By 1989, Taiwan was already producing components to fuel the rapidly expanding PC industry, but it was a highly competitive business. Those components were produced for a handful of PC manufacturers who dominated the market and Taiwan’s own fledgling computer industry was struggling to make its mark.
The problem was that while Intel was quick to supply engineering prototypes of its latest processors to long established computer companies, Taiwanese PC and component makers often had to wait for up to six months for samples. And when it came to designing a motherboard for a new processor, a six-month delay might as well have been six years.
Unhappy with the way the Taiwanese PC industry was being marginalised, four computer engineers, Wayne Hsieh, Ted Hsu, MT Liao and TH Tung sought advice from their mentor Jonney Shih about forming a new company to bring the industry forward.
Based in a tiny apartment in Taipei, ASUS started life as a company offering consultancy services to motherboard manufacturers.
The idea was that by working with local industry to produce strong designs, Taiwan would soon be recognised as a leading producer of PC components. Unfortunately, ASUS missed one crucial detail in their business plan — in an industry geared solely to producing generic parts for sale under someone else’s brand, there was little demand for innovation.
Undeterred and propelled by the strength of their convictions, the ASUS founders went back to the drawing board.
When Intel announced its 486 processor at the beginning of 1989 and there still wasn’t a chip to be seen in Taiwan. Using the extensive motherboard design experience of its founders, together with technical information published by Intel, ASUS decided to produce a new 486 motherboard design without having access to a 486 processor. The idea sounded like madness, but by the end of 1989, the first ASUS 486 motherboard was finished and made ready for testing.
The problem was that ASUS didn’t have a 486 processor, so the company approached Intel in Taiwan. After arriving at its headquarters, Intel was slow to greet the visitors, and for good reason. Design flaws had left Intel desperately trying to get its own 486 motherboard to work.
Keen to make a good impression, the combined ASUS workforce offered to lend a hand. Much to Intel’s amazement, ASUS fixed the motherboard problem within minutes thus Intel agreed to try their 486 processor on ASUS board. When plugged into the motherboard — a motherboard, remember, that had been designed without previous access to the 486 — the processor worked perfectly.
This defining moment established ASUS as a key partner of Intel, and set the company on a path that would lead it to become the world’s leading motherboard manufacturer. Today, one in every three PCs uses an ASUS motherboard and over 24 million were sold in 2008. Needless to say, ASUS is also one of the first companies that Intel now sends its new processors to!