Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Computex 2011: ECS HQ Tour, Q&A and Booth

Despite being a motherboard reviewer, I’ve never had the chance to ever see inside the HQ of any of the prominent consumer and OEM motherboard vendors. Most of us decide which price and performance segment we want with our processor, and find a motherboard that fits the frame from reviews.

There’s actually so much to designing and producing a motherboard that I didn’t realize before, so having a chance to see how ECS works and produces product from start to finish is one that I jumped at.

On floor 13 out of 20 of the ECS HQ in Taipei, I was shown one of the many research and design rooms at the motherboard manufacturer. In each cubicle were tens of motherboard products all being worked on by testers, BIOS coders, signal processors, trace designers, product marketers and so on. First, I was given a brief demonstration behind the motherboard product design from the engineer’s point of view. This in itself was interesting, going through the many stages of initial idea, to design, to testing, to debugging, and finally production:

* Motherboard segments decided by product/project manager, often dictated by cost
o Discussions: Specifications, Schedule, Other Details
* Schematic Design
o Data Research based on standards and chipset/IC specifications
o Initial schematic CAD design, checked and double checked
* PCB Design
o Layer by layer – impedance for signal traces and signal integration
o Placement of components due to thermal, current and spatial consideration
o Layout as per design guidelines to avoid interference
o Initial PCB design in ECS factory
* Motherboard Sampling
o Provide Bill of Materials
o Revision 0.1 PCBs from factory
* Motherboard Testing and Debugging
o Complete test process – functionality, signal quality, power management, stability (3DMark), compatibility (software, games), electromagnetic disturbance testing
o Fix design errors by checking signals and reworking the design. Repeat as necessary
* Motherboard Revision/Mass Production
o Revise all must-fix items and confirm all solutions are implemented
I was allowed to take an alarming amount of pictures whilst walking around the engineer’s cubicles, so I photographed anything and everything. For example we have BIOS engineers working on ECS’ new UEFI (out in July, apparently):

Power engineers working on trace lines:

Designers working on the latest marketing and taking pictures of products:

And a variety of desks full of equipment and testing beds:

As part of the tour, the soldering room and oscilloscope testing were also shown:

The oscilloscope was used for output signal testing – when the output is too high or low, the engineers will suggest changes to resistors and/or capacitors to improve the quality of the test PCBs.

I managed to find an ECS X79R-A on one of the desks similar to what we’d seen at the booth, and took some pictures. This clearly shows that ECS are well on their way to an X79 product for launch – if I get one in to test I’ll let you know how it performs.

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