We were also given a presentation on the motherboard R&D process and some live examples of the day-to-day work of a motherboard engineer:

IMG 8584 ECS HQ Tour and Interview

Above: A summary of the motherboard R&D process.

IMG 8594 ECS HQ Tour and Interview

Above: A sample PCB without components attached.

IMG 8612 ECS HQ Tour and Interview

Above: Reworking a motherboard using a soldering iron.

IMG 8631 ECS HQ Tour and Interview

IMG 8632 ECS HQ Tour and Interview

Above and top: Testing a VGA output using an oscilloscope.

We then interviewed David Chien, Vice President at ECS. He began by highlighting ECS' four key product areas – notebooks, tablet PCs, all-in-one PCs, and motherboards and graphics cards.

IMG 8675 ECS HQ Tour and Interview

He noted that ECS is the fourth largest motherboard manufacturer and went on to say that, while ECS has focused on the mainstream and value segments in the past, it is now working hard to widen its appeal to enthusiasts. He used the A990FXM-A motherboard as a case in point, showing off the various features that had been added to attract enthusiasts.

When asked how ECS intends to compete with top manufacturers who were already established in the enthusiast market, Chien explained that it would take considerable time and resources to move their products upwards. Using an analogy, he described ECS' current products as being positioned like Toyotas – reliable and reasonably priced. But in the future, ECS aimed to move their products up to the level of Lexus. Chien also noted that the motherboard industry was already mature and ECS had more opportunities in emerging markets.

IMG 8689 ECS HQ Tour and Interview

Queried about the viability of ECS' tablet products, Chien conceded that their initial lineup had been late to market, but ECS was devoting more resources to this area. The entry of new operating systems such as Meego later this year, he said, would open up many more possibilities. He also raised an interesting point that the ideal tablet size might actually vary geographically, with Asians preferring 7-inch tablets whereas Europeans and Americans might favour 10-inch tablets instead.

Chien pointed out that building up a brand in a new market was difficult. Citing the example of another motherboard manufacturer that had tried unsuccessfully to gain a foothold in the notebook market for years, he said that ECS would face challenges moving into new markets as it was best known as a motherboard manufacturer. ECS intended to build on its strengths, including its conformance to standards and strong OEM business, to improve its consumer branding.

In response to a query on ECS' lack of custom graphics card solutions, Chien noted that the rise of more powerful integrated GPUs, marked by Sandy Bridge and Llano, would obviate the need for low-end and eventually mid-range discrete graphics. In the future, he said, only high-end discrete GPUs would be viable.

This was an interesting session that provided insights not only into the motherboard industry, but also other challenges faced by technology companies in general. We would like to thank ECS once again for giving us this opportunity.