BTX gives motherboards a makeover

Intel's new BTX (Balanced Technology Extended) specification gives motherboards a makeover. The company says that the new motherboard and chassis spec uses fewer fans, resulting in PCs that run more quietly, and possibly at a lower temperature, than those based on the aging ATX (Advanced Technology Extended) standard found in most of today's PCs. To that end, BTX boards sport significant changes in component layout and thermal engineering.

Though Intel has been promoting the spec for a while, the company only recently rolled out its first retail BTX boards. It expects to offer three variants (all 10.5 inches long): standard BTX, with seven or fewer PCI Express slots (up to 12.8 inches wide each); MicroBTX (up to 10.3 inches wide), with four or fewer slots; and PicoBTX, with one slot (up to 7.9 inches wide).

Intel's first two boards are both MicroBTX models; the chip maker has begun shipping CPUs to US customers with the Type I BTX Thermal Module (which replaces the traditional heat sink and fan combination), too. Companies such as AOpen America have begun to offer BTX-based chassis, since you can't place a BTX motherboard and Thermal Module in an ATX case. In Australia Hallmark Computer International, claimed it had launched the first local product in February -- its first model, the Viewmaster Advantage 6000, is based on an Intel 915G chipset-based Gigabyte board.

Intel insists the new spec will benefit the PC industry as a whole. Certainly most people want a quieter PC. Microprocessor Report editor-in-chief Kevin Krewell notes, though, that one of Intel's motives for creating BTX was to deal with the Pentium 4's heat problems. "The Pentium 4 is hotter than the Athlon 64," he says. "Intel has to contend with that chip's greater power requirements."

1) BTX boards situate internal components so that one fan (part of the BTX Thermal Module) can cool them all. The module sits at the front of the board, drawing air into the case over the parts that produce the most heat: the CPU, the chip set, and the graphics card. On most BTX chassis, no fan is required aside from the power supply's fan and the dedicated fans on some graphics cards.

2) Most ATX cases have no front fan; instead they rely on one or more fans in the rear and sides of the case to draw air through a PC's face, through its chassis, past a centrally located second CPU fan and heat sink, and out the back.

3) Intel will offer two Thermal Module types with its retail CPUs. Type I works with a wide range of cases; Type II is a lower-profile design for smaller PCs. With BTX cases, vendors will include a metal Support Retention Module, to handle the hefty (2.8 pounds, and 5.4 by 3.9 by 4.5 inches) Thermal Module. AMD says that it has no plans to make its own Thermal Modules, noting that its current standard heat sink and fan (pictured; 0.8 pounds, and 3 by 2.3 by 2.8 inches) adequately cool its CPUs.

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Tom Mainelli

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