Hot on the heels of IDF, invited several journalists for their Editor's Day event late last week. Outside of the requirements from such an event (wining and dining), we were given a number of presentations by their marketing staff, as well as by some of their technology partners.
ECS US Headquarters
We began the day with a tour of their US corporate headquarters located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Upon arrival, we were ushered into their main boardroom and had a small presentation by their Senior Vice President Alex Tao. He talked a little about the history of the company and an overview of the structure of their US and overseas offices. ECS began in Taiwan in 1987 and along with the office we were visiting later in the morning, they have additional offices across the pond in Asia, Europe as well as businesses in Brazil and Russia.
After the introductory speech, we were given a tour of the facilities. Alex mentioned in the boardroom that the US office was approximately 120 000 square feet, of which 20 000 of it is dedicated to various offices and departments, whereas the rest was dedicated for the warehouse. A little known fact for most of you I would imagine, but the US office is where ECS puts together the entry and performance systems for Resellers in North America. Computers are assembled, tested and packaged in the US and stored in the warehouse for distribution.
Product support is handled by ECS (though sold through 3rd parties), and each system is hammered with a number of tests and strict assembly guidelines to insure a reliable product. Build quality is of utmost importance as each RMA'd product results in a loss of profit of over 40 identical boards. Fortunently, in some ways, the majority of failed systems are typically caused by the memory modules. Even so, out of the 10 000 plus systems (monthly I believe) less than 2% result in RMA.
The main offices are where you'll find the US-based executives, sales and marketing and tech support staff. Along with their own branded products, ECS also handles tech support for the systems they assemble. They also have a systems engineering department where they assemble current and potential systems and handle all aspects of the hardware and software design. Once the tour was over, we were brought back to the hotel for the main meetings.
Editor's Day Introduction
We began the meetings with an introductory speech by the CEO See See Lo. See See welcomed the group, and went over a bit about Elitegroup's current status, including the ECS USA and PCChips merger, as well as some of the things we could look forward to as a community. The day was dubbed "The New ECS", which is really a reintroduction of ECS as listening to the enthusiast community and tailoring products to suit our needs.
After her speech, she passed the floor to Adam Chou, the Senior Manager of Marketing. He presented the group the overall mission statement of ECS, and the underlying theme of his presentation was all about "quality". We had a video tour of the main manufacturing plant in China and several slides on the company's plans of expansion in the Far East. ECS is scheduled to open the second largest building in the tech center of Taipei, Taiwan next year, and the expansion will allow them to grow as current marketing research has shown them to occupy approximately 15% of the global market for computer supplies. Given that they currently produce about 2.2 million mobos per month (currently, their capacity is 2.5 million), the extra space couldn't come any sooner.
Wrapping things up, Adam went over the three basic product lines, which are motherboards, notebooks and complete systems. Sticking with mobos, as well as being of interest to our readers, their "Extreme" series of motherboards (pictured above) are the ones getting the attention on Editor's Day as these boards will be targeted directly at us. There were a few remarks about the presentation being a little to much on the "business" side and not enough for the enthusiast, but there was still more to follow.
Scalable Dual Graphic Engines
The Director of Product Marketing, Joe Chang, was up next and he went over the current product lineup of ECS, as well as providing a sneak peak at some new technologies coming form ECS. The two main items he presented were Scalable Dual Graphic Engines (S.D.G.E.) and PF88 SIMA Cards.
Pictured above are some of the slides from the S.D.G.E. presentation. In a nutshell, what the S.D.G.E. offers is a flexible graphics solution that will allow the user to access up to 4 displays and have two PCIE x16 (possible combinations of 2 x PCIE x16 or x16 and x4 or x8 and x8) graphic slots, provided both cards are of the same make and family. Sounds like SLI and Crossfire, right? In a sense, they are similar, but the application is quite different. Assuming you have a supported motherboard, there will be an optional S.D.G.E. module that will be inserted into the S.D.G.E. slot.
The S.D.G.E. module, once installed, will sit between the North and South Bridge and with its own HyperTransport (AMD) chip allowing the two video cards to work in tandem. Again, we asked why this rather than going pure SLI or Crossfire? We were not provided with all the information, but the S.D.G.E is not designed to compete against NVIDIA's and ATI's multi-GPU solutions.
We were told the S.D.G.E. is chipset independent, so in theory, you can hook up two NVIDIA video cards into an ECS KA1 MVP (ATI chipset) motherboard. In practice, well, we weren't shown any of this in action, but let's just say there's some tension between all the camps at the moment. The whole point of S.D.G.E. is to provide flexibility for the end-user to move to a multi-GPU platform without having to be stuck with sticking with a pure SLI or Crossfire setup. We'll comment more on this at the end of our report.
PF88 Extreme Hybrid and SIMA
For those of you who like to, um, swing with both sides of the fence, will be interested to hear about Elitegroup's PF88 Extreme Hybrid. Based on the SiS 656/FX+965 chipset, the board natively supports all LGA775 Prescotts, along with NCQ, DDR2-667, 8-channel audio and two PCI Express x16. The board itself is fully ATX compatible and features a special SIMA slot. What is SIMA you ask?
A9S (AMD 939)
I9S (Intel 479)
A SIMA card will allow you to turn that PF88 Extreme Hybrid into an AMD motherboard, or perhaps a low powered Intel motherboard using their mobile part. The SIMA cards have their own additional North Bridge as well as power management and the required ram slots for the appropriate CPU (so no DDR2 for you AMD fans, at least until we see the AMD Socket M2). Only two slots are included, which is something of a bummer, but it was a necessary decision by ECS to keep the product ATX compliant.
Other than the A9S for AMD Socket 939 and the I9S for Intel Socket 479, we should see the SIMA AMS for the AMD M2, as well as the A4S for AMD Socket 754. Obviously, no SIMA card is required for LGA775, but that may change if we see a Hybrid board for AMD.
The big question for the day was performance, and truth be told, we have nothing worthwhile to mention. We were given benchmarks for the SIMA and PF88 product, but only hard drive scores. In these benchmarks, there were no perceptible differences between this combination and 756-A based ECS board, so you'll need to wait a bit longer until we can evaluate the application and game performance in-house. Cost was also something of a question mark for both the SIMA module and the S.D.G.E. module, but we were told both would fall under $50 USD, with street prices hovering around the $30 mark.