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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  • vailr - 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...
    Reply
  • at80eighty - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    Vapor ware issues aside... i have a Ti4200 (happy with it too)

    but have been saving up for my next rig in about 6-9 months..

    so far i was looking at 6800GT (possibly SLI) config..

    question is.. should i wait for the G70?

    Anand? anyone?
    Reply
  • Warder45 - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    So are we going to see anything other then photo's of the G70? Reply
  • yacoub - 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?

    Btw the "PowerColor completely passively cooled X800 XL" is sexy. I want one of those to go in the SN25P I'm considering building, to keep down on the noise. I just wonder if a passively cooled card would be better in a full-size case where there is more space around the card for it to cool off. Hmmm... if Anand ever does more SN25P testing I'd like to see how that new Powercolor X800 XL holds up temp-wise in such a small case.
    Reply
  • erwos - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    "DFI is my new hero. First reputable company mobo I've seen w/o legacy ports. Let's keep moving in that direction - less legacy more USB/FW2!"

    Abit did a series of boards without any legacy components at least a year ago - and I think it was more like 2-3. Believe it or not, lots people actually complained that they needed the PS/2 ports, and Abit had to put them back on the newer versions of those boards.

    -Erwos
    Reply
  • Araemo - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    ULi's AGP south bridge caught my eye. If it's compatible with the ATI crossfire(Or otherwise?) north bridges, could we see an ATI based motherboard supporting both PCIe 16x and AGP, using that ULi south bridge? That would be perfect for my friend who just bought a 9800 pro for his aging KT133a, only to find out it will NOT work in his current motherboard.. He's looking to upgrade the mobo/cpu/ram(Athlon 1.4 + pc133 ram.. so the whole thing has to get upgraded at once really).. A nice new S939 motherboard with an ATI or ULi northbridge and the ULi AGP southbridge would be perfect, without making him buy ANOTHER new mobo/cpu/ram when he wants an PCIe video card in 3 years. Reply
  • vailr - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    That Zalman 9500 CPU cooler looks excellent: any temperature readings?
    Sapphire is supposed to soon be offering a "liquid metal Gallium" VPU cooler. Or, any sightings of a similar technology, CPU cooler?
    See:
    http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/news/307
    http://www.sapphiretech.com/vga/blizzard.asp
    http://www.nanocoolers.com/technology_liquid.php
    Reply
  • shaw - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    Nice update! I'm still waiting for somebody to blow the whistle on the next gen GPUs. Reply
  • vailr - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    Won't Abit's newer versions of nForce4 boards be transitioning to their "silent Q-OTES", instead of the fan-cooled board pictured?
    From the many motherboards shown, only the Abit and DFI boards seem to be getting rid of the legacy parallel and serial ports. I'd like to see more legacy-free boards from ASUS, AOpen, MSI, Foxconn, and others.
    And, are there any boards using SiS chipsets, that can compete with socket 939, nForce4 boards?
    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    DFI is my new hero. First reputable company mobo I've seen w/o legacy ports. Let's keep moving in that direction - less legacy more USB/FW2! Reply

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