Today Intel made a sobering, but not entirely unexpected announcement: over the next 3 years Intel will be ramping down its own desktop motherboard business. Intel will continue to supply desktop chipsets for use by 3rd party motherboard manufacturers like ASUS, ASRock and Gigabyte, but after 2013 it will no longer produce and sell its own desktop mITX/mATX/ATX designs in the channel. We will see Haswell motherboards from the group, but that will be the last official hurrah. Intel will stop developing desktop motherboards once the Haswell launch is completed. All Intel boards, including upcoming Haswell motherboards, will carry a full warranty and will be supported by Intel during that period.

This isn't a workforce reduction. Most of the folks who worked in Intel's surprisingly small desktop motherboard division will move on to other groups within Intel that can use their talents. Intel's recently announced NUC will have a roadmap going forward, and some of the desktop board folks will move over there. Intel will continue to produce barebones motherboards for its NUC and future versions of the platform.

Intel will also continue to produce its own form factor reference designs (FFRDs) for Ultrabooks and tablets, which will be where many of these employees will end up as well. As of late Intel has grown quite fond of its FFRD programs, allowing it a small taste of vertical integration (and the benefits that go along with it) without completely alienating its partners. This won't be a transfer of talent to work on smartphone FFRDs at this time however.

The group within Intel responsible for building reference designs that are used internally for testing as well as end up as the base for many 3rd party motherboards will not be impacted by this decision either. The reference board group will continue to operate and supply reference designs to Intel partners. This is good news as it means that you shouldn't see a reduction in quality of what's out there.

It's not too tough to understand why Intel would want to wind down its desktop motherboard business. Intel has two options to keep Wall Street happy: ship tons of product with huge margins and/or generate additional profit (at forgiveably lower margins) that's not directly tied to the PC industry. The overwhelming majority of Intel's business is in the former group. The desktop motherboards division doesn't exactly fit within that category. Motherboards aren't good high margin products, which makes the fact that Intel kept its desktop board business around this long very impressive. Intel doesn't usually keep drains on margins around for too long (look how quickly Intel exited the de-emphasized its consumer SSD business).

The desktop motherboard business lasted so long as a way to ensure that Intel CPUs had a good, stable home (you can't sell CPUs if motherboard quality is questionable). While there was a need for Intel to build motherboards and reference designs 15 years ago, today what comes out of Taiwan is really quite good. Intel's constant integration of components onto the CPU and the resulting consolidation in the motherboard industry has helped ensure that board quality went up.

There's also the obvious motivation: the desktop PC business isn't exactly booming. Late last year word spread of Intel's plans for making Broadwell (14nm Core microprocessor in 2014) BGA-only. While we'll continue to see socketed CPUs beyond that, the cadence will be slower than what we're used to. The focus going forward will be on highly integrated designs, even for the desktop (think all-in-ones, thin mini-ITX, NUC, etc...). Couple that reality with low board margins and exiting the desktop motherboard business  all of the sudden doesn't sound like a bad idea for Intel. 

In the near term, this is probably good for the remaining Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers. They lose a very competent competitor, although not a particularly fierce one. In the long run, it does highlight the importance of having a business not completely tied to desktop PC motherboard sales. 

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  • mevans336 - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Intel boards are all I buy because they are rock solid stable and generally use good quality components like Intel LAN controllers and the higher quality audio codecs. I've had too many problems with the other manufacturers.

    Looks like I'll be trial-and-erroring for a new manufacturer after Haswell. Bummer.

    I'm also puzzled by the SSD comment ...
    Reply
  • sheh - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Re SSD exit, maybe the article jumps the gun. Reply
  • Wolfpup - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Yeah, I always buy Intel boards too because they just work. I've never had a single issue with an Intel board, and frequently have problems with third party boards, even when they're built by the same company.

    The SSD comment is because Intel so far doesn't have their own controller in an SSD past the 320. The 320's still a good drive, but I was a big fan of Intel's controllers, and it's weird they just quit making them in favor of using now Sandforce of all things (and it's not like there was no effort in using Sandforce-they spent a year trying to fix Sandforce's bugs).
    Reply
  • MegabyteBob - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Hi

    I agree.

    My company has been an Intel IPD and Gold partner sice Intel initiated the program. Before then we ran the gamut, Gigabyte, MSI etal and while these companies put out some nice boards they, in no way could compare to the stability and durability of the Intel products.

    What's more is that NONE of those board companies could compare and probably still don't compare with Intel's support & service. That will be the biggest factor. As an IPD we have a direct line to tech support, advance ship RMA and othe nice program features professional system builder like us needs to compete. Now, if we go back to those other boards we will be relegated back marginal tech support and little or no customer service.

    It is sad.
    Reply
  • ac2 - Friday, January 25, 2013 - link

    Apart from being rock stable (none of that Fatality/ ROG nonsense thanks) the other big advantage is running Linux without any worries re hardware driver/ compatibility thanks to how closely Intel works with Linux dev...

    Well they're not exiting chipsets and given the all-in-one nature of chipsets now-a-days, shouldn't be a problem (fingers crossed) as long as mobo makers look at Intel components first when they want to add additional components beyond the chipset...
    Reply
  • mcored - Friday, December 13, 2013 - link

    I am shocked too. For the last 15 years, Intel motherboards have been all I buy because of their stability. Now I have to be look for a new manufacturer as well. Sigh. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    I don't use them for personal builds, but they're the only thing we use for workstations at work. Intel boards don't have fancy features, but they just plain work. We still have a pair of Intel D815EGEW boards(Pentium 3) here that work fine. I do not look forward to using third party boards in the price range Intel offered their products at. Other manufacturerd' $50 to $75 boards tend to keel over pretty fast, and you're lucky to get drivers for them after the new line comes out.

    I can understand traditional PC companies trying to get away from dying consumer PC markets, but the business world is going to miss them.
    Reply
  • Gigaplex - Friday, January 25, 2013 - link

    Intel are pretty quick to drop development of drivers/firmware for past products. For example, the GMA X3000 in the G965 chipset was advertised as DirectX 10 capable hardware with driver support coming later. They never released a DirectX 10 driver. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    And Intel left X-25M G1 owners holding the bag because it never bothered to update the firmware to support TRIM.

    lame
    Reply
  • Azurael - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    I can't say I'm surprised - Intel boards have never had a massive following amongst enthusiasts - probably the only people buying computers in component form at retail these days.

    It's kinda sad (funnily enough, I'm writing this from a machine with an Intel board in it - our HTPC) but as you said in the article, the third party boards are stable and complete enough these days that we don't really need Intel themselves in the marketplace. Going back 15 years (which is about when I started building PCs) that definitely wasn't the case!

    This whole concept of integration that's going on with desktops at the moment worries me a little, but then I have to think when I last changed a CPU without also changing the motherboard it sat in - I think it was a Super7 board going from a K6-2 to a K6-3!
    Reply

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