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A 'No Holds Barred' Interview with MSI
By CPU-zilla
Category : Interviews
Published by Jimmy Tang on Friday, 30th April, 2004


Introduction

MSI is one of Taiwan’s largest motherboard manufacturer and they have captured the hearts of many users around the world. One of the top-tier motherboard manufacturers in the world, MSI has grown to be a company that produces not only motherboards, but a whole lot of other interesting hardware as well. Today, we talk to one of their top executives, Vincent Lai, Manager of MSI’s Marketing Department. This interview was conducted late of last year and due to the sensitivity of the topics discussed, we were only allowed to release the interview today.

HWZ : Tell us your role in MSI and what are some of your major responsibilities.

Vincent Lai : My job in MSI is to define the strategy and marketing plans for my department every year. I’m also the vice spokesperson for MSI – one of the two allowed to speak to the public. Mainly I speak about the industry, products and vendor relationships while the other spokesperson focuses mainly on MSI’s financial matters.


HWZ : Tell us a little bit about MSI today. How many production lines do you have? How big is MSI’s R&D team?

Vincent : We have 1,000 R&D personnel so far and we are constantly increasing our R&D staff and by the end of this year, we’ll, hopefully, have about 1,500 personnel. The R&D staff increase is mainly targeted at the I.A. group (e.g. media center and mobile devices like MEGA Stick) and the notebook group, such as FAE (Field Application Engineers) and customer service personnel that will help to cope with incoming support related matters for our notebook products.

We have also over 50 production lines in China; three factories, one in Taiwan, one in Southern China and another in Kunshan, China.


HWZ : A lot of our readers don’t know how complex it is to design and manufacture a motherboard. Could you briefly describe in detail the process of how a motherboard is designed and manufactured?

Vincent : First, you have the orange paper from Intel and it comes to us about 3 months before production, then it will be followed by the yellow paper which comes about 2-2.5 months while the white paper will arrive about 1.5 months before production. The paper will include the design guide which the R&D engineer will study through thoroughly. He will then talk to the layout team and hardware engineers to add modifications to the design (for example, changing components or reducing the number of components on the board). Once the first draft is ready, they will send the Gerber file to the PCB manufacturer who will prepare the PCB for you. We will then bring the PCB to the factory, assemble all the components together and that’s when our first engineering sample would roll out from the manufacturing floor. We then put the board under various tests, such as EMI (Electromagnetic Interference), RAM, VGA compatibility and etc. Once we’re done and satisfied with the testing, we’ll then do a pilot run of the board, usually producing between 1,000 to 2,000 samples for customer validation.


HWZ : How do you draw a line between reducing the component cost of your motherboard and maintaining the performance, compatibility and stability of the product?

Vincent : This is quite a sensitive and critical issue. When we’re manufacturing for the OEM business, there are often less variety of components and peripherals that integrators would use with the board. Thus, we can ensure that these boards will have 100% compatibility with the peripherals as these components are often determined and fixed for a certain design. Therefore, boards designed for the OEM market are often simpler to reduce component cost.

However, for the distributor channel, it gets a little more complex because DIY users will use a wide variety of components with our boards. We used to design our boards with the lowest cost in mind, and then try to fix the compatibility issues that would arise at a later time. But that did not work well with us in the past and we have begun to focus more on the performance, stability and compatibility of our products. Having said that, cost is not necessarily linked to performance, stability and compatibility – it doesn’t have a direct relationship. In fact, it depends a lot on the engineer’s skill and experience. With good engineers, you can reduce the number of components on your board (hence lower cost) and yet not have issues with stability and compatibility.

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