Intel's Long Awaited BTX Form Factorby Purav Sanghani on November 15, 2004 5:31 AM EST
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Examining ATXThe ATX form factor was designed by Intel back in 1995 to improve on the AT form factor. It brought about changes that would help standardize placements with various types of hardware, one being full length expansion cards; in original AT layouts the processor sockets were positioned at the front of the motherboard which kept full length expansion cards from being used. Now that the ATX form moved the CPU sockets to the back right corner of the motherboard full length PCI/ISA cards had plenty of room.
AT also had the problem with drive bay interference since the AT motherboards were longer from front to back. With ATX the motherboard is cut wider, instead, to provide some clearance between drive bays and the board itself. Moving the CPU socket also aided in this change since there was a need for board space at the back right instead of the front left corner of the motherboard.
Some of the other changes from AT to ATX:
- Power supply connection AT motherboards used dual 6-pin connectors to power the system which was confusing and also potentially dangerous if we did not know what went where. The ATX specification implements a single 20-pin connection from the power supply to motherboard to eliminate confusion and damage to hardware.
- Power management The older AT specification also had the power button of the case hard wired directly to the power supply. The ATX specification implements the "Soft Power" feature which allows the motherboard to turn the power supply on and off by software. For example, when shutting down the Windows OS in an AT set up the system needed to be manually shut down by pressing the power button. The ATX form factor allowed the system to be automatically powered down after the OS logged off.
- Integrated I/O, peripheral connections On older AT boards, instead of having the parallel and COM ports we see at the back of the motherboards, extra cables were required to extend those features to the case. We needed to run cables from pin headers on the motherboards and mount them to the cases to be able to connect printers or other devices that used these ports. When the ATX form factor was introduced, these connectors were soldered directly on to the motherboard to both reduce the time to install components and the overall cost of a system, as well as to increase the reliability of the ports.
- Cooling and air flow Moving the CPU to the back right of the case closer to the power supply and the backside fans had a positive effect on cooling. Warm air created by the CPU would be pulled out through the back of the case as well as up through the power supply if it had a fan facing the CPU.
The ATX had a clear goal in mind; a new design that would reduce clutter, standardize component design and bring more control to the motherboard. The BTX mandate is a little less clear; reduce the PC footprint while more efficiently cooling the components. Keep this mandate in mind as it plays heavily on our conclusion.