WHEN YOU THINK about the best motherboard, what usually pops to mind is big, expensive, and flashy, usually from a big company too. Albatron once again thinks way outside the box, and wins the best motherboard of Computex for something that does not even have a name yet.
A few years ago at CeBIT, they showed off an ITX form factor with a full socket 940 on it, making it the first board to cram desktop performance into a postage stamp board. It was roundly ignored by the press, but we still thought it was very nifty.
Step forward a few years, and ITX boards are everywhere, Intel even officially blessed it, legitimizing everything Via has said for the previous 5 years in an attempt to scuttle DTX. It worked, and so did the whole concept of ITX boards, small and functional.
What does Albatron have this time? A family of boards that you can mix and match into a two part, two level unit. Rather than explain it, take a look, a picture is worth more than a thousand “out of the box” type sayings.
Split level ranch mobo
Now that you can see it, the idea is pretty easy to explain. There are two PCBs to the ‘board’, the top level is a CPU, chipset, and memory, the bottom are all the I/O ports. They connect through four large edge connectors, the brass standoffs are just for show on this prototype. The board pictured here does not have the full connector set yet either.
If you don’t need much I/O, or have a unique solution in mind, the CPU board is a standalone machine. The bottom has DIMM slots on it, and it just works as an embedded board. With zero I/O, it isn’t very useful, but that is a technicality.
Naked boards on the Computex floor
The I/O boards are pretty highly featured as well, or at least they can be. Have you ever seen a board this small, each one is about the area of 3 business cards, that has a full sized PCIe 16x slot?
By now, you are probably wondering why I am getting all drool-y over an underpowered board that is fairly expensive to make, fits in no known form factor cases, and has a no hard specs. Well, the key here is flexibility, and this board has it in a way that no other does.
The CPU as shown is a single core AMD Yukon with a 790E chipset, so it should have enough grunt to blow through video, digital signage, and kiosk duties with ease. But lets say you don’t want an AMD CPU, you have your heart set on Atom. OK, swap the CPU board out and keep the I/O as is. Heart set on a Via Nano? Shouldn’t be a problem. Don’t need a 16x PCIe slot or HDMI? No problem either, swap the I/O board for one that costs a bit less. Want whatever Ion is this week? Then you are a moron, go away.
The idea is simple, right now, Albatron has AMD Yukon and Atom boards designed for the CPU, Pineview and likely Kodiak ones on the pipeline. Throw in a few I/O boards for customized for a price point or a vertical niche, and you have something that will fit a huge range of needs. Not only can they be tailored for functionality niches, but they can be made to fit a range of price points as well on the CPU and I/O side.
Theoretically one could make an I/O board that fits an ITX chassis too, or even a full ATX if you wanted. The possibilities are endless, and that is why this whole concept is significant. If done right, you can upgrade parts of your computer or product line incorporating it as needed.
Gazing into the crystal ball, this is a very good idea, but it likely isn’t the exact form factor where things will end up. Before there is a final spec, far too many hands will get their say, and things will be tweaked for no good reason, and the end point will be different but not necessarily better. It could be a riser, cable connector, or a dozen other things, but this concept has a lot of merit.
Kicking off a new paradigm more than anything else is why this wins the best motherboard, or more precisely motherboard family, of Computex. Albatron did it again, they stepped into an area where no one has gone, and did something unique, just like the last time. It will surely be cloned before CES, but Albatron doesn’t usually stand still for long. I can’t wait to see what they do next.S|A