Over the past decade ASUS in general and their Republic of Gamers brand in particular has been very successful in the performance enthusiast motherboard market by displaying high-quality overclocking capabilities and feature-rich gaming-oriented products. MSI Gaming has recently emerged as a strong contender in this space. With the PC Gaming Hardware market exceeding USD $30 billion in 2016 and projected to grow at a 6% CAGR through 2019, ASUS Republic of Gamers and MSI Gaming brands are optimally placed to enjoy growth benefits.
On January 17th, 2017, Jon Peddie Research issued a press release stating the global PC Gaming Hardware Market breached the USD $30 billion mark for the first time. A staggering 43% of the revenue is driven by the high-end segment. In terms of market growth APAC is forecasted to grow by 7% CAGR to 2017. However, North America and Western Europe are individually stronger than APAC in the high-end segment. The upwards trend of high-end computer hardware is supported by figures published by the performance enthusiast organization HWBOT, which reported a record month of overclocking activity in January 2017 and a year-over-year growth of 8.3%. The organization’s data relates primarily to North American and European performance enthusiasts.
We collected over 880,000 data points spanning a decade of performance enthusiast information for Intel-based platforms and analyzed the performance of various motherboard vendors in the Mainstream segment (P/Z-chipsets) and High-end segment (X-chipsets).
A couple of important notes:
- Prior to P67 (2011) all Intel chipsets had processor overclocking capabilities enabled.
- From Sandy Bridge architecture forward only -K and -X variants of the Intel processors have overclocking capabilities.
- Prior to X58 (2008), the P- and X-chipset variants were socket compatible across the entire processor product stack.
- Since Gulftown (X58 refresh, 2010) only the X-platform supports the highest performance range of Intel processor products (6 core and up).
Mainstream: From P965 to Z170
In 2006 Intel launched the P965 chipset along with the Conroe processor architecture. Although the motherboard market had already begun to consolidate, there were still plenty of competitors in the market. Looking at the 30 most popular motherboards for the P965 chipset, we find no less than eight (8) different vendors: ABIT (4), ASRock (1), ASUS (11), Biostar (3), DFI (1), Intel (1), GIGABYTE (5) and MSI (4). The leading motherboard in the performance enthusiast space was one of the very first Republic of Gamers motherboards; the ASUS Commando. Released at the end of December in 2006 at a price point of USD $300 (USD $357 after adjustment for inflation), the press release focused specifically on the excellent overclocking capabilities, gaming features and simplification of the DIY process. This focus has been consistent throughout the Republic of Gamer product line for the past decade, all the way to their latest release of the ROG Maximus IX series motherboards.
Over the course of 10 mainstream enthusiast chipset launches, the amount of competitors of the market halved. ABIT, well-known for its excellent overclocking motherboards in the early 2000s, dealt with financial issues and Class Action Lawsuits, and by the end of 2005 disappeared from the top-30 list by the launch of Intel’s P45 chipset mid-2008. DFI was present in the market until P55. Intel left the market in 2013. In 2017, one month after the launch of the latest Z270 chipset along with the new Kaby Lake processor architecture, we’re left with only three motherboard vendors producing popular performance enthusiast motherboards: ASUS, GIGABYTE and MSI.
Remarkably, ASUS Republic of Gamers has been the only company consistently producing popular enthusiast hardware. For P- and Z- based chipsets the most popular motherboards were:
- P965 (2006): ASUS ROG Commando
- P35 (2007): ASUS P5K
- P45 (2008): ASUS P5Q Deluxe
- P55 (2009): ASUS ROG Maximus III Formula
- P67 (2011): ASUS ROG Maximus IV Extreme
- Z68 (2011): ASUS ROG Maximus IV Gene-Z
- Z77 (2012): ASUS ROG Maximus V Gene
- Z87 (2013): MSI Z87-G45 Gaming (3rd place: ASUS ROG Maximus VI Hero)
- Z97 (2014): MSI Z97 Gaming 5 (3rd place: ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero)
- Z170 (2015): ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Hero
Noteworthy is MSI (Gaming) which consistently grew their presence in the performance enthusiast space from P965 to Z170 with highlights for Z87 and Z97. For P965 MSI had only three (3) product SKUs in the top-30 most popular and none (0) in the top-10. By Z170 this had grown to ten (10) SKUs in the top-30 and four (4) in the top-10. During that time-frame ASUS (ROG) saw their presence grow slowly from eleven (11) to twelve (12) SKUs in the top-30 and from four (4) to five (5) SKUs in the top-10.
High-end: From 975X to X99
At the end of November 2005 Intel launched the 975X chipset, the fourth generation of their –X chipsets after the 925X (2004), 925XE (2004) and 955X (2005). The 975X chipset’s distinguishing feature from its predecessor was support for dual graphics by splitting the sixteen available PCI Express x16 lanes from the chipset northbridge allowing for two times x8 bandwidth. There was no difference in socket or CPU support with its smaller brother, P965. This only changed with the launch of the Nehalem platforms P55 and X58 and specifically with the launch of Intel’s first hexa-core product: the Core i7 980X. Up until Nehalem, we had the same amount of motherboard vendors populating the top-30 most popular motherboards – eight (8). For X58 this dropped to five (5) and for X99 we count four (4): ASRock, ASUS, MSI and GIGABYTE. Most remarkable is the story of EVGA which saw a strong burst during the first generation of X58 motherboards with ultimately both of their flagship motherboards making the top-10: X58 SLI Classified and X58 Classified 4-Way SLI.
If the dominance by ASUS (ROG) was impressive for the mainstream chipsets, then the X-based high-end enthusiast segment is overwhelming. The company has consistently shown outstanding performance in terms of topping the segment as well as achieving high appraisal for their most expensive product SKUs. Since 975X, ASUS has consistently had two SKUs in the top-3.
- 975X (2005): ASUS P5W DH Deluxe (1st),
- X38 (2007): ASUS ROG Maximus Formula (1st), Maximus Extreme (2nd), P5E (3rd)
- X48 (2008): ASUS ROG Rampage Extreme (1st), Rampage Formula (3rd)
- X58 (2008): ASUS ROG Rampage III Extreme (1st), Rampage II Extreme (2nd)
- X79 (2011): ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme (1st), Rampage IV Black Edition (2nd), Rampage IV Formula (3rd)
- X99 (2014): ASUS ROG Rampage V Extreme (1st), X99-Deluxe (3rd)
Overall, the market consolidation has been much faster on the high-end. Since X79 only three (3) motherboard vendors have been able to make the top-10 of most popular product SKUs. Even in the top-30, as few as 10% of the products are built by a company outside the big three: ASUS, GIGABYTE and MSI. In recent years MSI has taken over GIGABYTE as the second supplier of the high-end X-series enthusiast motherboards, providing four (4) out of the top-10 motherboards for X99-based chipsets. Looking at the top-30, MSI even overtakes ASUS with thirteen (13) products compared to ten (10). Remarkably ASUS and MSI are dominating the X99 space with over 70% of the most popular motherboards. Note that for X58 ASUS and GIGABYTE shared 70% of the top-30 most popular motherboards.
In August 2006 ASUS launched its first Republic of Gamers product for the enthusiast segment: the ASUS Crosshair. The Crosshair motherboard sports a NForce 590 SLI chipset and was built for the AMD AM2 platform. The Republic of Gamers segment grew to become what is arguably the most dominant brand in the performance and gaming enthusiast space. With a recognizable product stack spanning multiple generations and market segments, ASUS Republic of Gamers has produced a decade of segment leading products. Over the space of ten years, only a few companies have challenged the highest selling motherboard company, of which GIGABYTE and MSI are the most notable and relevant today.
Looking forward, it’s clear that the ASUS Republic of Gamers and MSI Gaming brands are the best placed to take advantage of the growing high-end PC Gaming hardware market, especially considering their strong presence in North American and European markets. ASUS ROG and MSI Gaming have built their brand by presenting overclocking capabilities and gaming product features, both in a unique way. Where ASUS ROG has focused on unique product naming scheme and achieving overclocking and benchmark World Records, MSI pushed through an explicit Gaming oriented line-up combined with years of focus on overclocking capabilities via their worldwide Master Overclocking Arena tournaments from P45 (2008) until Z97/X99 (2014).
Other companies in the market also aspire to address this market segment. At CES 2017, GIGABYTE announced the adoption of the AORUS brand for their Gaming motherboard line, replacing the G1 Gaming branding introduced in 2011. ASRock has been selling Gaming-oriented products under the Fatal1ty brand since P67 (2011)* which had SKUs in the top-30 for P67 (Fatal1ty P67 Professional, 14th), Z68 (Fatal1ty Z68 Professional Gen3, 20th), X79 (Fatal1ty X79 Professional, 23rd) and X99 (Fatal1ty X99X Killer, 29th). Biostar introduced its Racing series motherboards with Z170 (2015) replacing Gaming-branded Z97 products launched early 2015 . The last noteworthy company is Colorful which has a strong presence in the mainland China market. With over 2 million motherboards shipped annually, they have no presence in the North American and European market and is not included in the data.
* Prior to ASRock, Abit also produced a series of Fatal1ty branded motherboards starting from the Intel 925XE-based Abit Fatal1ty AA8XE launched in November 2004. While we’re down memory lane, consider that DFI had their successful gaming-oriented LANparty motherboard series on the market in June 2003 when it launched the LANParty KT400A and LANParty NFII Ultra.
About the Author
Pieter-Jan Plaisier has more than a decade of experience working in the PC hardware enthusiast market segment. Employed as General Director at HWBOT in Taipei, Taiwan, Pieter travels the world to meet with equally passionate hardware enthusiasts.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HWinsights or affiliates. Furthermore, the author holds no investments or stake holdings in the companies referred to in this article.