music they are piping its theyr own fault.
If intel want to become top they have to:
1) Brag about their own products (aggressive marketing)
2) Over better solutions than the competitors before those can come with the solutions (Easy as the are the designers and producers)
3) Or simply kill overclock, or delay new tech to the market, giving themselves some time advantage

Now idon tthink Intel wish to spend that kind of money, they are not realeasing entusiast mobos with shiny silly names.
I think intel has in mind the corporate market and mainstream non enterprise market, which is where the big money is.
Also i suppose each brand have to pay royalties to use Intel tech so part of the money going to others mobos producers end up in their pocket anyway.

All in all i think Intel isn t caring much about what revolve around the entusiast mobo industry as long they keep ahead of AMD, money is filling theyr ocket anyway even if in an indirect way.
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# Stick'en with what works for MeHap 2011-01-13 04:09
I rather use Supermicro MB any day
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# Good and BadBilly Buerger 2011-01-13 06:46
I remember hearing about how "good" and "stable" intel boards were back in the early socket 775 days. I didn't have so much luck myself. The intel boards we had at work seemed a bit flaky. I think some of them even died when I added some new memory in them. Same memory that worked fine in non-intel boards. Plus they were very stripped down. There were traces for a PCIe x16 slot but it wasn't there. Others Intel boards we had ran the crappy Pentium D CPUs way hotter than the same CPU in some MSI boards we had. The one that is still in use you can hear the CPU fan ramp up within a second of putting any load on the CPU. So this stuff left a bad taste in my mouth.

But recently I've been very interested in some of the intel boards. Starting with the clarkdale socket 1156 boards and also with the new sandybridge 1155 ones. Silent PC Review does some very good power measurements and found that the intel boards drew noticeably less power at idle than any other boards. A clarkdale bare-bones system would use less than 20W DC. ASUS and Gigabyte boards were generally 5-10W more. Of course they come with more features... But since Intel CPUs are becoming more difficult to tweak and get any real improvements ('cuz they're pretty impressive out of the box) these additional features go mostly unused. I picked up a Gigabyte board for my clarkdale 'cuz I like GB and it was on sale at the time. I was able to undervolt the CPU and reduce the load power a little, but nothing would reduce the idle power to the levels seen with the Intel board. Clarkdale already has impressively low idle power so it's the other features on the GB board using up the extra power.
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# *Perceptions*RealNeil 2011-01-13 06:50
For a long time it was almost impossible to overclock an Intel MainBoard. They seemed to have taken steps to prevent it from happening and it was easier to buy an aftermarket brand and get it done without the fuss. I have a Intel DP55KG Extreme series mainboard right now. It has a i7-870 CPU in it and has a software overclocking solution that Intel gives you with the board. I also have An ASRock P55-PRO mainboard with a i5-750 CPU in it.
The Intel board and i7 OC to 3.6GHz. stable, and the i5 and ASRock board get to 3.83GHz. stable. What is wrong with this picture? I recently bought another i7-870 and ASRock P55-PRO board and it gets to 4.3GHz. with ASRock's automatic BIOS settings enabled. So today, I'm taking the other i7-870 CPU out of the Intel board and swapping it to the original ASRock board. Then I'll sell the i5-750 and the Intel board together and start saving for a Sandy Bridge i7, and more ASRock goodness.
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# Intel dtborardsDuracellmumus 2011-01-13 09:11
The price is good, the simply user was happy whit it.

but i have some features for USEING my PC's

The features is follow:

-Undervolt my cpu less heat, less noise, same performance.

-if i buy some high performance memorys, i want to use AS IS.

The cpu-fan-controller termalprofil is s*it.

I have 3pc. INTEL DG45FC itx booard. it can't boot... sorry it does only one way: if i conect to my 1KW power supply, its work fine. Why????


Sorry for my english:)
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# RE: The State of Intel Desktop MotherboardsGeBeaux 2011-01-13 18:10
Maybe Intel will get its act together someday but for me I'm sticking with Gigabyte!
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