ULi - The Best Kept Secret of Taiwan?

About two years ago failing chipset maker ALi dropped out of the chipset business and a spinoff, ULi, took over.  ALi reached the height of their popularity during the Socket-7 days, but when Intel transitioned to their Slot-1 architecture ALi began to lose ground.  While ALi was one of the first to show working Athlon 64 chipsets, their K8 solutions were hardly adopted and thus the market was given away to SiS, VIA and of course, NVIDIA. 

ULi’s existence was supposed to change all of that.  Focusing on stability and reliability, two issues that ALi’s chipsets proved to have later on in their life, ULi was determined to create a chipset business that would be among the best. 

Currently ULi has manufacturers like ASUS, ABIT and ECS making boards based on their chipsets, yet none of the sales people from those companies will sell ULi based motherboards into the North American and European markets.  In the Chinese markets, the ULi based boards sell extremely well.  The chipsets themselves are priced lower than VIA’s, yet are quite competitive with NVIDIA’s nForce4 Ultra solution.  The problem is branding; ULi has no brand recognition in the Europe and North American markets, thus selling motherboards based on their chipsets becomes quite difficult. 

We took a look at a ULi Socket-939 PCI Express reference board while in Taiwan to see if what ULi was telling us happened to be true.  Could ULi’s chipsets offer performance close to that of NVIDIA, while also offering stability at a price point lower than VIA’s? 

We ran a small suite of tests on ASUS’ AN8-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) as well as ULi’s Socket-939 PCI Express Reference Motherboard.  The performance of the chipset was quite compelling; faster than the nForce4 in Doom 3, yet slower in the Winstone tests. 

Business Winstone 2004 Performance

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004

Doom 3 Performance @ 1024x768 High Quality

Overall performance was quite respectable, but most importantly was that we encountered no problems during our testing.  Overclocking features were limited on the reference board, but we’re hearing that ABIT has a board based on ULi’s chipset that should offer some pretty good overclocking performance. 

One particularly nice feature of the ULi chipset is that its South Bridge offers a full speed AGP 8X interface - and the North/South Bridges communicate over a 8GB/s Hyper Transport bus, meaning that there’s no reduction in performance if you use an AGP graphics card on the motherboard.  By offering both AGP and PCI Express slots, both of which run at full speed, you can have a single motherboard that will support your current AGP graphics card and any later on PCI Express cards without sacrificing any performance. 

The Current M1567 South Bridge has full AGP 8X Support

The Spec list of the M1695 ULi chipset

Currently ULi has the manufacturer support they need, they simply need to be able to improve brand recognition it seems.  With the right combination of getting their name out there and a solid enthusiast-level motherboard, ULi could very well be the chipset manufacturer to pick up where VIA left off. 

The new M1575 South Bridge will add SATA II support

Current pricing for Socket-939 motherboards based on the ULi chipset appears to be at the sub-$80 level, which isn’t bad at all for a nForce4 Ultra competitor. 

ULi also makes most of the South Bridges for ATI based motherboards

We saw ULi boards from a few manufacturers at the show; ECS' board looked a lot like ULi's reference design and will carry a street price of around $75:

Jetway also had a motherboard on display:

While ASUS and ABIT also have boards, we did not get a chance to take a look at them at the show.

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  • yacoub - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    "#20 Gigabyte already offers a "silent heatpipe cooled" Radeon X800 XL card:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82... "

    There are reports that the Gigabyte card does not fit in the SN25P case. =\
  • Momental - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    #29, I'm in total agreement with #31 here. Cool your jets there, killer. Sheesh! If Anand and his staff refused to sign that document, they wouldn't get past the door to even be able to give you a glimpse of new tech like this. Confidentiality is what these companines live and die by my friend, not NDA's.

    nVidia and ATi know what they're doing. They'll tell us everything we need to know about the card WHEN WE NEED TO KNOW. This ain't the time yet, bud.
  • hoppa - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    #29 It's not like anyone else has posted information about the G70 yet either. So either everyone is signing NDAs and, subsequently, getting screwed in the ass, or no one else is signing them and as a result don't get the information anyway because the companies won't give it away without an NDA.
  • DeathByDuke - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    #14 Asus/Abit both did legacy free mobos 2 years ago for P4 and XP. they just didnt 'take off'
  • Phiro - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    Anand & Crew: You seriously need to rethink your automatic signage of NDA's. This is ridiculous. You're at a trade show where they are SHOWING the card off. You're taking PICTURES of the card and posting them online. But you still can't talk about it yet!

    The bullshit here is that you keep signing such idiotic NDA's in the first place. YOU are the one responsible for this. Quit selling your soul for getting hardware a day early. Maybe at one point you thought you were getting a good deal, but from my viewpoint you're just getting screwed in the ass. Live by the NDA, die by the NDA.

  • FinFET - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link


    I believe the i-RAM is just using the PCI Slot for power, not to xfer data. That's why there is a SATA Connection on the board itself, which will connect directly to the mobo's SATA port.
  • CrystalBay - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    I agree #4&18 ULI with sataII southbridge is cool
  • shaw - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    #22 I too had a Ti4200 and was happy with it's performance, but I dumped it the second FarCry came out in favor for a 9800Pro with PS2.0 support.
  • erwos - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    "#10 - what was the SN26P slated to offer? It might just already be on its way to market and not worth showing off as a future product? "

    It was the nForce4 SLI XPC. You can see the obvious utility (SATA2, better hyper transport, SLI), especially since the SN25P used to be running a regular nForce4 (non-ultra).

    Of course, now that the SN25P is using the ultra variant of the NF4, there's even less reason for the 26P to go to market. SFF is a small market - so is SLI. It just wouldn't have that much appeal. Still, I wish it had come out...

  • erwos - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

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