Why everyone hates BTX

For the past several IDFs Intel has been pushing BTX (Balanced Technology eXtended) as the logical successor to ATX. Boasting a brand new layout along with new power supply specifications and new connector specifications, BTX is new, exciting and...experiencing quite a bit of backlash from the community.

Most critics of BTX seem to view it as a workaround to Intel's heat "problem" with their CPUs. More specifically, Prescott is a very hot CPU and is Intel's pushing of the BTX standard merely a way of making up for producing very hot microprocessors?

There's also the issue of heavy investments in ATX. Switching CPU sockets is one thing, but force people to buy all new cases, power supplies and motherboards and you're bound to get some negative response. Needless to say, since virtually everyone today is an ATX owner, the thought (and expense) of moving to BTX isn't exactly desirable.

Unlike most transitions we see in this industry, the move to BTX won't be an aggressive one. Granted you'll see newer systems shipping with BTX platforms, but as is very evident by the showing at Computex, the vast, vast majority of produced in the next year will continue to be ATX. As we've reported in our earlier coverage, there were only two BTX motherboards shown off at the show floor at Computex - not exactly signs of an overwhelming technology push. To Intel's credit, pushing for a brand new form factor is mostly like pulling teeth...underwater, with tweezers - it's not easy.

There are other complaints about BTX, one major one being that Intel seems to be the only one interested in pushing it, which further supports the conspiracy theory that it's just a way to deal with their extremely hot processors. One possible limitation is that BTX's layout isn't exactly very friendly to AMD's on-die memory controller; look at the picture below of a BTX motherboard and note the difficulty in running equal length traces from the CPU to the memory banks. It's not impossible and there are companies that have developed methods around trace length matching that could come in handy here, but needless to say that no AMD motherboard manufacturer is too eager to design an Athlon 64 BTX motherboard at this point. It will most likely require AMD's engineering intervention to develop a properly laid out BTX motherboard for Athlon 64 before we start seeing platforms, and with Intel driving the standard it is highly unlikely that AMD is going to be a champion of it this early in the game. After all, although AMD can benefit from a cooler running platform, they are in much less need of it than Intel at this point; plus, why not make Intel's job as hard as possible? It's only fair.


Note the direct path from the CPU to the memory banks on this Athlon 64 motherboard


BTX requires the CPU to be at the "front" of the motherboard, with the chipset behind it. Without moving the CPU to the middle of the motherboard, BTX provides some interesting challenges for AMD's on-die memory controller. A direct, equal length path to the memory banks is much easier to implement than this sort of a layout.

With all of the negativity and complaints aside, like it or not, BTX is coming and it will bring a lot of positives with it. Smaller form factors (although not as small as the ones championed by Shuttle), cooler internals and quieter overall systems are all benefits that cannot be ignored. Intel has put in a significant amount of engineering work into designing BTX and we do believe that it has the potential to deliver on its promises once designs hit the market. But the real question is when? We just mentioned that the transition will be a slow one, but in order to ease the fears of the market Intel managed to round up a bunch of BTX motherboards and display them at their showcase here at Computex. What's interesting is that these boards weren't shown off at the individual manufacturer's booths for the most part, indicating that they are not exactly top priority for these manufacturers. That being said, the board designs were available for us (read: our camera) and thus we bring you some of the very first BTX motherboards from ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and more...

Index BTX Motherboards Galore
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  • epiv - Friday, June 04, 2004 - link

    What is wrong with AnandTech? With all the new stuff at Computex. The first article has to be about a new standard that is not very exciting. I am not impressed with the BTX products offered right now. I am sure there are other more interesting products in Computex. Reply
  • justly - Friday, June 04, 2004 - link

    #23 – I did see that only micro and pico BTX boards where the only ones referenced in the article but unless Anand made a mistake in the article (very possible) it does state that “Chenbro had a full BTX tower on display”. If you look at that case guess what you find, only 4 slots, again this may be an error in the article but that is why I mentioned it. The thing is if micro BTX is about the same size as micro ATX adding more expansion slots to a micro BTX should result in the same size increase as adding more to Micro ATX. Simple logic dictates that if two micro size boards are “about the same size” and adding expansion slots increases both by the same amount then they will end up being about the same size, so it would appear the claim that they are smaller is not accurate.

    As for moving the CPU to the front, well all I can say is welcome back BAT with ATX features, anything more would end up in a rant about Intel.
    Reply
  • Madcat - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    Now that I've had a chance to see a few examples of the BTX format, I like the idea of more outside airflow over the cpu, but I don't like the idea of buying a lot of other new parts.

    The way I see it is that there is a lot of flexibility in the ATX format but very limited in BTX as far as placement of motherboard components. I don't think the enthusiast motherboard makers will like that, but OEM type would.
    By looking at the designs I don't see why Intel wanted to develop a whole new format when they could have stuck with a ATX one. There are a lot of current solutions out there that bring in outside air directly to the cpu that would work just fine. I can imagine a few routing options that could be included with new cases to route fresh air from the front and still stay in an ATX format, without having to much of an impact on airflow.

    I also don't like the fact that the case would open on the opposite side. My main PC sits on my desk and I like that I can get to the side panel without having to pull the case completely out of the mini-cubbyhole in the shelf system that is part of my desk to turn it around. In order to make it easy to access it I'd have to buy a whole new left oriented facing shelf versus my right oriented one. No thanks to that extra cost.

    If they really felt that a change was needed they really should have gone with standards hashed out by industry leaders as a group instead of going it alone like they did with rambus.

    Personally I don't see the format sticking, since they are abondoning the P4 platform to go with the far better and cooler running pentium M core which they are developing for the desktop. I do see it as best for the OEM crowd. I do like the idea just not how it morphed into a completely different format.

    #13 - I agree. WTF was Intel thinking by not providing a transitory chipset? So my $450 9800XT is useless if I want the latest and greatest P4 tech? Ugh....
    However...as to no AGP slot on the 9xx chipset boards, that's apparently baloney. ECS is making a board that implements both AGP AND PCI-E. =) Not sure how they enabled it, but from what I've read it performs pretty well. I hope the other makers can do that as well.
    Reply
  • bupkus - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    Since I'm a fan of AMD who's memory traces are at odds with BTX, I reject Intel's arrogant unilateral push. However, if I were ever to purchase Intel at a client's insistance, I would consider BTX. For my own use though I agree with #16 about Shuttle as now my best option for reduced size and gaming portability. Reply
  • mkruer - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    BTX is all based upon the assumption that the air in front of the pc is cooler then the back. I also like Lian-Li case idea. Move the PSU to the bottom, and move the motherboard to the top. I would say then next thing to do is to pull air directly in from the back, and exhaust out the top, so the air come right in then out for the CPU. As for the other peripheral, a nice slow rotating 120mm fan should be more then sufficient for the entire case. Reply
  • Xentropy - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    #21 - "Did you notice that BTX only has as many upgrade slots as micro ATX?"

    Actually that's because the only BTX boards produced/displayed so far are microBTX and picoBTX. There IS a "full-sized" BTX standard that will have the same number of slots as a full ATX motherboard. Anand's previous article on BTX (several months ago) mentioned the three sizes in the standard.

    http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.html?i=1876&p...

    The fact there aren't any full BTX boards is the main reason I won't be going BTX this go around. Hopefully some are available by next year. Mind that while a full BTX board is the same size as a full ATX board, the case around it can be made smaller due to a need for less fans and a lower ambient temperature. Think of a Lian-Li PC30 w/o the cooling issues. Small, light case but which can easily handle a full-sized motherboard.

    As for the turbulance issue, I see the biggest change in BTX as moving the CPU to the front of the case, not moving the ATA connections. PATA routing is important, but SATA connectors can be just about anywhere without issue, and BTX is a future standard which assumes SATA. If ATX motherboards start placing the CPU at the front center where a direct path of fresh outside air can flow over FIRST the CPU then the video card and then out the back, well, they'd basically have a BTX board there.
    Reply
  • bhtooefr - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    "Although these aren't BTX based, Intel showed off some set top box form factor solutions running ultra low voltage P4s and i815E chipsets"

    WHAT? The i815E is for Socket 370 chips - the Mendocino, Coppermine, and Tualatin Celerons, the Pentium III, and the VIA C3.

    Also, if you look at the photo of the set top MSI box, it says ULV Celeron up to 700 or 750MHz (I couldn't tell).
    Reply
  • justly - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    19, Did you notice that BTX only has as many upgrade slots as micro ATX, or this statement in the article "Most of the motherboards we saw were micro BTX, meaning they had four expansion slots and are about the size of a micro ATX motherboard". So as for it being smaller I would say that is only marginally true (and at the expense of expansion slots and drive bays).

    Also, most turbulence is going to be caused by to many (improperly placed) fans, not the difference between case designs. If anything BTX may reduce dead air zones, and even that is mostly due to one change in board design (moving the PATA connection to the top, behind the drive bays). Then again good routing of PATA ribbon cables or the use of round PATA or SATA cables pretty much take care of that problem.

    As far as I am concerned there isn’t enough of a (well actually any) benefit to BTX that warrants switching from ATX. On second thought there might be one good thing about BTX, case manufactures seem to have very little flexibility in their design so it might reduce the amount of poorly designed cases and just leave people with a poorly designed standard to go by :)
    Reply
  • epiv - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    ATX only have been around for about 10 years. Reply
  • Xentropy - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    #16-"BTX has no relavence to going smaller and quieter..."

    What? Have you read anything about BTX besides the Inquirer's FUD?

    From this article:

    "Smaller form factors (although not as small as the ones championed by Shuttle), cooler internals and quieter overall systems are all benefits that cannot be ignored."

    By creating a more direct path for airflow, turbulence is lowered, resulting in lower noise. More efficient use of the air also allows for lower CFM fans, which of equal quality will mean lower noise as well.

    At any rate, I've been using Lian-Li cases for several years now, and they ARE in fact wonderful cases, but certain improvements would require some rearrangement of components on the motherboard to effect. Workarounds like air ducts can be installed in ATX cases to bring cool air directly to the CPU, for example, but that wouldn't be as efficient as just putting the CPU at the front of the case directly in front of the intake fans.

    So I guess I still don't understand. Why all the opposition? No one's being forced to buy BTX, and ATX will still be around for years to come, especially if AMD never makes the switch due to the memory trace issues. Since Intel and AMD systems obviously already require different motherboards, using different form factors as well wouldn't be much of an issue. I don't know a whole lot of people who'd take an AMD system out of a case and build an Intel system in the same one, or vice-versa. Generally they'd buy a new case for the new system so they can use or sell the old system as a complete package.

    Most of the outrage seems to be over the price of a new case, but I guess I don't agree with most people's assessment that BTX will suddenly 100% phase out ATX overnight and thus require everyone buy a new case the next time they build a system.
    Reply

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