Kill ATX? The radical Asus Prime Utopia looks like a PC plucked from an alternate timeline

ATX needs some changes. Asus hopes we can have a conversation about it.

Credit: Adam Patrick Murray

What piece of technology are you still using from 1995? Your computer case. Yes, if you run a desktop tower, it’s likely built on the Intel ATX specification first introduced in 1995—almost 25 years ago. But Asus’s radical Prime Utopia prototype re-imagines what could be with an out-of-this-world concept PC.

Definitely watch the video above to see this beast in action. Asus decided to relocate the graphics card from its standard PCIe slot to the back of the computer. It’s mounted vertically along the motherboard for added stability when shipping or moving the system.

With the GPU moved to the back, Asus uses the freed-up front space to mount four M.2 solid-state drives and a 7-inch touch OLED. The screen comes with Wi-Fi enabled, so you can detach it and put it on your desk as well.

dscf0519 final Adam Patrick Murray

Asus’ Prime Utopia features a Wi-Fi enabled detachable screen where the video card would go in a standard ATX motherboard.

With the OLED display completely covering the expansion slots, Asus envisions most add-in hardware (of the future, obviously) going into replaceable modules situated near the I/O shield. These modules would be built around the Mini-PCI-E standard and could be used to add 2.5GbE modules or additional USB ports, for example.

The Asus Prime Utopia doesn’t mess with the RAM or CPU layout, but it does move the voltage regulation modules to back of the motherboard, where they can be water cooled. The prototype PC also moves the main power connector to the back of the motherboard.

dscf0514 final Adam Patrick Murray

In this alternate timeline vision of the future, Asus mounts the GPU on the back of the motherboard, as well as the VRM and main power connector.

Of course, none of this will work with the way that today’s standard ATX systems and motherboards are designed. There just isn’t room, nor is ATX designed to handle any of these alterations. You know, since it’s a 25-year-old standard designed for hardware designed 25 years ago.

Before you get triggered, thinking that Asus is going to leave the ATX standard behind, take a breath. It isn’t.

In fact, the company just introduced new lines of both AMD and Intel motherboards using the venerable ATX spec. But Asus is obviously hoping to start a conversation about the idea that the spec should be modified.

dscf0508 final Adam Patrick Murray

Will ATX die? Nah

The uphill problem for Asus? This was all tried before, and it’s always failed.

In fact, Intel’s BTX proposal in 2004 tried to upset ATX and failed miserably, even though some of its changes make sense. With ATX, the chipset that controls the USB ports is located about as far away from the back of the PC as possible, which complicates the routing of wires. BTX fixed that. Other BTX tweaks, however, were indicative of Intel’s world in 2004 and the overly hot running Pentium 4. BTX would move the CPU’s location from closer to the rear of the PC all the way to the front, where it could easily be cooled by air from the front fans. 

BTX went absolutely nowhere. Pushback from case vendors and motherboard vendors quickly sank its hopes.

If even Intel can’t push a change to ATX, Asus’s hopes are likely slim to none. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried or talked about, but the experience with BTX probably tells us that the Prime Utopia’s intriguing reimagining of the PC isn’t likely to gain widespread attraction. It sure is nice to dream, though. 

dscf0523 final Adam Patrick Murray

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Gordon Mah Ung

PC World (US online)
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