Custom Systems Best Sellers: Motherboards

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Motherboard manufacturers have spent much of the past year in transition, encountering a landscape that included a product mix increasingly tilting toward quad-core systems on the server as well as desktop side.

For Super Micro Computer Inc., San Jose, Calif., that meant a shift toward its X7 motherboards. The X7 Series includes boards that can support both quad- and dual-core, 64-bit Xeon processors—giving the company's system builder and OEM customers flexibility. At the same time, Super Micro reported lower sales of its X6 lineup of boards, according to the company's reports with U.S. regulators. (X6 boards support primarily dual-core Xeon processors.)

Super Micro also said sales of its PD series of boards increased. The PD lineup supports a broad range of Intel processors, including Core 2 Quad and Duo, Pentium D, Pentium Extreme Edition, Pentium 4 and Celeron D. The strength of Super Micro's PD boards is also indicative of a market that, on the client side, was still stuck between Microsoft Windows XP-based systems and Windows Vista-based systems, which demand higher-performing hardware.

David Chang, CEO of Agama Systems Inc., a Houston-based system builder, said he believes Super Micro and Asustek Computer Inc., Taipei, Taiwan, were well-positioned because of the breadth of their product lineups—and because chip giant Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., certifies only a limited number of motherboard manufacturers. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, Sunnyvale Calif., do certify Super Micro and Asustek. Those certifications, combined with the board manufacturers' reputations, give Super Micro and Asustek a boost.

"When the market moves to higher-end processors, you have to use a high-end—Super Micro or Asus—motherboard," Chang said.

Like Super Micro, Asustek maintains a broad product lineup that includes desktop and server boards that support both Intel and AMD platforms. Asustek has recently hit it big with its EEE PC. The company's efforts to study, research and develop outside of the component arenas are paying off: Asustek is showing signs of boosting its success both outside core motherboard lineups as well as with the boards themselves.

"There's constant innovation from these companies" said James Huang, product manager for Amax Information Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder and engineering company. Huang also credits Intel (another motherboard best-seller) with innovation and brand recognition in the board arena. Customers tend to associate respected brands with quality and that, too, has benefited those companies.

"They've been around for a long time," Huang said. "When customers buy products, they see the brands and they are sure that this product comes with high quality."

According to numbers compiled by The NPD Group Inc., Super Micro, Asustek and Intel all saw market share growth in motherboards last year. In addition, the three combined to hold more than 65 percent market share in aggregate. Super Micro reported a total of $420 million in sales for its most recent fiscal year; Asus, based in Taiwan, reported roughly $23 billion in sales and Intel, which primarily sells processors and platforms, saw $38.3 billion in revenue for its most recent fiscal year. Those numbers are capable of fueling many R&D and sales efforts.

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