One thing I am rather confused about is why AMD and its partners are not pushing the AMD 770 based boards more than they currently are.  There are six manufacturers that have AMD 770 based boards available (or at least will be available shortly).  So far only ECS has chosen to send out review samples, while the rest of the manufacturers are sitting back and letting the more expensive 790X and 790FX boards take all the limelight.

This is somewhat understandable, as the 790 series of boards are high end products with much more attractive margins.  While this may seem a logical move, in both the long term and short term this could be a less than optimal strategy.

The Puzzling Existence of the AMD 770 Chipset - Motherboards 4
Gigabyte GA-MA770-DS3

The AMD 770 is the budget/mainstream PCI-E 2.0 chips from AMD, and as such it is the first budget PCI-E 2.0 supporting part in the world.  It joins one of only four other parts in support of PCI-E 2.0, and the other three are enthusiast class chips (the AMD 790X/FX, the NVIDIA 780i, and the Intel X-38).  As far as I can tell, there will be no other competitive part in its class until at least early February.   It also is fully HT 3.0 compliant, which is something all the other chipset manufacturers supporting AMD parts cannot claim.

We must also consider that the majority of AMD’s AM2 supporting CPUs are all under $129 US.  It flies in the face of conventional wisdom to buy a motherboard that is double the price of the processor that the user is bundling.  There are only two Phenom models in the $239 to $279 range, and these are hobbled by the perception that the TLB errata will rear its ugly head in standard desktop applications and games.  So the choices that users see are 65 nm parts that are under $129 and older 90 nm parts that go from $139 to $169.  When starting to look at the money to get an AMD platform based on the 790 series of boards, many users will be swayed to take a good look at Intel’s Core 2 Duo and Quad offerings.  There are plenty of P35 boards that sport a lot of features and can push a C2D/Q to 3 GHz and above without many problems, and most for significantly cheaper than the least expensive 790FX board.

Pushing a AMD 770 board that is enthusiast friendly but budget oriented will make buying a AMD X2 CPU a lot more interesting and compelling.  Getting a sub $100 X2 65 nm and pairing it with a $70 to $90 board will appeal to many users who are not afraid to tweak their setups.  OEMs should also have a great interest in these boards because they are inexpensive, and they have checkbox features which are only included in much more expensive enthusiast systems.  Volume in this business is key, and if AMD can sell a 770 board vs. a competing low cost Intel P35 board, they are selling both a chipset AND a processor.

The Puzzling Existence of the AMD 770 Chipset - Motherboards 5
Asus M3A

We also must consider that there are plenty of people that are interested in the upcoming B3 revision of the Phenom which fixes the TLB errata.  Getting a 770 board with a inexpensive X2 along with good (but really cheap) memory allows the option to upgrade to a Phenom once they become a lot more attractive for those with Christmas bonuses burning a hole in their pocket.  These same 770 boards will also support the 45 nm Phenoms when they are released in 2H 2008.  This is not forgetting the PCI-E 2.0 support and many current and upcoming graphics cards that support the new interface.

One potential issue with the current 770 boards is the use of the older, but still effective SB600 southbridge.  When taken as a whole though, the SB600 is not that big of dealbreaker.  The upcoming SB700 is not all that much more exciting from a feature standpoint, nor will it significantly add to it from a performance perspective.  It will include two more SATA channels, 2 more USB ports, and better support for flash and hybrid drives.  Users will not miss out on much by purchasing a SB600 board vs. waiting for a SB700 product.

The other potential issue is the lack of official CrossFire support for 770 boards.  Considering how few people even run SLI, and even fewer run CrossFire, this should not be an issue for 95% of users out there.  While I can appreciate the work that has gone into both SLI and CrossFire, it is not a mainstream solution for 3D graphics.

The AMD 770 is also being produced on 65 nm, and it is a very small die.  Each chip is relatively inexpensive to produce, and margins are probably considered fair.  Going along with AMD’s new focus on power draw, the 770 leads the pack.  The chip supposedly draws around 7 watts, and when compared to the latest NVIDIA 780i which consumes about 45 watts we can see how attractive such a product can be in certain circles.

The Puzzling Existence of the AMD 770 Chipset - Motherboards 6
Abit AX78 – Notice unofficial CrossFire

AMD has a small window of opportunity to bundle a lot of motherboard chipsets with their processors before other competitive parts are released for both AMD and Intel processors.  Intel is working on a PCI-E 2.0 successor to the P35 and should have it ready in time for release with the upcoming 1600 MHz FSB processors, and NVIDIA will undoubtedly have products supporting both Intel and AMD in the February/March timeframe.  It is probably already too late for AMD to make a major push, or to convince other manufacturers to produce a more feature-rich and budget-enthusiast aimed board.  Still, if AMD can get out to the masses about how interesting and cost effective a 65 nm X2 is when combined with the feature-rich AMD 770 chipset, they can still gain quite a few sales at the end of the Holiday Season as well as influence OEM plans for product lines in the first half of 2008.

Here is the current list of manufacturers supporting the AMD 770 chipset.