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Acer Labs pumps Nvidia TNT2 into Aladdin chipset

Mixed comments from analysts

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A new product from chip maker Acer Labs Inc (ALi), is attracting mixed comments from industry watchers in the run up to the company's over-the-counter stock listing. "ALi definitely have the right product at the right moment," said Andrew Lin, an analyst at Jardine Fleming Taiwan. ALi's Aladdin TNT2 chipset combines the Taiwanese company's chipset technology with graphics expertise from Nvidia. The US company's TNT graphics chip is recognised as one of the most powerful low-cost 3D graphics chips. "This is definitely the direction to go," Lin concluded, "Their local competitors, SiS and VIA, are doing similar things. Arthur Hsieh, downstream electronics analyst at Taiwan Securities was less certain about the product. "Although they're announcing it now, it will still take some time to mass produce," he said, "but their competitors have products available now. Although Nvidia is pretty good in this field, how to integrate their technology into the core logic chipset is another barrier they have to overcome." Several local manufacturers of computer motherboards, such as Asustek Computer, Gigabyte Technology, Acer and ABit say they will use the Aladdin TNT2. Abit Computer, which makes between 200,000 and 300,000 motherboards per month, will use the chipset on a motherboard it is making for a foreign company, said public relations manager, Jeremy Smith. Such OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) products make up around 10 percent of Abit's monthly output, Smith said - but the company is trying to increase this figure to 30 per cent. Competing motherboard manufacturer, Epox would evaluate the chipset, said marketing manager Jeff Lin, but was waiting for ALi to demonstrate it, and provide technical data. Epox currently makes a motherboard with integrated graphics based around the Intel 810 chipset. Jardine Fleming's Andrew Lin believes ALi has picked a good time to move into an expanding market. "Right now their monthly production [of chipsets] is between 600,000 and 700,000 and they're looking to increase their market share in the fourth quarter." The market for products like the Aladdin TNT2 is growing very fast, he said. Data from Mercury Research suggests that more than 16 million PCs sold in the current financial year will use integrated graphics chips. Mercury predicts the figure will rise to 48 million next year. Lin said that ALi's product looked better than anything the competition currently had on offer. "Intel's 810 chipset is not doing very well." "It seems to me that the market's going to pick up and explode next year," Lin predicted, "they are also getting listed at the same time, so its definitely working out pretty well for them." Arthur Hsieh of Taiwan Securities, remains less optimistic about ALi's prospects in a very competitive market, describing it as a "pretty conservative" company. He said he believed that less than half of ALi's research staff were working on this project. "I don't think ALi is really serious about competing with the other chipset makers in this specific market segment." ALi was devoting more effort to DVD-related chips, he said. "They don't want to stay in the chipset market... because Intel still dominates it." However, Hsieh continued, "the DVD market is not so clear at this moment, while on the other hand they are still lagging behind the other chipset makers. They are not so good at either of these two markets." To ALi's advantage, he said, was the fact that they don't have plans to design CPUs or to build their own chip factory. In that sense, Hsieh said, ALi is a "safe play" for investors. ®

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