Platforms and Digital Home/Digital Office Technologies

One of our readers asked ASUS and Intel about its support for development of more widespread of HD-Audio and ASUS affirmed that it will continue to support HD-Audio through onboard codecs with no plans for PCIe solutions. However, ASUS also mentioned that they plan to include high-end audio processors directly on motherboards. We are already beginning to see motherboards with Creative's Audigy 2 processor so it will be interesting to see what solutions ASUS and others will be using. ASUS also told us that they no longer plan to use codecs from Sigmatel.

We asked ASUS of the market acceptance of the BTX form factor. ASUS said that while there is a small acceptance of BTX for limited use, it does not believe that BTX will expand beyond 5% of the overall market. ASUS also stated that the BTX form factor was not part of its plans going into the future, at least at this time. However, during a later chat, ASUS did give a hint that it was developing BTX motherboards based on Intel's Broadwater chipset which will debut in 2006.

We moved onto a different topic by talking more about how all of the above solutions will be considered as Intel indicates it's moving more towards being a platform oriented company with a focus on Digital Home and Digital Office solutions. Coincidentally, three years ago Jensen Huang, NVIDIA's CEO also indicated that NVIDIA was transforming into a platform company. Clearly there is a strong direction occurring in the industry to integrate everything together and we don't expect much delay before AMD makes the same transition.

Intel and motherboard manufacturers continue quietly developing the platform called MOD or Mobile on Desktop, which is a specific segment within the digital home called Mini Platforms. Intel expects to be developing solutions flexible enough to be applicable to typical desktop platforms as well as smaller media/mobile platforms. The BTX form factor is part of Intel's grand plan for MOD and ASUS confirmed that they will be making a strong entry to MOD platforms using BTX. We will be seeing a greater focus for MOD platforms in 2006.

ASUS told us that it is also currently developing motherboard solutions that will have integrated 802.11g onboard. With MOD platforms and other smaller applications, having integrated wi-fi networking abilities is becoming a more of a necessity than a check-box feature. ASUS was also confident in telling us that it expects it to be the first manufacturer to introduce integrated wi-fi on motherboards.

With platforms becoming smaller and increasingly modular, we questioned Intel and ASUS about the full scope of PCI Express and its derivatives. In the original specification for PCI Express, there is support for an external version, to which devices could interface with the system using a high-speed PCIe connection. Conceivably devices such as high performance sound solutions could be completely external from the PC in order to shield itself from electrical interference, or large storage devices that require a great amount of bandwidth. Unfortunately Intel declined to comment on external designs of PCIe due to the lack of a qualified PCIe rep in the discussion. With new platforms such as MOD being introduced, a modular system could have many applications for external PCIe -- it would also make adding upgrades to servers less of a hassle since there were definitions for hot-pluggable external PCIe interfaces.

One of the technologies being developed and adopted by many companies, especially for such applications as MOD platforms, is TPM or Trusted Platform Module technology. TPM is a hardware solution that ensures that a piece of software is authorized to run on a system. TPM will be used to enhance security and protect software from piracy. An example of TPM currently in its stages of trial and error is with Apple's transition to the x86 platform. Many know that Apple uses a TPM chip, located on the motherboard, to verify whether or not the system it's being installed or run on is an Apple SDK platform and not simply a generic PC. Intel was unable to expand on details about TPM and its plans involving it.

Stability Concerns

Rising concerns about thermal dynamics inside today's computers, many of the questions that users submitted were focused on how ASUS and the industry in general plan to improve the thermal performance of motherboards. ASUS said that many of its tier 1 motherboards are employing heat pipes now to reduce heat but the design requires several months of R&D. In terms of cost, it appears from ASUS' response that research in the field of heat reduction adds significant development time and cost to the final sale price and availability of a motherboard. ASUS did say however that they continue to look into ways to reduce the cost, while better cooling a motherboard and surrounding components.

With stability being a concern for most users, we asked ASUS about the rising concerns of power supply compatibility with motherboards and ASUS acknowledged that while there is a problem currently, it believes what's needed is needed is strong stability for power lines from the power supply unit and for motherboard manufacturers to design more flexible power supply requirements. ASUS didn't lay blame on any specific company but are aware there are issues.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of exciting activity in the industry right now from all companies and many of the new technologies will be making their debut in 2006. There's a clear indication of where the industry is headed from its traditional roots and we'll be seeing companies do things that were previously thought belonged in a different market.

Both Intel and ASUS are indicating that collaboration is still going strong among themselves as well as other industry partners. Technologies that define our platforms and their applications are having longer life-lines but without excessive delays.

Intel's next-generation solutions are being developed in full force. Cedar Mill, Pressler and Conroe are all on their way with supporting products from all of Intel's platform partners such as ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, ECS, etc. Development is under-way for more compact, user friendly systems (Viiv, MOD, etc.) and there will be significant transitions in both hardware and software.

In late 2006 we will be seeing what Microsoft has in store in terms of Windows Vista which will lead the way in the push for next-generation hardware. NVIDIA and ATI are already shipping solutions which are "Windows Vista Ready" and although we all know that by the time Microsoft actually ships, both NVIDIA and ATI will have their next high-end parts out, a lot of what's going on today will pave the way for solutions and products that are much better for the consumer than those we have today.

CES2006 is also just around the corner and many companies will be showing their latest offerings there. With shows such as CES, we can see the direction towards unifying traditional consumer electronics with computers and momentum will only increase.

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Beenthere - Saturday, December 17, 2005 - link

    I don't know where all this "market" is for living room or office PC toys for multi-media, but I haven't seen it and none of my friends are looking for this type of PC hardware.

    This paragraph of the story doesn't make sense to me either:

    "With stability being a concern for most users, we asked ASUS about the rising concerns of power supply compatibility with motherboards and ASUS acknowledged that while there is a problem currently, it believes what's needed is needed is strong stability for power lines from the power supply unit and for motherboard manufacturers to design more flexible power supply requirements. ASUS didn't lay blame on any specific company but are aware there are issues."

    The only people with PSU induced PC "stability" issues that I have heard of were folks using low priced, inferior PSUs. I don't know of any PSU "compatibility" issues with Mobos if you're using a QUALITY (as in ELECTRICAL QUALITY - NOT pretty boxes or LEDs), PSU. I am aware that certain PC companies who think quite highly of their technical skills, have contracted with a 3rd party to produce low cost, questionable quality PSUs that have had compatibility issues with certain Mobos, but this is a cost/design issue you encounter when trying to make cheap PSUs instead of quality PSUs. Most PC enthusiasts can't differential between PSU electrical quality and pretty lights and lotsa fans on a PSU, so they are easy targets for marketeers laughing all the way to the bank.

    You can be certain that with Intel's current and future systems requiring significantly more electrical power than AMD CPUs, that high quality and high power output PSUs will continue to be required along with the BTX form factor for Intel's new, excessively hot products. There was no reason for BTX other than to deal with the excessive power consumption and related heat from Intel's defective design CPUs.
  • Doormat - Sunday, December 18, 2005 - link

    Actually, there is a market. I'm a used-to-be-enthusiast. I used to try and o/c the hell out of my system and tweak for all the performance I could get out of it.

    But then I graduated college and got a real job and a life. I dont have all day to spend tweaking my computer and modding it. I just want a nice small computer (smaller than a shuttle SFF) that would interface with my TV digitally (DVI/HDMI) and provide both internet surfing and other multimedia playback from a PC. From watching podcasts/videocasts like to surfing the internet at 61" in HD, its that whole "convergence" thing we've been hearing about for 5 years now. I think 2006 will be it and the box I'll choose for this will be the new intel-based Mac Mini with Front Row.
  • bob661 - Monday, December 19, 2005 - link

    Beenthere is sort of right. The major manufacturers could've taken advantage of the growing HTPC market but failed so as far as I'm concerned there is no market. People have either moved on or figured out how to make a HTPC themselves.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now