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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  • erwos - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    Quick question for you, Anand: when you say DDR200 in reference to the i-RAM card, do you mean PC3200 or PC1600?

    It would seem to make zero sense to use PC3200 RAM, when the PCI bus is already limiting you to 133mb/s anyways. I hope they're using low-clocked RAM (makes more sense!), which is cheaper anyways...

    I guess there's some latency differences, but at the nanosecond range, who's going to notice?

    -Erwos
    Reply
  • ryanv12 - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    #4 - Yeah, I'm in the same boat. I want to upgrade my processor but would like to hang onto my 6800GT for a while. I hope that board makes its way to the US, because it would be a perfect solution for me. Reply
  • bersl2 - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    lol on ABIT's nuke button.

    Oh joy, DRM rears its ugly head again.
    Reply
  • erwos - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    So, does this mean the Shuttle SN26P got cancelled? Damn. Reply
  • semo - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    if the nvidia g70 card is a single slot solution than the rumor that the g70 will burn 150w cannot be true right. anyone know what is the actual power rating for the g70? Reply
  • mjz - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    lets see some real world tests done with the gigbyte ram drive :p Reply
  • plewis00 - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    That all looks quite exciting, the thing which caught my eye was the Pentium M XPC. I wonder now if Shuttle do one they'll get it right (Aopen's was cool but no SATA support...). Anyone know the model number for it? Reply
  • flatblastard - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    congratualtions=congratulations Reply
  • flatblastard - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    Whew, that's was a lot of coverage, anand! I'll have to admit though, I was more interested in the vanilla Xpress 200 motherboards than crossfire/r520/g70/blah/blah/yawn.....Did you happen to notice any new Xpress 200 + socket 939 mobos? Even if you didn't have a chance to cover them, I'd be interested to know if you've seen/heard anything new. Well, congratualtions on another job well done. Reply
  • SynthDude2001 - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    That ULi chipset/motherboard with support for both AGP and PCI-Express really caught my eye. It would be a nice upgrade path for those of us still stuck with slower CPU's (Athlon XP in my case), but not quite ready to upgrade our high-end AGP video card yet (6800GT in my case). Reply

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