WHAT DO ALL the major Taiwanese graphics card vendors have in common? They are fed up with Nvidia and ATI forcing reference card sales.
Wafer-thin profit margins and the lack of scope for adding value are stretching even the renowned imaginatively thrifty Taiwanese business model.
It being post Computex, the graphics head honchos had a little more time to chew the fat with the INQ in Taipei. They said their companies will peddle just enough reference cards to keep market presence, but they are increasing the effort they put into customised models. These boost their brand recognition in the market and earn far better margins.
How much margin? On average, for every percentage of profit a board vendor gets from selling a reference board, they make 3 per cent from a minor rework, 8 per cent from a major and 20 from a total rework.
An example of a total rework is Asus MARS with new dual-PCB, cooling and form factor design to accommodate two full GTX285 GPUs in one card providing performance that's a notch above Nvidia's official top single-slot card, the GTX295.
Another total rework example - but only rumoured - is an HD4890X2. A dual 1GHz over-clocked version would need 2 x 8 pin power and darn good cooling.
Examples of a major rework are Gigabyte's GTX285 2GB or 9800GT Silent Cell, or Asus Matrix GTX285. These have the vendor's own PCB, memory, components, power system and sometimes cooling, or a speed-picked reference PCB with better cooling blocks, such as EVGA or XFX water-block cards, or even Asus HD4870X2 tri-fan "Harley Davidson" card.
Sapphire's Toxic and Atomic HD4890 series would also count as major rework cards.
Minor rework examples would be Asus' GTX285 TOP with 5 per cent extra OC, or some of the speed-binned 1GHz HD4890 cards offered by a number of vendors.
But these reworks take time, so there is often a one- or even two-quarter lag between the availability of the reference and the reworked cards. And that erodes profit margins on the reworked cards.
Hence all the board vendors - including the few remaining NV- or ATI-only houses - are eagerly awaiting Intel Larrabee, precisely for the design freedom it is expected to bring.
Intel is expected to give the vendors early access to the GPU design so that, just like with mainboard chipsets, card vendors can release own-brand custom Larrabee designs at the same time as the chip and its base reference card launch.
That, say the heads of the Taiwanese board vendors, will provide room for them to make more money out of GPUs once more. µ