Computer motherboards, the main circuit board of a PC around which the entire system is built, are big business at the Computex exhibition and motherboard makers are showing walls full of the things. Almost all of the boards on display in Taipei this week are designed to be used with a specific chipset and processor but one of the more unique boards is able to cope with chips from both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.
Elitegroup Computer Systems' PF88 offers a fairly easy switch between chips from the processor rivals. It supports Intel's Pentium 4 and Pentium M processors and AMD's Athlon 64 and Turion processors.
So how does this work?
At first glance the board doesn't appear too different from other motherboards on display. There's a socket for an Intel Pentium 4 processor on the main board and the usual slots for memory and expansion cards. But there are two PCI Express graphics card slots and a third slot, which looks almost identical to the other two, but it has a different purpose. There's also two sockets for BIOS (basic input output system) chips.
When used with an Intel Pentium 4, things are fairly straightforward. The processor goes into its socket on the board and the memory and graphics cards go into their respective slots and you're more or less in business.
To switch to a new processor requires a little shuffling around of components and an additional plug-in board. This board can be thought of as half-motherboard and there are three available: AMD Athlon 64 and Turion boards and a Pentium M board.
The first thing you need to do is to pull out the Pentium 4 chip, then switch the graphics card from one of the PCI Express slots to the other one. Next, the memory needs to be removed and inserted into slots on one of the additional boards so it remains close to the processor and can maintain a high-bandwidth connection.
These boards are plugged into the PCI Express-like socket mentioned above and it's through that connection that they interface with the rest of the motherboard. To complete the switch, a new BIOS chip supporting the new processor should be inserted into the second BIOS chip socket.
Working systems running both processors were on show on the ECS booth at Computex running the Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon 64 processors.
ECS is already selling the board and has seen some success in Europe, said Martin Grothe, a product manager with ECS' German subsidiary. He said the product has some appeal to specialist users who enjoy getting their hands dirty and building systems but says its not something for everyone.
"Normal users will not want to buy it because it's too complicated," he said. "But it's one solution [for running Intel and AMD systems] and it works."
The main board costs about Euro 100 (US$122) and the additional boards cost about Euro 30 each, without the processors, said Grothe.