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MINI-ITX and the Future of PC Case Design? 164

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the still-waiting-for-a-spherical-motherboard dept.
An anonymous reader writes "One of the interesting things to come out of the recent Computex electronics show in Taiwan was striking new PC cases — in particular systems built around tiny Mini-ITX boards. What may have once been regarded as the weird little brother of the more common Micro-ATX, the popularity of PCs built with these boards seems to be gradually building. This year at Computex saw the first Mini-ITX boards to support USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps, and a variety of new shapes and styles in both Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX case design. This photo gallery shows some of the more striking examples of these new PC cases from Computex, including one that appears to be modelled on an Xbox 360, and one with a VESA mount for strapping to the back of a monitor. Interestingly, while these designs have usually been associated with home theatre system PCs, or for saving space on office desktops, there is also now a trend towards pushing 'gamer' features like windows and multiple fans into these small form factor cases."
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MINI-ITX and the Future of PC Case Design?

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  • That's cute but if you put those small motherboards in a small case, what's going to happen with all that heat generated by the processor and all the other components for that matter?

    Or put to it this way, if you have to put it in a large case to allow for enough air flow, what the point in having such a small motherboard?

    • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:24AM (#32523228) Homepage Journal

      what's going to happen with all that heat generated by the processor and all the other components for that matter?

      You don't have to use the fastest CPU. You can use a CPU with a lower thermal design power, add liquid cooling tubes, and fit it into a smaller case. Hey, it works for Microsoft (or at least it does as of the Jasper revision of the Xbox 360 console).

      • by Willuz (1246698) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:49AM (#32523532)
        I run a mini-ITX with Core 2 Duo Mobile chip and it runs fast, cool, completely silent and still plays HD video flawlessly. Having a large case actually makes it harder to move the air since there's more volume to be moved. The low volume of a mini-ITX case allows it to exchange it's hot air for cool air much faster even with low RPM quiet fans.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by moonbender (547943)

          Small cases do limit the size of the heat sink, though.

          • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @12:00PM (#32524352)

            Unless the case IS the heat sink.

            • by dbIII (701233)
              That's what the little VIA based ebox III machines had a few years ago - thick aluminium case that looked a bit like a BBQ plate. I got the "big" one with space for a parallel port, but still the entire machine is around the size of the DVD drive in a normal desktop machine.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by cynyr (703126)
            it's not always the size of the heatsink, but how you use it....

            Anyways, some small heatsinks work just as well or better than a lot of large ones. Also things like airflow management have at least as much impact as the size of the coolers.
        • by default luser (529332) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @12:03PM (#32524376) Journal

          having a large case actually makes it harder to move the air since there's more volume to be moved.

          No. It is easier to move a volume of air through an unconstrained space than it is through a constrained space. Just try breathing through a 2-inch PVC pipe and then a garden hose, and tell me you're getting the same amount of air for the same amount of work performed by your lungs. Ducting is essential to cooling inside of a case (thus the enclosed space), but wider-open ducts are way less of an impediment.

          Small cases also have the disadvantage that the airflow is rarely straight-through: there are often very tight turns inside the case required to pack so many components inside. Every time the airstream has to turn, it slows down. An open mid-tower ATX case has very few blockages between the front and back, so airflow is much less impeded.

          The low volume of a mini-ITX case allows it to exchange it's hot air for cool air much faster even with low RPM quiet fans.

          That logic is terrible. Just because you can replace the air inside of a case faster with air outside does not mean you are cooling things faster. It's not the air volume of the case that matters, but the continuous air flow that cools things down. The size of the case has NOTHING to do with cooling potential, so your sentence shows you have no clue what you are talking about.

          As far as airflow goes: smaller cases are typically limited because they cannot use larger fans - and since quiet operation is usually the goal for these things, you are severely limited by how much airflow you can push through while maintaining silence.

          Most MiniITX cases use 60mm to 80mm fans for airflow, as-opposed to the much more efficient 120mm (and larger) fans used on quiet ATX cases. It's a well-known fact that the larger an axial fan gets, it can generate more CFM per watt / per decibel. Smaller cases just can't leverage that fact, and so they are limited to low-wattage operation only.

          I'm not trying to disrespect your setup, but PLEASE don't spread bullshit you know isn't true. The only reason your MiniITX system is silent is because you started by paying extra for (or compromising on) low-power components (like your mobile core 2 duo, which is slower than desktop equivalents, and costs more). You really can't build anything like a powerful gaming system or a 6-core processing behemoth, and expect it to remain silent inside of a MiniITX case (it's going to sound like a wind tunnel). But you have the potential to do this in a full-sized case.

    • by InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:25AM (#32523244)
      I'm in the market for an affordable mac mini sized computer (with similar specs, i.e. no Atom) to use with my TV. I find my PS3 just doesn't cut it anymore since it won't play ALL media formats (lame).

      So ya, I agree with parent. MAKE THE CASES SMALLER!
      • by jedidiah (1196)

        No Atom?

        The only thing that Atom excludes you from is HD Flash video and that's because Flash isn't adequately exploiting the available hardware.

        If it fully exploited the GPU (like mplayer or xine), even Flash wouldn't be a problem.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by GNUALMAFUERTE (697061)

          You can solve that easily.

          The problem is that even if you have properly configured GLX for your Intel GMA or similar, Flash thinks it's not a supported GL environment, and uses software rendering. That's because Flash sucks donkey balls.

          Just go and edit /etc/adobe/mms.cfg, and set OverrideGPUValidation to 1.

          I did that with several atom-based motherboards, including several mini-itx mobos from Intel and Foxconn (with Atom 230, 330 and 510) and several GMA cards, including the 950 and the 3150. I can play HD

        • by b0bby (201198)

          The only thing that Atom excludes you from is HD Flash video and that's because Flash isn't adequately exploiting the available hardware.

          The Flash 10.1 betas use hardware acceleration, that's why things like the Acer Revos (with the ION chipset) make good HTPCs. The Atom chips don't have to do all the work, the ION handles the video. I'm using one & it can handle 1080p mkvs flawlessly (that's not Flash, obviously). The only playback issues I'm seeing in Media Center is with the built in Netflix streaming - maybe it's a Silverlight issue, but it's not smooth for me right now. I suspect that Silverlight may not be correctly using the hardw

      • by rwa2 (4391) * on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:56AM (#32523638) Homepage Journal

        I have one of these on my desk:
        http://www.mini-box.com/M350-universal-mini-itx-enclosure [mini-box.com]

        You'd need to throw in an external optical drive, but then you could get whatever you wanted.

      • My 1.6 gHz Celeron will play 1080p with 0 skipping.
        Granted I have an Nvidia GT220 that does VDPAU, but you don't need a fast CPU.

        The awesome guys over at xbmc are working on wrapping up a huge merge [xbmc.org] to release 10.05 that should bring VDPAU, VAAPI, and BroadCom decoder support. Once Again, you DON NOT need a fast CPU.

        Acer Revo 1600s [google.com] can be found for around $150 refurbed or used. People get them working with XBMC with minimal problems.

        Or if you want to hold on, supposedly there are rumors of people getting XB

    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:26AM (#32523248) Homepage Journal

      You do not need a big case for good airflow. In fact the best cases often have ducts to direct the airflow. Also people are working hard to cut down on heat.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        You are correct in the fact that you don't need a big case for good airflow due to ducting. However, you need a larger case to fit large enough fans to get good airflow quietly. A 1U server case generally has good enough airflow to passively cool several hundred watts' worth of CPUs, but those little fans have to spin so quickly to provide that airflow that they're almost deafening.
        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          Well A 1U case is an extreme example.
          But CPUs are getting cooler and cooler per mip these days.
          No I wouldn't use a tiny case like this for a CAD workstation or gaming rig but for a small business PC or student PC it will be fine.
          The truth is that most PCs are a lot faster than they need to be for most users. Speed issues tend to be slow ram, drives, and frankly malware.

        • by cynyr (703126)
          or good fans. make that square area of that 1u case a square and then see what size fan you can use.
      • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:56AM (#32523640) Homepage

        people are working hard to cut down on heat.

        They'd be more successful if they took it easy.

    • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:28AM (#32523258)

      That's cute but if you put those small motherboards in a small case, what's going to happen with all that heat generated by the processor and all the other components for that matter?

      I've built several systems using these small form factor items, and with careful placement I've built fanless systems that are still running 2-3 years later. I was on a budget, so I dind't use flash storage, and even then, the heat remained 'manageable'.

      What I would do today is this: I'd run a standard wall-wart power supply to provide the DC power and thus remove the powersupply as part of the equation. I'd use the mounting as a heat-sink near the heat generating portions of the board. I'd also use a flash drive for data storage. I didn't do any of those things with my current setup and as I mentioned, it is running well.

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        Would a "standard wall-wart" be able to supply the required power for all of the internal components and all connected USB devices? I have big and small adapters, some are noisy, but they output very few watts compared to what's going to be needed to run a PC - even a low power PC - with everything connected.

        • Would a "standard wall-wart" be able to supply the required power for all of the internal components and all connected USB devices?

          Most Laptops seem to be able to get by. Though those are less on the wall and more in-line. But I don't see why you couldn't do the same using modern components. I'm certain you would probably push the envelope of what that type of powersupply could deliver if you tried to build it as a top end machine, but if you designed it with power consumption as a limiting factor, I'm c

          • by TeknoHog (164938)
            You can get laptop-style PSUs for ATX power, the most famous brand is probably PicoPSU. They have a 12-volt adaptor, similar to laptops, and a voltage converter board inside the case. I've used these since 2004 so it's not exactly a new thing.
        • They rather stretch the definition of "standard"; but you can get some pretty beefy wall-warts.

          The "ultra-small form factor" dell optiplexes have, historically, been powered by external power supplies(because hiding several pounds of the computer under the desk sure does make the case look smaller in the marketing glamor shots). This is a "wall wart" running a PC built with standard components(you could even get them with Prescot based Pentium Ds, back in the day, which were toasty bastards). The last su
    • by Enleth (947766) <enleth@enleth.com> on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:29AM (#32523276) Homepage

      It's probably going to be removed by the means of air ducts and high flow fans. The size of a case is not directly linked to its heat removal capacity. Sure it helps with piss-poor heat management with no ducted or at least heavily directed air flow and semi-random fan selection and placement as seen in most generic ATX cases, but it's still perfectly possible to remove a huge amount of heat from a very tightly packed case. It's somewhat more expensive and requires more know-how and though wchich increases the final cost, but it's nothing for someone who can afford dual 5790s.

    • by level_headed_midwest (888889) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:34AM (#32523336)

      These mini-ITX units are more or less laptops in a slightly larger case and without an integrated monitor and keyboard. They generally have to use low-TDP processors (45-65 watts or less) because you can't fit a high-capacity ATX PSU in a mini-ITX case and the small fans required by the small cases can't dissipate the heat from high-TDP parts. They are popular for HTPCs and business desktops since you generally want a small, unobtrusive machine that can be easily connected to a separate monitor, has standard, replaceable parts, and does not need to be particularly powerful. But you certainly won't see anybody who does much for heavy work using one of these machines. They'll continue to use larger desktop boards and cases that fit high-TDP, high-performance parts and multiple disks.

      Using a larger case to fit a smaller board is not necessarily a bad idea. Larger cases can accommodate more disks, a larger number of larger fans for better cooling, and give more room to work in while building and maintaining the computer. Mini-ITX cases are seriously small and a real PITA to work with, but putting one of those boards in a micro-ATX case solves that problem very well. I learned my lesson trying to shoehorn parts into cases that were technically large enough but a very tight fit with everything installed and now almost always buy a case that fits a board one size larger than what I'm intending to install. A good desktop setup with an ATX motherboard, a decent GPU (which is generally about 9-10" long) and a few disks is a tight fit in an ATX mid-tower case but has plenty of room in an Extended ATX-capable full-tower case.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        There's a lot of potential space in the A/V footprint. PCs just don't use it terribly
        well because they have their own history and a tendency to grow in different directions.
        A big case could be built to fit in an A/V cabinet. Big PCs cases just aren't built with
        that in mind. Even the highend HTPC cases from speciality vendors fail in this respect.

        Book PCs have been around for a long time (longer than the mac minis). They aren't really
        showing off anything new here. This is just more of the same designs that h

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Logibeara (1620627)
      I expected crazy case designs when reading the summary, i.e. Non box shapes. However, I was very disappointed to see that cases have been more or less similar for the last 5 years.

      When do I get to see boards mounted inside of hollowed out encyclopedias?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/encyclomedia/

    • Depends on what you want the computer to do. People who want a small computer footprint may not need the penultimate gaming machine. They might just want one to handle office computing like emails, web surfing, etc. Such a machine does not need the most power hungry/cooling intensive components like a quad-core CPU and 3-way SLI GPU. It may even use an all-in-one MB that has a mobile components specifically designed for lower power and cooling.
    • But the core i3/5 have the memory controller and graphics on the processor, so really it is the only thing other than memory generating heat, which probably makes controlling the airflow much easier. IIRC the TDP is close to the core2 so I don't honestly think this will be an issue at all.
  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:19AM (#32523170)

    These boards are getting very close in size to some of the microcontrollers I've worked with in the past (HC12, etc) It was just for college, and I've no real world experience in them, so I was wondering if some of the more advanced hobby builders or professionals could comment on this:

    These boards are getting much lower in power-consumption and seem to offer a lot more in terms of flexibility, and by providing the ability to run standard operating systems through the use of SSDs you have available to you a vast number of open projects which you can tailor for your purposes. The cost is now around $100 or so, which is what I remember the microcontrollers costing.

    So, given the choice between some of the newer mini-ITX systems, what are the advantages that a basic microcontroller would offer?

    (Again, it's been a while since I did anything with them, so I might be missing something big)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Microcontroller boards have different I/O. Such as an LCD controller (to connect directly to a panel, not through a VGA cable), general purpose I/O pins to control or take input from any wire you want, SPI and I2C for communicating with other chips. They'll have USB, but are likely to have a device or on-the-go port in addition to a host only port. And they usually need fewer chips to build a working system, sometimes only one, so they can be smaller.

    • by Enleth (947766) <enleth@enleth.com> on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:45AM (#32523486) Homepage

      There's no such thing as a "basic microcontroler". There's so much variety amon microcontrollers that your question almost makes no sense.

      An ATmega88, a lower-end uC, costs $0.50, measures about 10x10x3mm and consumes less than 15mA at 5V when running at full speed, which is 20MHz and less than 250uA at 1.8V, 1MHz. With a few kilobytes of RAM and a few more of flash it might look like a joke, but a skilled programmer can implement quite a lot on one and it will work on a single AAA battery for weeks. Years on a sealed AGM.

    • So, given the choice between some of the newer mini-ITX systems, what are the advantages that a basic microcontroller would offer?

      Power is one. The MiniITX boards I've worked with have tended towards 22W or so. Last I measured was with a Via, now using Atoms but not with the low-power north/south-bridges yet (they're available, but more expensive currently).

      So you might want to run an Arduino on a AAA battery in some applications and then that would be a much better solution.

  • optical illusion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by buback (144189) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:20AM (#32523186)
    I thought the first picture in the gallery was a joke for a couple seconds. The angle of the shot makes it look like it's the size of a coffee table!
  • The huge majority of the market is laptops. Of the people that don't want laptops, most of those do it because they want large - for relative values of large - towers with big hot cpus, big hot gpus, many hdds and so on. The intersection of small and !mobile is very slim outside the HTPC market.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Not really.
      Walk into any bank, insurance company, or government office. Lots of PCs that are not using big hot cpus or big hot gpus.
      For those type of places small is good as long as it is cheap.

    • the market for these are slim... people who want small and portable and are willing to sacrifice upgradability to get it are going to get a laptop (maybe hook a big monitor to it via a base station at home), and those who want upgradability and are willing to sacrifice size to get it are going to buy a full sized tower.

      I've had enough headaches trying to fit stuff into a full sized tower without conflicts, I would hate to try it with one of those tiny things.

      • Think "restaurant" or "retail shop". A POS system generally doesn't move around much. Buying an all-in-one is expensive. Messing with long cables and big boxes hidden under the counter eating dust isn't a very good use of tech time (usually billable per hour since these businesses rarely have any IT staff, or traveling staff if it's a chain) or of space at the checkout station. Screwing a VESA-mount PC onto the back of an LCD monitor and running really short cables makes loads of sense. If you think POS isn

    • by tepples (727027)

      The intersection of small and !mobile is very slim outside the HTPC market.

      Perhaps they want to expand the HTPC market. The market could use more gaming-capable HTPCs.

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Yeah, and though some people want low power computers - media or 24/7 home servers, nowadays I wonder if they could just use a laptop for most such stuff. Not all laptops are that expensive.

      Built in 3-6 hour UPS (especially with the screen off). Compact, built in keyboard and screen.
      • A cheap APC UPS is more capable and easier to replace than a laptop battery for use as a UPS. The runtime of a full-powered PC on an entry-level UPS is terrible compared to a laptop, but you're talking UPS here and not primary power source. Most laptop batteries are terribly expensive to replace after the laptop is only a couple of years old. They are often literally more expensive than replacing the laptop with a like model from eBay. I've had good luck with some batteries, but others like to fail as soon

        • by TheLink (130905)
          1) Once the laptop battery goes, just buy a UPS :). BTW I suspect the runtime of a laptop on a UPS can be quite long ;).
          2) The hinges, keyboards etc aren't going to wear out fast or matter much if you use the laptop as a home server.

          The main problem I'll have with laptops is they don't come with multiple Ethernet NICs (but the usual 1 x Ethernet + 1 x WiFi might be good enough for many popular scenarios). The other major problem is many crappy ones will probably die fast if they run 24/7 without extra cooli
          • Just make sure you're not using one of those crappy laptops that power through the battery and only use AC to charge the battery. ;-) Many of these small box systems can be specified and configured with processors, chipsets, and drive systems that make their power draw comparable to laptops.

            They can also be configured to draw quite a bit of power, too, though. You can get anything from a Via C3 through an Athlon II X4 (including a Core 2 Duo E7500 and lots of Atoms for Intel fans) in small form factors. A

    • by sznupi (719324)

      You forget about China, Indonesia, India, the general region; also parts of South America or Africa...you know, places with plenty of growth and where people do care about cost a lot more. And those machines will be cheap.

      (or some variant could just as well be a standard building block for "laptops" which aren't densely packed inside and don't ship with much of a battery (if any), but do include monitor, keyboard, etc.; and still cheaper)

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:21AM (#32523192) Homepage

    Be sure to take a look at the [H]ard|Forum worklogs [hardforum.com], there are a lot of active, small form factor projects going on right now. One guy has a SUPER awesome mITX rig in the process of being built [hardforum.com], complete with custom case and watercooling solution.

    Also, for kicks, my (non-impressive) [H]ard|Forum sig:

    Display: Asus VH236H | Dell 2005FPW
    Foundation: Cooler Master Storm Scout | OCZ ModXStream Pro 700w
    System: Gigabyte GA-MA785GM | AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400+ @ 3.2 GHz | Corsair XMS2 4GB DDR2 800 | ATI 4850
    Internal Storage: Diamondmax 21 system | WD15EADS archives
    External Storage: 1.25TB in a KINGWIN DK-32U-S | WDMER1600TN
    Input: Kensington 64325 Expert Mouse | Saitek Eclipse II | M-Audio Axiom 25
    Headphones: non-amped Audio Technica ATH-AD700

  • With the increasing levels of integration(heck, you pretty much can't buy a motherboard without NIC and sound and scads of USB ports, and buying one without basic video isn't getting any easier), and the fact that we have all the lessons learned about cooling during the Prescott/space-heater era being applied to much cooler chips, the rise of mini-ITX seems like a obvious development. Multilayer PCBs aren't crazy expensive; but every square inch isn't free.
  • 1 Step Closer... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FinchWorld (845331) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:28AM (#32523266) Homepage

    ...to building my own laptop? Ok, I can technically do this now, but parts are often motherboard specific, with ITX and smaller form factors it might be possible to buy generic laptop cases/batteries and swap parts as it ages.

    Well, I can dream anyway...

    • Re:1 Step Closer... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:51AM (#32523578)

      Well, I can dream anyway...

      5 years ago I had the idea to build a briefcase sized laptop. I was going for style over performance, and changed my design half-way through due to the expense (I was just out of college and still on ramen budgets) so I didn't invest in a laptop LCD. However, I kept the laptop formfactor for my internal components. Here is what I did:

      Using only non-laptop components. I found a very slim power supply that was typically designed for a 1U rack. This ran alongside the motherboard and was about as tall as the entire board (PCB+RAM height) I used a board that had built in video,ethernet,sound so I wouldn't have to have any vertical PCI cards. Since I didn't have to use the PCI ports, I placed the HDD over this location and it rested on the plastic risers (Top of the HDD on the plastic) I couldn't do much about the RAM but it didn't stick up above the capacitors very much. I used a processor heatsink with a fan since this would let me get away with a smaller heatsink, though the processor in the board would probably run with just a basic heatsink and no fan. I used a standard 5.25" DVD drive which sat next to the power supply and next to the motherboard.

      I took two aluminum sheets and drilled holes to attach the motherboard to the bottom sheet, and the HDD, DVD, and Powersupply were attached to the upper sheet. They were then sandwiched together and I used short bolts to hold the two halves together.

      The result was something on the order of 12" x 12" x 1.75" (can't remember the exact dimensions). Due to the way the components were sandwiched, it was fairly robust and I was able to mount it with shock absorbers inside a travel case.

      Later when I had more cash, I built it into an ammo-can and included a fold-out monitor and keyboard/touchpad. It turned into an AMAZING little portable server for things like LAN parties.

      With it's 1'x1'x1.75" dimensions, I'm sure that I could have easily put it inside a briefcase and built in a display. I just went with the ammo-can because having a truly rugged portable computer was useful to me. (in addition to being waterproof)

      With today's boards and SSD storage It would probably be no trouble at all.

  • Wow, rectangles! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:38AM (#32523374) Homepage

    I fail to see what's so striking about rectangular boxes. These aren't really any different from what we've been seeing for the last 10+ years or so. Some of them are a bit stylish, but I don't see any new innovations in the photos posted in TFA. What's so striking about these, exactly?

    • While a sphere may enclose the most volume with a given surface area a square object wastes none from a stacking perspective.
      • That and the fact that making boxes out of sheet metal is cheaper than making spheres out of sheet metal...

        And PC-boards that aren't flat rectangles are very much special order items.(can you even get curved PCBs? There are those flexible plastic ribbon cables that sometimes have an IC or two soldered on; but I don't think I've ever seen a PCB of any nontrivial size that wasn't flat.)
        • That and the fact that making boxes out of sheet metal is cheaper than making spheres out of sheet metal...

          Depends how big they are; I'm sure you could spin a mini-itx one fairly easily if you wanted to.

  • by mr_mischief (456295) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:39AM (#32523384) Journal

    Micro-ATX is the little brother of ATX, and Flex-ATX is the little brother to Micro-ATX. ITX is a different nuclear family (call them cousins). Mini-ITX, micro-ITX, nano-ITX, and even pico-ITX boards exist.

    ATX was initially designed by Intel and the official updates to it have been specified by them as well. The original design was as a replacement for the dated AT boards as a general-purpose desktop and server role. Smaller versions have become popular as more circuitry has been built onto the motherboard, requiring fewer expansion slots. ATX, EATX, Micro-ATX and Flex-ATX use the same mounting hole layout (except that EATX uses a few extra holes).

    AMD designed DTX to be hole-compatible with ATX cases, BTW.

    ITX was initially designed by Via, as are the updates. ITX was initially designed as an embedded or industrial form factor where size, cooling, and energy efficiency were key factors. The smaller sizes (mini, nano, and pico) have been around for some time, but have been slow to become popular for general desktop use as they have been primarily built for Via's own low-power processors.

    The industrial and embedded form factor PC/104 is actually smaller than all of these form factors, with mobile-ITX (which requires an additional I/O board) being the only open standard board smaller. PC/104 was developed by AmPro and has been around since 1987.

    The Beagle Board is smaller still, but is not x86/x86_64 compatible. The only current ways to get smaller that I'm aware of is to ditch the motherboard altogether and go with a computer-on-module or system-on-chip design or to pony up and design your own motherboard standard.

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Companies like Dell haven't used the 'standard' board formats for some time. Why they do this, I don't know; maybe it's to lock people into buying a new computer instead of simply replacing the failed-motherboard-on-account-of-shit-PSU with a new board. And now there's Mini-BTX as well.

      Don't forget microATX can get quite small! It's only just-barely larger than mini-ITX. It's out there and has been for quite some time, just not terribly popular.

      Ironically, all these board formats are ATX power supply compa

    • by metamatic (202216)

      Thank you, that's the most useful and informative post I've seen on Slashdot in months. I'd wondered why there were two ?TX families.

      • There are also BTX, which was an Intel attempt at a smaller format but which has been superseded by micro-ATX and flex-ATX since they, unlike BTX, are compatible with ATX cases.

        I think I mentioned DTX, which AMD introduced specifically for HTPC and such.

        Intel also had WTX specifically for servers and high-end workstations. It was even larger than EATX, but the extra size is really unnecessary these days since you can get dual-socket boards in EATX. Most quad-socket boards are in a form factor called SSI MEB

  • *sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sootman (158191) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @10:56AM (#32523644) Homepage Journal

    Looking at the "striking examples" I have to ask, does anyone other than 14-year-old gamers build computers anymore? Whatever happened to six flat sides? A basic cube-ish design is inexpensive to manufacture, easy to open up and get into, minimizes wasted space (are any of your components curvy? no? then your case shouldn't be either!) and you can easily lay it down, stand it up, or put things on top of it. I can understand no one wanting to put together a gallery of beige boxes but it would have been nice to see at least one clean example.

    • by mewsenews (251487)

      The great thing if you want a "clean" case is that there is usually a manufacturer offering one, stock. If you want a great example of a cleanly designed Mini-ITX case, I'd suggest you check out the Lian Li PC-Q07B. It's very spartan, all aluminum, and has room for a regular ATX-sized power supply.

      Here's a youtube unboxing video:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZceNJAW7AU [youtube.com]

      One of the weird down-sides to the case is that some Mini-ITX boards consume so little power that they come with laptop-style power supplie

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      "First adopters" have always been into the pretty curvy thing. Think: sports cars. Nobody makes boring first-release products; the early ones are "sexy", with the $20 just-the-facts-ma'am variety will come later.

    • Looking at the "striking examples" I have to ask, does anyone other than 14-year-old gamers build computers anymore? Whatever happened to six flat sides?

      If you check any place that sells cases (newegg, etc.) you'll find plenty, for just about any motherboard size.

  • by Shuh (13578) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @11:03AM (#32523730) Journal
    These smaller form factors are overdue. Tower PCs the size of a labrador retriever are 90's technology.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      Tower PCs the size of a labrador retriever are 90's technology.

      Actually, they're 80's technology, but that's no reason to get rid of them.

      Cars today aren't substantially different from designs in the 50's, and yet, nobody is clamoring for drastic redesigns.

      Honestly, unless you're in a brutally tiny apartment, why do you care how big your PC is? Put it on the floor, out of the way, and forget about it. Sure, it's not stylish, but it's much cheaper than any alternatives, and it offers extreme flexibility sh

      • I think it depends on the situation. I live in a fairly big house and I have two systems with XBMC on them. My basement is open and there is lots of free space so I have a normal mid-tower with a mini-ATX board. However, I have a 40" TV sitting in a space pretty much just the right size for it. My acer revo sits in there nicely; there is no room for a full size PC.

        Also sound is a concern. the PC is louder with the fans but I have a louder sound system downstairs to compensate. I prefer having the s
  • There were a few vendors many years back that made a MicroATX case that looked like a slightly large Xbox1. So that someone makes a 360 case is not all that exciting to me.

    • by Golddess (1361003)
      Personally, my first thought was it looked more like a Wii than a 360.
    • by Golddess (1361003)
      ...Disregard that. One that was labeled as looking like a 360 looked like a Wii to me. There is also a 360 like one later on.
  • Where is the AMD one? at least with that on board video is good for most uses unlike intel where a add on video card is need for much of base use for a small system that has VESA mount

  • The best (read: worst) one is this one [pcauthority.com.au] with the DVD drive upside down.
  • What are these little "gamer" cases doing about the massive video cards these days? Without a fairly long case, most gaming cards won't fit.

  • Zotac makes mini-ITX boards with decent NVIDIA cards onboard, and with the ability to use quad-core CPUs and DDR3 memory. It's pretty cool to have a system which takes up almost no space and uses almost no power, but is capable of playing games passably!

    Too bad Zotac support sucks--I needed to flash my BIOS (with a DOS disk of all things! WTF? In 2010??) before the damn board would boot, and the drivers available from Zotac are broken and out-of-date. But once I finally got it working it was wonderful.

    The n

  • I just wrote and article Low Cost/Power HPC [linux-mag.com] using Atom processors and Mini-ITX boards. The first table is rather interesting (HPC = High Performance Computing):

    The Nehalem Xeon runs 1.8 times faster, generates 7.3 times as much heat and costs 22 times as much as the D510 Atom. The performance is 7.7 times faster, but when you factor in the price-to-performance the Atom is 3 times better than the Xeon solution. Interestingly, the TDP/performance ratios are almost identical for both processors.

  • I'd like them to bypass the futuristic sexy case nonsense and concentrate on getting rid of 30 year connectors that have no business on a minimalist form factors like Mini-ITX.

  • I have a BTX style Gateway case, and I still love it. Its spacious with a good amount of open bays, ample USB and Firewire connections. All while running quiet and cool (although the Northbridge puts off a bit of heat). I would love to upgrade it, as the box currently runs an older single core P4. However, there are only a handful of BTX mobos out there, and they dual core is the best you can get with a Socket 775 (I believe thats what it run, memory a bit hazy). I even thought about rigging something i
  • It's about time we move to a more compact form factor for desktop systems. About 75% of the space in my PC cases is simply wasted. Yes, I'm a power user, and my computer has 4 HDD's, a DVD burner, a BD-ROM, and 4 internal PCI/PCI-e cards. But there's no reason those can't be set up with a Linksys-style stacking system.

    We can make all of our drives external now, thanks to SATA. Figure there'll always be one internal HDD or SSD, then stack the rest.

    Then get rid of the old-school internal expansion card, movin

    • by toddestan (632714)

      All that air is important for keeping all that stuff cool. Not to mention it's also nice to have room to work inside the PC when it's needed (I really don't want to go back to the days of the AT-based minitowers from the Pentium era).

  • I have a server that's been running for over 6 years now, but its VIA C3 1GHz CPU is starting to have trouble dealing with current Linux distros, so I want to build something beefier.

    What I'm having trouble finding is fanless cases that take standard size components, i.e. 3.5" hard drives and 5.25" optical drives.

    I'll put up with one fan. I'll put up with a slimline optical drive. But I absolutely don't want to be stuck with laptop hard drives. So... anyone happen to know of any good cases that fit the bill

    • by toddestan (632714)

      If size is not an issue, why not get one of the standard ATX cases built to be low noise and remove all the fans save the power supply fan? You can get some pretty quiet power supplies, and if the components are low power it won't have any issues staying cool. You could even try a fanless power supply and slow case fan too.

  • I'm no Mac fanboy but I find it sad that we still don't have anything in the PC realm that comes near the sexiness of the Mac Mini. I sit beside my hulking full ATX case and stare at my wife's desk with envy.
  • I wanted to use an ITX board for a small-power home server, but, apart from this $1000 Lippert embedded board [lippertembedded.com], not a single Mini ITX board supports ECC, registered or unbuffered. Is the market really too small for this?

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