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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  • Paulman - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    NOOoooo, what does this mean for their sponsorship of pro-gaming team Evil Geniuses?! #IntelExtremeBoards :( Reply
  • EnzoFX - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Probably nothing. Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    They'll probably just market the CPUs more, or maybe ultrabooks/gaming notebooks or tablets. Reply
  • formulav8 - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    The last I remember Foxconn made the Intel boards anyways. So they weren't truly Intel boards. They just said the specs they wanted and then did they're maybe better quality control. Thats about it iirc. Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    Foxconn has actually been manufacturing Intel's motherboards since 2001. But that's not all that surprising. I remember reading somewhere Foxconn actually makes about 50% of motherboard PCB's world-wide. What's really interesting is my Intel X58 board says made in Mexico, and according to Wikipedia, Foxconn indeed has computer component manufacturing plants in Juarez and San Jeronimo Reply
  • tim851 - Thursday, January 24, 2013 - link

    Yep. Slap Intel's logo (and marketing) on a Foxconn board and people are gonna perceive it to be of higher quality. Works the same way with T-shirts. Reply
  • GruntboyX - Saturday, January 26, 2013 - link

    for the most part i agree. However Intel's bios/UEFI was better tested and I had better luck with stability. I think that was one of the bigger advantages of buying an Intel board.

    I also enjoyed there support.
    Reply
  • hp79 - Sunday, January 27, 2013 - link

    Bios better tested? My DH67CF bricked to an unrecoverable state using one of their bios updates. Several other DH67CF board users bricked theirs too. I had to RMA it to a refurbished one after one week of usage.
    On the same model, I couldn't use USB 3.0 ports (Renesas) at all because it freezes every damn time I copy large amount (2GB+) of files. I had it replaced 2 times, tried connecting different USB 3.0 HDDs and different flash drives, flashed different firmwares, installed different drivers, nothing worked. Eventually, I got a full refund from intel. Forget about USB 3.0 if you are using DH67CF.
    And then there's problems with Windows 8 and intel's USB 3.0 eXtensible controllers. They don't supply proper drivers and just tell customers to use the one that's included in Windows 8.
    Intel motherboards are not what they used to be, and I'm never going to buy intel motherboards again. Actually, I bought an ASUS board with H77 chipset. No more headaches for me.
    Reply
  • althaz - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    This! I bought an Intel Extreme mobo mostly because EG has my favourite Starcraft player (Huk!) and is sponsored by Intel. The motherboard is fantastic, btw. Reply
  • sheh - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Were Intel a noteworthy player? I've never considered buying an Intel board. I was barely aware of their existence in this market.

    And... Intel exited the consumer SSD biz?
    Reply

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