Vermont to Computex Taipei—27 long hours in the air, the longest I have ever flown in my life. Four movies later, we landed in Taiwan. It was my first time in Taipei and my first time that far west or east since I was born in Poland. This year, Computex hosted over 1,600 exhibitors in over 4,000 booths. In four days we manged to walk around all of the five exhibition halls of Computex 2008.
Taipei’s WTC (World Trade Center) was the first stop. At first, I thought that it would be difficult to locate small-form-factor-related products at the show without the main focus of them being largely on the mainstream, consumer market. I was pleasantly incorrect on my initial belief. Small form factor computing, including Mini-ITX, is growing fast, almost as fast as ATX and other form factors have grown in the past. From what I saw at Computex, the Mini-ITX form factor is quickly becoming a large part of the mainstream computer market. More and more, big IT industry names like Intel, MSI, AOpen, and Gigabyte are emerging on the Mini-ITX market.
The WTC building was mainly filled with small companies, mostly featuring computer accessories and peripherals, but I also found Portwell and IEI. Portwell, a 1993 Taipei-founded company, was showcasing an Atom-based module called QSeven.
This is a very interesting solution where an embedded module (chipset and CPU) can be ported into different form factor docking mainboards. This provides great flexibility from an I/O standpoint, as well as unique cross-compatibility between different platforms. Neat idea!
The WTC hosted a few more companies that we briefly visited. VIA Technologies was one of them. I saw a lot of Nano CPU materials/brochures, but no Mini-ITX mainboard featuring the new Nano (bummer). I was hoping to see at least some benchmarking results for the new CPU or maybe even a Nano vs. Atom face-off. Too bad for VIA, it looked like Atom took over the Computex even though VIA’s Nano platform won the Computex Award. We spotted one new VIA mainboard, the M700. The M700 kind of looks like the VIA EPIA EX mainboard, but with a face-lift.
After a day at the WTC, it was time for day two and Nangang. Nangang, the biggest Computex exhibition hall, is located just 10 minutes outside the city center. It is called WTC Nangang. This year Nangang hosted some 3,000 booths, including the 2 biggest ones at the trade show, MSI and Intel. Computex is the biggest computer trade show in Asia, as well as the 2nd biggest in the world. Which, of course, really translates into: lots of walking and lots of new, exciting things to see.
Everywhere I looked, Intel and NVIDIA had a more than solid presence. There was a great amount of new hardware, mostly new ATX mainboards and graphics cards—not very surprising since Computex’s main focus is on the consumer market. It took us two and a half days on foot, while toting about 10lb. in catalogs, to cover the whole WTC Nangang and find the most interesting and Mini-ITX-related products.
The MSI booth was quiet impressive. A lot of new products including both Atom-based (9A06) and GM45 barebone (9A07/8) systems, GM45 mainboards (MS-9818) and Digital Signage solutions (hardware+software). It looks like MSI has a strong focus on the embedded market, and is looking to be very competitive this year. The design of the mainboards are improving, and it’s apparent that their products are tending to lean more and more toward the industrial-grade market. A little, happy detail that caught my eye: no more proprietary heat sinks and fans on the new MSI mainboards. The other product that I found highly interesting was the ultra-low-profile Atom-based barebone, the MS-9A06—an interesting and seemingly flexible solution. Overall in my opinion, one of the best booths.
Just steps away from MSI’s booth, we located Intel, who was showcasing a great variety of Mini-ITX mainboards from companies like Foxconn, Jetway, MSI, ZOTAC, J&W, and Gigabyte, as well a few Little Fall’s system solutions. It is very obvious that Intel is doing an excellent job in marketing their products (Atom, mobile chipsets) and is offering more products targeted at embedded computing. Judging by the amount of manufacturers cooperating with Intel, I think that Q4, and the beginning of next year, we will be dominated by new Intel-based products. Well, at least until VIA delivers its new Mini-ITX 2.0. Intel also attracted a big crowd with the UMPC display. I had a chance to play a little with ASUS’s new toy, and it was quite impressive how compact, addictive, and user-friendly it was.
Outside of all the major exhibitors, we found a few up and coming ones (for Mini-ITX solutions), including Biostar, Advansus, Ibase, ZOTAC, J&W, and DFI-ACP. Most of these companies are well known to the consumer market, but every year we see more and more companies like these being interested in part of the “embedded cake.” We’ve been observing this trend for a past few years and it means that the Mini-ITX market is doing well and the demand is growing.
One last stop before we headed back home—AOpen. AOpen had a relatively small booth, themed “home/media PC.” We spotted several new products including the new, sleek as usual, MP45 MiniPC featuring the new GM45 chipset. MiniPC has been tastefully re-designed and now has more boxy, sturdy appearance. The Digital Engine, which is the more industrial version of AOpen’s MiniPC, received a new set of hardware as well. The current model will be using Intel’s GM965 chipset. We also saw the next generation of MiniPCS as well as a fanless version of the DE; but as of today it’s still Top Secret. Good job AOpen.
To conclude, I’m not sure if the Mini-ITX form factor will be as big as ATX any time soon, but one thing I’m certain of, the embedded market is booming and the demand is growing. The market is very much focused on two trends: lower power consumption and higher performance. With two major companies, VIA and Intel, competing for embedded domination, it seems like the rest of the 2008 should be saturated with new, cutting-edge products.