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BTX vs ATX: Is BTX Doomed?

Author:  Artiom Bell
Date:  2008.03.24
Topic:  Other
Provider:  Thermaltake
Manufacturer:  Thermaltake

BTX vs ATX: Is BTX Doomed?


Versatility is the main drive for innovation in the computer world. When something is invented, at least in the computer world, it not only has to be "something great that no one has ever seen before", or be backwards compatible so it can survive in the market. Balanced Technology Extended (BTX) offered a considerable improvements over its predecessor's Advanced Technology Extended (ATX) motherboard design the was introduced by Intel in 1995. So why is are we still using designs from back in 1995? Lets find out.

Where it All began

Form factor is the design of the motherboard. Newer generations offer advantages over the previous generations in terms of less heat output, faster speeds, more interfaces, or a combination of these. Baby - AT was a significant advancement over AT not in terms of speeds but in terms of flexibility. AT was just too large, and would not fit into any of the mini-cases; thus if you wanted to buy a computer, the only way to go was with a full tower or mid tower cases which were bulky. All Baby - AT offered was a smaller design that would stratify the end user. The Baby - AT design became the most widely used and copied design that supported processors all the way up to Pentiums.

ATX Baby - AT
Click on the Thumbnail for a Larger Image


The introduction of ATX changed how the world though about motherboards. Not only ATX offered better performance, but offered a solution to the common annoyances in the ATX design. ATX introduced backswords compatibility, Micro ATX which were significantly smaller boards were able to be fitted into the standard ATX chases. ATX also addressed the issues with drive locations which was a major annoyance in the AT design. The AT board was so big that it took space being the drive bays which made the installation of Disk Drives that much more difficult. Another example of AT's shortcomings were in the power supply design. In the AT design the power supply was directly soldered onto the power button, which meant that if anything went wrong with the power supply to replace it would be quite a hassle. The introduction of ATX solved many of these issues.

The problem with the drive bays was automatically solved by the smaller ATX board. The power supply plugged into the motherboard, which in turn was connected to the power button. This made powering on the computer using telephone and LAN signals a possibility. ATX also revised the problem with the power supply connectors. Instead of using separate rails together on the motherboards that sometimes were confused resulting in irreversible damage to the motherboard, ATX used a large 20-pin single power rail. It was the largest adapter that came out of the power supply and it was impossible to confuse it with any other power rail on the motherboard.

Although ATX solved many problems and added much functionality to the AT and the Baby - AT designs, it was still late to catch. The manufacturers preferred to use the current manufacturing plants that were already producing equipment for the Baby - AT motherboards instead of spending money to redesign the plants to produce ATX compatible components.


After ATX solved major problems that existed in the AT design, one problem still remained: heat. What is heat? The word itself might have many definitions, but in the computing world it only has one: enemy. All computer components generate heat, and with the increasing popularity of faster processors and stuffing more transistors into a smaller space heat became an issue that could not have been overlooked. BTX was introduced by Intel in 2003 as the new standard in the motherboard design. Major advancements of BTX were in the airflow and the locations of the components. The BTX board was basically an ATX board flipped upside down and the processor chip and north bridge chip placed in a diamond position rather than a square one. The whole system was to direct coolest air into the processor, north bridge and graphics card locations first. To do this the heatsink for the CPU draws air from the front of the case and exhausts it through the back. While this is an ideal design for power hungry and high heat producing components the BTX was almost unnecessary before it first rolled out.


Click on the Thumbnail for a Larger Image

Lets take a look at the design layout and a comparison between BTX and ATX.

As you can see the idea here is to draw air across the cpu, PCI-e card, MCH and ICH (North and South bridges) and exhaust out the rear of the case. Here is what BTX looks like on the left with the comparison to ATX on the right. While ATX has survived it is only due to the heat output of the CPU and bridges decreased as well as better heatsink technology.
Click on the Thumbnail for a Larger Image


Why BTX wasn't worth it?

BTX offered significant design innovations but only if the thermal dynamics of motherboards and components were not to change which they did. The designers of the cases were not willing to invest money into redesigning their production facilities to accommodate a new design. If a product is to survive and gain acceptance by users there HAS to be significant "buy in" by retailers and OEMs which there was not for BTX. The most significant roll out of BTX platforms was probably from Dell and Gateway at the time.

BTX failed at being "something great that no one has ever seen before" at the same time it wasn't backwards compatible with the current design, ATX. Other reasons why BTX failed to catch on was because not all users were interested in cooling performance, which was BTX's most significant advantage. The people that did put emphasis on performance would used alternative cooling methods such as liquid cooling or third party air-cooling equipment which were more than sufficient. BTX was basically a design that was not required by the market by the time it came out, thus it never had what it needed to survive as a stand alone product.


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