Each year we make the journey to Taipei for Computex, Taiwan’s long running computer trade show. Despite the fact the past decade has seen a lot of manufacturing move to mainland China, Taiwan is still at the heart of the PC industry. The vast majority of components are still made by Taiwanese companies, while manufacturers like ASUS and Acer are major players in both the PC and Consumer Electronics industries.
One of the most telling things about this year’s event was that there were no big, overarching announcements. Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors are widely available, and the third chipset for them, the Z68, launched weeks ago. While Intel does have another processor range to launch this year, the socket 2011 Sandy Bridge-E, it won’t be doing so until much closer to Christmas. AMD is still a few weeks away from launching its Llano APUs for mainstream laptops and desktops, and even further away from launching its ‘Zambezi’ processors that will use the new Bulldozer core design to compete for the high end desktop market.
See our photo gallery of new Gigabyte motherboards, including a Zambezi and a Llano board.
Despite the fact that these new processors are non-existent, the supporting motherboards did make an appearance at Computex. During our visit to Gigabyte’s VIP room we had a chance to take a look at some of these motherboards, and have been able to infer some interesting things from them.
But first we have to mention Gigabyte’s new Z68-Gaming model. At CES this year it launched this new lineup of gaming motherboards, but to our disappointment the initial lineup were all based upon Intel’s long-in-the-tooth enthusiast chipset, the X58 (as an interesting aside this gaming design had the honor of being the first motherboard to ever win a Computex design award). As we hoped, this situation is now changing, with Gigabyte showing off the Z68 version of the striking G1-Killer line of motherboards. It will hopefully start shipping later this month, and we are very keen to get it into our labs for some serious testing.
As for the new products, this has been the first time in a long while that we have seen a range of AMD based products on show (usually they just sit on the shelves avoiding the limelight). While recent years haven’t really been too big for AMD, the launch of Llano and Zambezi brings with it new chipsets and a newfound interest in the company’s products.
Gigabyte had two new AMD chipsets on display. The first is the GA-A75-UD4H, which is designed for Llano desktop APUs. This is a very mainstream product line, and as such there aren’t too many fancy features on the motherboard. What it does have though is native USB 3 (AMD is the first to have USB 3 in its chipsets), which allows for two front panel headers as well as four USB 3 ports on the backplane. Because Llano has a GPU built into the silicon this board also support display output via D-Sub, DVI, HDMI or Displayport.
The other new AMD chipset is the 990FX, which is designed for the next generation Zambezi processors. There were a couple of boards on show, the most impressive of which is the GA-990FXA-UD7. This board supports four-way SLI or Crossfire while also having a host of features like native USB 3 and SATA 6Gbps ports. The only real downside of this board is that for now it can only be used with Phenom II x6 CPUs – the whispers we were hearing were that Zambezi is delayed and while we will see it by the end of the year it will arrive later rather than sooner.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in Gigabyte’s room was the appearance of an X79 motherboard. This chipset is due late this year, replacing the X58 in the enthusiast space. With features like quad-channel DDR and a massive new 2011-pin CPU socket this isn’t going to be a platform for the faint hearted (or cash poor). The board on show was the X79-UD3, and Gigabyte was quick to point out that this was largely for verification and testing, with pretty much everything subject to change (the most obvious is that shipping boards will likely come with double the RAM slots seen here). The socket itself is so large that it has two levers to ensure that the processor sits correctly, and we expect that it will lead to a new range of coolers designed to properly encompass this mega socket.
The other really interesting thing (which we noticed on other manufacturer’s X79 boards later in the week) is the inclusion of Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) ports on the board. These sit alongside the usual array of SATA 6Gbps and SATA 2 ports and it will be quite fascinating to see if these can bring the server technology to the desktop.
For more details on these motherboards check out our photo gallery.