Nvidia Works To Improve Quality Of Third-Party Motherboards

Nvidia, a Santa Clara, Calif., manufacturer of graphics processors and chipsets, has been quietly rolling out a certification program intended to shore up the quality of third-party desktop and notebook motherboards that use its chipsets coupled with AMD processors. Improving the quality of third-party motherboards has been a hot button for system builders.

Nvidia is working with four motherboard manufacturers and 10 system builders in the United States and 10 system builders in Europe to address the quality issues, CRN has learned. The company wants to roll out the program to the larger system-builder community by the March/April time frame.

Nvidia's Business Partner Platform calls for motherboard manufacturers to use a specific list of components in their products to help ensure product quality, according to David Ragones, product manager for the Nvidia Business Platform. "When there is more control over the bill of materials on these motherboards, system builders have more control over product they are receiving," he said.

Participating in the program also requires rigorous testing by motherboard manufacturers and system builders, Ragones noted. Motherboard makers must go "above and beyond" their normal tests to make sure there are no conflicts or defects in each model. System builders are given a special testing suite written by Nvidia that they must use on each system certified under the Nvidia Business Platform. Systems that meet the platform&'s requirements will receive the certification sticker from Nvidia.

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Rangones said Nvidia also provides high-quality drivers that can be used with any motherboard certified in the program. "We have a single driver package [they] can deploy regardless of the motherboard within the system," he said.

Nvidia is working on getting motherboards and systems certified and then wants to put together customer testimonials before publicizing the program, Ragones said. Nvidia will begin promoting the program to corporate buyers about the time it rolls it out to system builders, he said.

Doug Phillips, senior director of emerging technologies at Seneca Data, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based system builder participating in the initial program, said the effort could make huge inroads into the corporate market with AMD products. He said Seneca Data is still evaluating the program but believes it has great potential, particularly for its ability to even out the quality of motherboards.

Nvidia's program is part of a larger effort by AMD to ensure corporate IT buyers that they will get a consistent platform for desktop and notebook systems. AMD's Corporate Stable Image Program, unveiled in November, brings together a roster of motherboard makers and chipset suppliers to set a standard platform that will be available for a guaranteed 18 months. Nvidia and ATI Technologies are the two chipset makers participating in the program. Last year, AMD increased its share in the server market with its Opteron processors, particularly among corporate customers. But AMD has yet to see a serious uptick of client systems in that space. That's because IT buyers are fickle about the quality and consistency of the components they must support daily. They expect to be able to get a specific configuration for at least a year to ensure more cost-effective management and support of those systems.

Intel controls the quality of its branded products by defining a platform and then manufacturing all the components in that specification. In the desktop and notebook motherboards, even the graphics integrated into the chipset belong to Intel. Since Intel makes most of its platform, it&'s easier for the chip giant to ensure the platform is around long enough to satisfy corporate IT managers.

AMD, on the other hand, builds only the CPUs and relies on other manufacturers to provide motherboards and chipsets for its products, to the ire of many system builders.

System builders have long complained about the quality of components that come from those suppliers. For example, Larry Piland, president of Datel Systems, Kearny Mesa, Calif., said he can never be sure what he&'s going to get from the third-party manufacturers. Sometimes the quality is good, and sometimes it isn't. It&'s the kind of product that Piland said scares away corporate and educational customers. He and other system builders want AMD to start making its own products for its platform.

"For AMD to become a real player, they have to jump into the arena and control the platform," he said.

Many system builders have built a business around branded Intel motherboards because they say Intel offers quality products and provides consistent support. But in the fourth quarter of 2005, some motherboard shortages caused by Intel's inability to make enough desktop chipsets upset system builders and prompted some to look more closely at AMD. Meanwhile, AMD has been honing its reputation in the corporate market with speedy, power-efficient processors that corporate IT buyers are starting to like.

AMD has made no secret of its attempt to go after the corporate market this year. The chip maker also launched a channel program focused on VARs and integrators that sell branded systems.

Nvidia believes 2006 is a good time for the two companies to make a move.

"It is a huge opportunity for us to take share from people that have been playing in this space for a long time," Ragones said.