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Intel's new baby - Balance Technology Extended (BTX)

By: Thomas Simmons | Editorials in Cases, Cooling & PSU | Posted: Feb 2, 2004 5:00 am

Three Forms of BTX: One For All Your Needs



A basic difference in the various BTX form factors


BTX, unlike any prior standard form factor, was developed to support three different system sizes. With BTX, we have the standard BTX, microBTX, and picoBTX forms. At the IDF of Fall 2003, the reference systems Intel demonstrated were in the microBTX and standard BTX forms. With the microBTX form occupying only 12.9 Liters and regular BTX form system not much larger, Intel has been able to push acceptance of BTX with OEM manufacturers with some ease.


PicoBTX, the smallest of the BTX forms, is the most interesting of the BTX form factors, in my opinion. Intel will be demonstrating 6.9 Liter systems based around picoBTX, smaller than any small form factor PCs on the market. The 6.9 Liter system will be approximately 3.1 Liters smaller than the smallest SFF PCs currently on the market today from such companies as Shuttle. This compact size will push the evolution of the compact PC and increase the acceptance of BTX, specifically by SFF PC builders and users interested in buying SFF PCs - You can already imagine the SFF leaders of the industry rubbing their hands together.


An interesting thing about the different sizes of BTX is how Intel specifications reduce the need to shift system components significantly. With BTX locating most essential system components in the upper portion of the motherboard, there is a simple move of removing a few peripheral slots with each reduction in size, bringing the total peripheral slots to one with picoBTX.


Backpanel I/O



The back side of a standard BTX system


Since BTX reference designs began showing up at IDF more than a year ago (with the codename Big Water), each revision increased the number of USB ports included and lessened the number of legacy I/O ports on the backpanel. The computer industry as a whole is ready to move away from legacy I/O and, with Intel's 9xx series chipsets, they are removing AGP support, a move that shows they want to rid the world of legacy I/O. BTX reference designs are adding to the telltale signs that legacy I/O will no longer continue to be supported as commonly as they are now with current motherboards.


The legacy I/O ports being slowly removed from BTX reference designs are Serial and Parallel ports with a possibility of PS/2 ports being removed in future reference designs, perhaps as soon as IDF this month in San Francisco. To replace these outdated ports, USB ports on the backpanel will triple and double their number as USB is seen as the successor to all three I/O forms with dominating support in newer devices that once utilized these elderly I/O ports. With such a large increase in space on the backpanel, BTX motherboards could include various future-proof technologies such as Wi-Fi(802.11x), multiple LAN ports, Bluetooth and even WiMax once Intel can produce it on a chip!


Is The Computer Industry Ready?


A big question I had in investigating the BTX form factor was whether or not the industry is prepared to shift their product lines to BTX power supplies, cases, and motherboards.


Intel's answer was a blatant yes. They pointed out to us that manufacturers of cases generally update their case lines yearly, allowing for BTX case introductions to occur the same time BTX motherboards come to the market. In the case of BTX motherboards, Intel is the biggest financial support for most motherboard manufacturers and they will generally do their best to please Intel, with BTX motherboards being a positive way to make Intel happier and possibly increase their advertising funds as an incentive to bring BTX based products to the market quickly.


We don't think the industry will have any difficulties with the implementation of BTX.


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