CeBIT 2008 Coverage: Part 2

In the second part of our CeBIT 2008 coverage we take a look at non-standard mainboards from Asustek and Foxconn, check out graphics cards with built-in voltmodding feature from Gigabyte, examine new memory modules from OCZ Technology, share our thoughts on the destiny of SiS and Via chipset developers and inspect new Asus Eee PC 9”.

by Anton Shilov
03/10/2008 | 07:22 PM

Welcome to the Club: OCZ Ready to Go with 2GHz, 2.1GHz Memory Modules

Although Corsair and Kingston are talking about 2.13GHz DDR3 memory modules, there are very few module suppliers who can offer even 2GHz products. At CeBIT 2008 OCZ Technology, a leading memory vendor, unveiled its new memory solutions that are capable of operating at 2000MHz and 2100MHz and, obviously, can be pushed even higher in certain cases.


OCZ's Flex 2 DDR3 PC3-16800 memory module

The highest-performance memory PC3-16800 2GB kit from OCZ Technology will utilize Flex 2 extreme liquid convection cooling system with possibility to be attached to a water pump and will be clocked at 2100MHz with CL10 10-10 latency settings. It is interesting to note that due to relatively long timings OCZ managed to keep voltage at 1.9V, below 2.0V or even 2.1V that some memory module makers use for their 2GHz devices.

OCZ's Flex 2 DDR3 PC3-16800 memory modules' packaging

Another extreme-speed option from OCZ will be 1GB PC3-16000 SLI memory modules rated to run at 2.0GHz with CL9 8-8 timings. These modules will come featuring OCZ’s usual extreme thermal convection heatspreaders that are not really bulky. Besides, the 2.0GHz modules will feature enhanced performance profiles (EPP) 2.0 serial presence detect (SPD) settings that Nvidia developed for DDR3 memory modules which will work with Nvidia nForce 790i SLI platforms.

Demonstration of OCZ's XTC 2 DDR3 PC3-16000 memory modules

Some may argue that latency settings of OCZ’s PC3-16800 are too high (CL10 10-10) and actual performance of them will be lower than that of similar products from Corsair (CL8 8-8-24) and Kingston (CL9 9-9-27). Still, it should be kept in mind that boosted voltages mean shorter life expectancy of memory chips, which may be a problem for those, who want to use them for many years to come, but is definitely not an issue for hardcore enthusiasts who change computer components once a year.

Patriot Also Demos 2GHz Memory, but With New Cooling System

At CeBIT 2008 it turned out that 2GHz memory modules are going to be available from relatively many suppliers after platforms supporting such extreme memory speeds – Intel X48 and Nvidia nForce 790i SLI – emerge on the market. Patriot Memory was yet another leading memory module supplier to show its 2GHz products at the show.

Patriot Viper 2GB 2GHz dual-channel memory kit

Patriot’s Viper-series 2GB DDR3 kit capable of running at 2000MHz will have latency settings of CL8 8-8-20, which should ensure truly high performance. Such settings were made possible only because manufacturer increase voltage setting to 2.15V. The company itself says that there should be no problems with such a considerable increase and that it does not see any extraordinary return-rate of modules which voltages were boosted dramatically.

Live demonstration of Patriot Viper 2GB 2GHz dual-channel memory kit

In addition to the new DDR3 memory modules, Patriot demonstrated active cooling system consisting of two fans for its products due to be out shortly. With active cooling Patriot’s memory modules should become even better for overclocking.

Patriot's new active cooling system for memory modules

Me Without You: SiS and Via Technologies Make No Show at CeBIT

It is not a news that companies like ATI/AMD, Intel Corp. and Nvidia Corp. have been attacking the chipset market tremendously aggressively in the recent years. The results of the assault are pretty clear at the moment: both Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. and Via Technologies are basically out of the business.

Via Technologies has never publicly acknowledged that its chipset division is loosing market share as a result of strategic alliance between AMD and Nvidia, legal dispute with Intel Corp. early in the decade and, perhaps even more importantly, the lack of real innovation. In fact, Via is responsible for the introduction and eventual success of the original DDR memory as well as success of AMD’s Athlon XP microprocessors. But now the company that used to be a major chipset vendor sees its sales dropping every month.

SiS Corp. was never a major developer of chipsets, however, quite a lot of mainboard manufacturers used the company’s chipsets for entry-level products. In fact, SiS core-logic sets were relatively popular in the low-end due to low price and attempts of the chipset designer to enter higher-margin high-end core-logic business have failed. As a result, SiS once found itself being unable to bring truly innovative products onto the market on time.

Via has been absent at CeBIT in 2007 and it was not a surprise that the company decided not to attend CeBIT 2008 as well. But SiS was here a year ago and it was expected that the firm will have a booth at the trade-show this year too. However, SiS did not show up to demonstrate its latest products. More importantly, almost no mainboard makers showcased motherboards powered by chipsets from SiS and Via, which is a clear indicator that their interest towards those core-logic sets is very low these days.

ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia and Intel Corp. have developed chipsets with built-in DirectX 10.1-compliant graphics cores as well as other necessary features (e.g., high-definition video decoding engine), whereas neither SiS nor Via are capable of offering anything similar.

Without truly competitive products, we do not know whether the two Taiwan-based chipset developers will survive, will be acquired like ULi, or will refocus their business. Time will tell what happens, but mainboard makers are pretty skeptical about these two chipset designers’ future already now.

Performance with No Limits in Mind: Asustek and Foxconn Demonstrate Non-Standard Mainboards

For years producers of mainboards tried hard to offer better performance and functionality without using certain weird cooling technologies and keeping those mainboards compliant with ATX specification. But the competition these days is so high that at least some manufacturers believe it makes sense to forget about the standards for the sake of performance and expandability.

At CeBIT 2008 both Asustek Computer and Foxconn demonstrated mainboards that are not exactly match the size of standard ATX, even though they can be installed into large ATX cases that are used by computer enthusiasts as well as system builders like Alienware and VoodooPC.

Asustek showcased its Maximus II Extreme motherboard that is based on Intel P45 core-logic and supports various Intel Core 2 central processing units with up to 1600MHz processor system bus in addition to dual-channel DDR3 memory at up to 1600MHz. The motherboard comes with really fancy cooling system for the chipset and CPU power supply circuitry, which points to the fact that the product is aimed at overclockers.

Asus Maximus II Extreme mainboard

But there is an even more noticeable fact about this mainboard: it has wider print circuit board (PCB) compared to standard ATX (but is not as wide as extended ATX). According to Asus’ officials, the width of the motherboard was increased in order to optimize the layout so that to boost overclocking potential provided by Asus Maximus II Extreme. Another advantage that such design should bring is easier installation of very long graphics cards, as now graphics adapters’ cooling systems and PCBs do not touch Serial ATA or any other cables. Since computer cases for enthusiasts are usually made with extended ATX in mind, wider PCB should not add any significant problems with computer assembly.

Foxconn Quantum Force F1 mainboard

Foxconn decided to take a little different design approach to its Quantum Force F1 motherboard that was showcased at CeBIT 2008. Instead of widening PCB, Foxconn decided to increase its length so that to install an additional PCI Express x16 slot for graphics cards. As a result, Foxconn F1 mainboard based on Intel P45 core-logic can support up to four graphics adapters and up to ten add-in cards in total.

Computer case for Foxconn Quantum Force F1 mainboard

Moreover, Foxconn Quantum Force F1 supports liquid-cooling system for chipset and microprocessor voltage regulator module (VRM) as well as peltier module on the memory controller hub (MCH). The manufacturer has reasons to believe that its F1 will become an excellent product for overclockers, which is why Foxconn bundles a special 5.25” panel that allows on-the-fly overclocking as well as allows to keep an eye on system information.

Computer case for Foxconn Quantum Force F1 mainboard

An obvious issue with Foxconn Quantum Force F1 is that it will not fit into the vast majority of available computer cases. To solve the potential problem, the company has designed a special computer case of ultimate size that is supposed to be a perfect fit for the mainboard. Pricing of the mainboard and computer case are unknown presently. It is also unclear whether Foxconn plans to include water pump into the case or users will have to pick it up themselves.

Need for Speed: Gigabyte Shows Off Graphics Cards with GPU Voltage Increase Capabilities

For several years many graphics cards suppliers offered pre-overclocked graphics adapters, however, no one increased core voltage of graphics processing unit (GPU) itself: even heavily overclocked XFX GeForce 8800 Ultra Extreme graphics board comes with 1.35V core voltage. It looks like the situation is changing, as Gigabyte United has unveiled a technology that allows boosting GPU voltage on its graphics cards using a special software application.

The new Gamer HUD (heads up display) software utility from Gigabyte is designed to allow hardcore gaming enthusiasts to tweak the highest levels of performance from their graphics card. Gigabyte’s Gamer HUD utility features Voltage Gear Overdrive (VGO) feature that allows voltage adjusting purely though software control as well as supports adjusting of GPU clock-speed, shader domain clock-speed and memory frequency settings. With multi-level GPU voltage control settings, users are able to squeeze the highest amount of performance from their graphics cards.

Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GT 512MB with Voltage Gear Overdrive support

In addition, the company said that Gigabyte’s Gamer HUD provides certain power savings through its auto-optimized 2D/3D GPU frequency switching feature. When enabling 2D applications such as email, web browsing and media playback, the GPU frequency is lowered to 2D mode allowing the graphics card to save power consumption. For more graphics intensive applications such as gaming and 3D rendering, the 3D switch is activated, raising the GPU frequency to allow for the greatest level of performance. In fact, both ATI and Nvidia graphics cards automatically adjust clock-speeds and voltages depending on usage model, but Gigabyte implies that its settings are more aggressive and can allow even more efficient power savings and quietness of operation.

Voltage Gear Overdrive chip

Given that both ATI and Nvidia nowadays provide graphics cards makers clock-speed and voltage ranges of their GPUs, boosting them to a certain degree should not be a considerable problem and will not void warranty. What should be kept in mind is that with higher voltages and clock-speeds life expectancy of chips gets lower. Therefore, those, who plan to get a graphics card that will be used for several years should approach graphics boards with boosted voltages with caution, but gamers, who change graphics adapters every year, will probably welcome almost any performance boosting technology.

Initially the new Gamer HUD software utility with Voltage Gear Overdrive (VGO) technology support will come with new Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB graphics cards, but eventually Gigabyte is likely to enable other graphics boards with the VGO capability.

Size Matters: Asustek Shows Off New Asus Eee PC with 9” Screen

It is undisputable fact that Asustek Computer’s Asus Eee PC 701 notebook is a huge success for the company. Nevertheless, with small screen and not a lot of storage space this device was not enough for those, who would like to have a notebook for storing documents, not talking about multimedia files. Specifically for those, who demand a little more from the Eee, Asus introduced Eee PC 900-series model with larger screen.

Asus Eee PC with 8.9" screen

The new Asus Eee PC with 8.9” screen that has 1024x600 resolution features the same Intel Celeron M ULV model 353 (900MHz, factory downclocked to 630MHz) and Intel 910 core-logic with built-in graphics core as in the currently available models. But the notebook with larger screen also comes with 12GB of flash memory for storage, 1GB of DDR2 random access memory and 1.3MP webcam. All Asus Eee PC laptops feature three USB ports, audio jacks, 10/100Mbps Ethernet support, wireless WiFi (802.11b/g) interface as well as a card-reader.

Asus Eee PC 900-series with 12GB solid-state drive will cost €399 ($612) in Europe, but the price for the USA is not clear at the moment.

Asus Eee PCs with 8.9" screen

At CeBIT the manufacturer also introduced its Eee PCs with pre-installed Microsoft Windows XP operating system, something which was demanded by many end users. There is no question that Eee PC 900-series with Windows will attract a lot of attention from end-users demanding portability and low-cost. But Windows-based Eee may become a product that is hard to find after the 30th of June, 2008, when Microsoft stops selling Windows XP licenses both among manufacturers and in retail. After that date, Microsoft will either have to offer cut-down version of Windows Vista for simplistic PCs like Asus Eee, or create a special version of Windows XP for them, or just wait on the sidelines and see how manufacturers of entry-level PCs start to adopt Linux operating system.

Upgrading Asus Eee PC in the near future just in order to install Windows Vista is hardly a good option, an official from Asustek said. Nevertheless, at some point, sometime in 2009, there will be more powerful next-generation Asus Eee PC notebooks.