AMD is exploring ways to centralize support for third-party motherboards, said Pat Moorhead, vice president of AMD's Global Channel Marketing, Microprocessor Solutions Section. "In the future, we have to look at a one-call support mechanism," he said.
Moorhead said if AMD, Sunnyvale, Calif., is able to roll out such a plan, system builders would call one phone number for support, regardless of which motherboard vendor actually manufactured the product. The support would be part of AMD's Commercial Stable Image Platform (CSIP) for desktop and client systems, which was launched in November 2004.
CSIP aims to provide system builders with a platform that would be available from specific chipset and motherboard suppliers for a guaranteed 18-month period. A consistent platform is something IT buyers insist on so they can minimize support costs. Motherboard makers ASUS, Gigabyte, ECS and MSI as well as chipset manufacturers Nvidia and ATI are among the manufacturers participating in CSIP.
The program was conceived to help AMD win more acceptance in the corporate market, where it plans to gain share this year. While many system builders have been looking at AMD more closely—particularly in the fourth quarter, when Intel struggled with supply of certain chipsets for its desktop processors—concerns about stability, quality and support for third-party AMD products have been a stumbling block.
For example, Larry Piland, president of Datel Systems, Kearny Mesa, Calif., said he can never be sure what he's going to get from the third-party motherboard manufacturers. Such inconsistencies make AMD-based systems a hard sell in corporate accounts and some verticals, such as education, where support is a primary concern for IT buyers, he said.
Some system builders said they have constructed a business around using Intel-branded motherboards because of the quality and support that Intel offers. Although many system builders have said they want AMD to begin manufacturing its own motherboards, executives at the chip maker say there currently are no plans to do so.
Chipset maker Nvidia, meanwhile, is developing a program it believes will address some of the quality concerns. The Santa Clara, Calif., company has quietly begun the Nvidia Business Platform—a subset of AMD's CSIP program—that requires rigorous testing of motherboards and white-box systems on top of what is required through CSIP. The program is in limited release with the CSIP motherboard makers and a handful of system builders. A broad rollout is expected by April.
The program calls for motherboard manufacturers to use a specific list of components in their products to help ensure product quality, according to David Ragones, product manager for the Nvidia Business Platform. "When there is more control over the bill of materials on these motherboards, system builders have more control over product they are receiving," he said. Participating in the Nvidia program requires motherboard makers to go "above and beyond" their normal tests to make sure there are no conflicts or defects in their products, Ragones said.
Nvidia provides a driver suite that can be used on any certified motherboard. System builders also are given a special testing suite written by Nvidia that they must use. Systems that meet the platform's requirements will receive the certification sticker from Nvidia. The company intends to eventually market the certified systems to corporate customers.
While Moorhead said AMD supports the Nvidia program, he noted that AMD also requires thorough testing of motherboards in its CSIP program, though that fact seems to be lost on solution providers that appear to be particularly interested in Nvidia's quality-control efforts.
Many system builders said AMD's CISP is a significant step toward selling more systems into the corporate market, but quality must be addressed as well. Joe Tosti, vice president of marketing at Aguus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based system builder, was particularly keen on Nvidia's efforts to certify the motherboards for quality and provide a unified set of drivers. Such efforts, he said, make the specific manufacturer of the board almost a non-issue. "That's a very powerful message," he said.
But several system builders also cautioned that while the programs from both Nvidia and AMD sound good, they are still new and execution needs to be proven. They said motherboard makers are just now ramping up inventory for these programs, and solution providers are reluctant to offer their own stamp of approval this early in the game.