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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  • peterwhitehouse - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    For the small system builder Intel provided the total package that you simply cannot get from any of the third party mainboard manufacturers;-

    1. Best warranty including AWR cross ship advanced replacements, guaranteed to receive exactly the same model in replacement which is very important if you are putting systems into corporate or education markets

    2. All integrator tools provided for BIOS customization & branding

    3. Stable product roadmap without lots of silly revisions using different audio codecs & lan phys

    4. Stable image program giving a set of boards and drivers which will be supported for a minimum 18 months to give software image stability.

    5. Niche products available in the channel, you try finding a Thin Mini ITX mainboard from another manufacturer outside of being bundled with some form of barebone aio or slim system (which defeats the point of Thin Mini ITX by the way)
    Reply
  • MegabyteBob - Friday, January 25, 2013 - link

    Truer words were never spoken and well said.

    As a Gold partner since the program inception we are going to miss Intel's offering ofdesktop boards and all the other things you mentioned in your post.

    I do not look forward to dealing with substandard motheboards from vendors who have NO idea what real techinical support and customer service is. Their biggest claim to fame is putting multicolored slots on their motherboards.
    Reply
  • Pessimism - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Like a couple others said, guess I'll be in for an uphill battle when I need to build a system for a client that Just Works, without having to deal with strange problems and the latest SuperMagicTurboHappyEnerSaver garbage that I have to hunt down and disable for the box to run right. Reply
  • pugster - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    This is the part where I would disagree with Intel that they should exit the desktop motherboard segment. Intel has created standards for ATX and BTX mobo designs and later mini atx and itx designs. Now many manufacturers are creating desktop designs that are smaller than that in order to compete with the mac mini. Perhaps Intel should create a standard for micro desktop design that would compete with mac mini. Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    You mean like the NUC?

    In any case even if Intel was sleeping on the job, Via's pushed down into smaller sizes than miniITX; with the 120x120mm nanoITX and 100x72mm picoITX form factors.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6444/intels-next-uni...
    Reply
  • Beenthere - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Their desktop mobos have been average to poor for many years. They made their money with OE mainboards until the Asians took that away from them too. With their frequent design and manufacturing defects in mobos, chipsets and CPUs, it's no surprise that InHell is closing down their desktop mobo group. Reply
  • WaltC - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Yawn... Most people didn't buy Intel-branded boards, anyway, because they were overpriced relative to OEMs like Asus, MSI, etc. who have always sold the same thing or more for less $. IIRC, Intel has has been out of the Intel-branded motherboard retail market for longer than it has been in it. Outside of cpus, Intel doesn't do so well when it tries to sell its own brands at retail. Same thing happened with discrete gpus. Intel failed, packed its marbles and went home. Intel is a chip company that has always had trouble with retail products--something it is more than happy to leave to other companies. Bye-bye, again, bud. Hardly knew ye...;)

    Signed,

    AMD devotee since 1999
    Reply
  • Arbee - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    If processors are going largely or exclusively BGA with Broadwell then that means each motherboard model will have to be made and sold as a separate SKU with each compatible processor installed. That's a far, far less attractive business model than how motherboards are now. You no longer can crank out x number of boards and know that one board covers people building with 10 different CPU models. Instead you have to try and make the right number with each individual processor.

    I can't imagine any mobo makers that aren't also supplying pre-built PC makers putting up with this for long to service the DIY/hobbyist market, unfortunately.
    Reply
  • Purpose - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Intel motherboards have always been poor performing, barren of features, lacking configuration options, and more expensive than other third party products that bring a significant amount more functionality to the table.

    I mean really, as far back as the Celeron 300A era, nobody was buying Intel motherboards(especially your readership).

    I challenge you to provide even *ONE* example of an Intel produced board that was relevant to your readership here. Something that every one of your readers would purchase over a competing equivalent product. Something that made your readers say something like: 'Damn, that 300A was something else if you put it on a BH6!'

    I mean really, can you even cite a single example where you recommended an Intel motherboard over every other product to your readership? I can't remember any examples. The only thing I ever remember being said about Intel boards is that there are better options available.
    Reply
  • Hulk - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    As we all know the trend with processors lately has been to move more and more of what used to be on the motherboard to the CPU. This would drive down motherboard costs and therefore profit. I think Intel sees the future better than we do and realizes the motherboard as we used to know it is evolving into more of a "place to connect the stuff." Reply

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