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Asustek’s alternative version of the SFF universe
Michael McManus, DigiTimes.com, Taipei [Thursday 3 February 2005]

Whereas most small-form-factor vendors have attracted media attention by targeting gamers and enthusiasts with their cube-type systems, Asustek Computer has adopted a much lower market profile (no pun intended) and is not really considered a major player in the segment.

Nevertheless, on closer inspection, Asus can, in fact, be considered one of the leaders in the SFF industry. Asustek shipped 500,000 barebones units last year, of which about 90% were for SFF systems, placing the company only behind Shuttle for the number of SFF shipments by Taiwan vendors in 2004.

Asus has blended into the SFF background mainly because it does not focus on enthusiasts as much as its competitors do. Its product specs are not leading-edge, and most of its chassis designs are traditional.

Enthusiasts, the company argues, like to build their own systems and maximize their expansion options, so they are much more likely to choose the ATX form factor, which is a segment the company already targets with its motherboards.

Instead, the bulk of Asus’ SFF PC sales come from the mainstream consumer and business segments, where the company has found success by offering an assortment of products. The company appears optimistic about these markets, and it expects its shipments to double this year – and that could well end up making Asus Taiwan’s leading SFF vendor.

Although Asustek, like other SFF vendors, believes that the trend in personal computing is towards smaller, quieter systems, the company does not think any one form factor or chassis style will prevail in the SFF market. Different feature sets are in demand from different segments – what the business segment likes may be quite different from what pleases consumers – the company argues, and the price premium customers are willing to pay varies also.

Spicing up the SFF

So instead of producing just one type of SFF chassis and motherboard style, the company targets a variety of market segments by offering five different proprietary SFF motherboard form factors, and over 10 SKD units. Most of the company’s SFF PCs resemble shrunken traditional PCs, but with slight variations. Asus has a mini-tower line that is only 30cm deep, as opposed to the 38.5cm depth of the company’s micro-ATX systems, while its slim-line SFF PCs are only 90cm wide and 275cm tall. About 80% of the company’s barebones shipments came from these two lines last year, with sales being evenly split between the business and consumer markets.

The company also has a consumer-electronics (CE) line of SFF PCs, which includes its cube-shaped S-presso and its DigiMatrix products. However, the company does not expect sales of these products to rise dramatically until after Microsoft has introduced its next-generation operating system, Longhorn..

The company is able to carry many different product lines because it has the financial security and manufacturing capabilities to do so, as well as the ability to leverage its current motherboard channel to develop its sales, according to sources in the market.

This year, the company still expects its mainstream and consumer-SFF systems to account for about two-thirds of its barebones sales, but the company still plans to beef up its SFF products. Asus will add some AMD CPU-based products to what is currently an all-Intel lineup, and at CeBIT 2005 there will be some PCIe SFF PCs at the company’s booth.

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