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Circuit wars: Asus fends off accusations

PC circuit board makers Asus and Gigabyte are feuding over the greenness of their technology.

Forget Intel and AMD for a minute. The two largest PC circuit board makers, Asus and Gigabyte, are at it.

The Asus motherboard at the center of the feud
The Asus motherboard at the center of the feud Asus

PC motherboard maker spats have typically taken place below the radar. But a recent round of particularly sharp recriminations have become very visible because they go to the core of a new trend in marketing: How green is your motherboard?

This is what happened: Gigabyte, according to reports, said in Taipei earlier this month that Asus' EPU (energy processing unit)-based motherboards do not achieve the power savings that Asus claims.

In short, Asus claims power savings of just over 80 percent, while Gigabyte claims it is closer to 59 percent.

Gigabyte's attack on Asus alleged that the EPU is purely a marketing term and that Asus did not change the design, firmware, or packaging of the motherboards. Asus returned fire saying its claims were legitimate and threatened legal action, concluding its statement with: "Asus reserves the right to take legal action against any individual, organization or corporation which creates or spreads such rumors."

Seemingly pretty tame stuff by Intel-AMD warfare standards but an issue that has serious implications in the green computing age. Motherboard energy efficiency "is a huge marketing issue as of now," said Wolfgang Gruener of TG Daily that reported on the issue along with Tom's Hardware.

But it does cry out for perspective, according to Dean McCarron, principal at market researcher Mercury Research. Some of the interest in this issue emanates from Web sites that cater to enthusiasts that build their own systems. "The build-your-own crowd...that's a tiny, tiny part of the market...on the order of 1 to 2 percent of all motherboards," McCarron said.

"When you ask how important it is, you have to ask--how important is it to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and systems integrators? There it's becoming of increasing importance," he said. "Dell or HP or Lenovo...You'll see them now offering low-power (models). None of those classifications existed five years ago. So, it's becoming an item of increasing importance over time."

This is true. Dell, for example, says on its business desktop page: "Thanks to Energy Smart technologies, the OptiPlex 755...can save you up to 78 percent on power."

The feud may also have some parallels with Intel-AMD wrangling. As Asus grows in size, McCarron sees other motherboard vendors picking on Asus, the way smaller processor suppliers target (rightly or wrongly) Intel. Asus had sales of $6.9 billion in 2007 and, in addition to motherboards, makes laptops, desktops, servers, graphics cards, mobile telephones, pocket PCs, and a host of computer accessories.