The end of an era is approaching. Thanks in part to the overwhelming popularity of tablets and smartphones, chip manufacturer Intel is planning to stop making desktop PC motherboards.
AnandTech reported on Intel's announcement. If you hope to score your own desktop mlTX/mATX/ATX motherboard from the chip maker, you'd better do it this year. After 2013, Intel will only be producing desktop chipsets for third party motherboard makers like ASUS and Gigabyte. Intel's entire desktop PC motherboard business will be gradually stepped down over three years.
The last official Intel motherboard will be the Haswell. It's worth noting, by the way, that the company still plans to stand behind their desktop PC motherboards with a full warranty during the period in which they'll be ramping down. So if you want to buy an Intel motherboard before they stop being available, you can do so with some sense of security.
If you're expecting massive layoffs as a result of this decision, surprise – that's not happening. The folks in the company's desktop motherboard division will simply shift to other areas, like the company's new Next Unit of Computing custom form factor motherboard, suitable for a 4” by 4” by 2” chassis and looks ripe for tinkering. Other newly-redundant desktop folks could find homes producing form factor reference designs at Intel for Ultrabooks and tablets; this would be strangely appropriate, since it's the popularity of these other computing devices that's putting these folks out of their jobs.
Intel has been in the desktop motherboard business for about 20 years now. Its first commercially available motherboard was code-named “batman.” At that time it made sense for Intel to be in the PC motherboard business, because it needed to ensure quality motherboards for its chips; chips don't work well if the motherboard isn't up to snuff. AnandTech notes that this may have been necessary then, “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 help ensure that board quality went up.”
But there's more behind Intel's decision to get out of the desktop PC motherboard business than a matter of not needing to produce the motherboards themselves to ensure the best possible homes for their chips. Consider Intel's business model. They need to keep their shareholders happy. They can do that by shipping lots of products with huge margins. They can also do that by diversifying – getting revenue and profits from lower-margin areas that aren't directly connected to the PC industry. Desktop PC motherboards are no longer generating huge profits, if they ever did. It's time for a change.
Don't panic, though. You will probably still be able to get desktop PC motherboards for many years to come. They may even be of excellent quality. But unless something drastically changes, in three years, they almost certainly won't be from Intel. Here's hoping that other manufacturers do a good job of picking up the slack.
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