What about motherboard and chassis makers?
AMD's DTX reference design looks promising, but the real test will be whether the specification earns the support of motherboard makers, chassis makers, PC builders of various sorts, and the larger industry. AMD lists a whole range of big names in the motherboard and enclosure businesses as DTX partners, so I asked around to see what they had in store. Here's what I found.
- Albatron Albatron has developed a Mini DTX board, the KD690-AM2, based on the 690G chipset. This board is derived from a Mini-ITX design, the KI690-AM2, but adds enough width to accommodate an additional PCIe x1 expansion slot. The mobo includes two SO-DIMM slots for mobile-style DDR2 memory modules, a GigE port, HDMI and DVI outputs, and eight-channel audio. Albatron doesn't list the KD690-AM2 on its website because it's not mass-producing the board. The company says it's "waiting for the DTX standard to gain more interest in the market" before it commits to mass production.
- Asus As one of the big dawgs of the motherboard world, Asus has plans for DTX products, with projects underway. The firm says it plans to have products available upon DTX's official launch, but wasn't ready to share any information with us yet about product specs, features, or positioning. In addition to motherboards, Asus will probably build DTX-based SFF barebones systems, but not stand-alone cases.
- MSI The folks at MSI have cooked up a DTX motherboard, the K9AGMD, based on the 690G chipset. We don't have much info on it yet, but interestingly, they did say it will cost more than a microATX board. MSI classifies K9AGMD as "in production" and says it is available by request. That means the board isn't being mass-produced, but MSI will produce them if a large customer places an order for them. Uniquely, MSI said it believes there is an interest among PC OEMsthe big PC makers of the worldfor DTX products, but it couldn't say which ones or how many might be interested.
- Shuttle The leading light of the SFF PC movement does indeed have a DTX project in the works, currently in the R&D stage. Unfortunately, Shuttle didn't get back to us with additional information on its DTX project in time for publication.
- Thermaltake Thermaltake actually showed its DTX chassis, the HTPC-oriented DH201, at Computex. This box includes a 4.3" touch screen on the front panel, a remote, and two expansion slots. Although it's a Full DTX chassis, it can hold a Mini DTX board, if needed. Like AMD's other would-be partners, Thermaltake is taking a cautious approach to DTX. They say: "The product, however, is only at the evaluation stage so far. Further market reaction might affect the product development plans in the future."
We also inquired with Gigabyte and SilverStone about their DTX projects, but they didn't get back to us in time to be included in this article.
Intel's take on smaller PC form factors
One company that knows a thing or two about introducing standards for PC form factors is Intel. In fact, the DTX story begins, in some ways, with the market failure of another PC form factor standard proposed by Intel.
Back in 2004, Intel proposed the BTX standard as a guide for building quiet systems with adequate cooling for the fastest desktop processors. BTX wasn't focused only on small PCs, but the spec included provisions for SFF systems. With its emphasis on system-level integration of measures like an air tunnel for improved cooling and acoustics, BTX was very much a different animal, not just an extension to the existing ATX infrastructure. Producing entirely new motherboard and chassis designs for a new standardwith different mounting points and different cooling provisionsisn't cheap, so the uptake for BTX was slow. BTX did experience some success, especially with large PC OEMs. Shuttle even built a BTX-based XPC chassis. But much of the market balked.
At the time, BTX was widely seen as Intel's attempt to address the power and heat problems caused by its Prescott processors. Tellingly, Intel dropped BTX from its roadmap in mid-2006 and stopped promoting it, just as the much cooler Core 2 Duo processors were set to debut.
So I had to wonder: what does Intel make of DTX? To find out, I spoke with Peter Brandenburger, Small Form Factor Program Manager in Intel's Platform Application Engineering Group. Interestingly enough, Intel's reaction to DTX isn't quite the sort of all-out opposition one might expect from AMD's larger rival. In fact, although Mr. Brandenburger didn't take a position specifically for or against DTX, he did have some positive words for DTX or something like it.
First, he said Intel still believes in standards for this sort of thing, which is an important endorsement in light of Intel's BTX experience and the propensity of big PC OEMs to develop proprietary SFF system designs. Also, he classified DTX as a microATX-compatible spec, which, he said, "is what the market wants." In fact, he noted that Intel itself proposed a similar FlexATX specification (the basis for the original Shuttle SV24 motherboard, as it happens) back in 1999. FlexATX didn't take off at the time, he said, but with the increasing integration in today's PCs, DTX might fare better.
Still, Mr. Brandenbuger pointed out that AMD may have difficulty achieving wide adoption for DTX for a number of reasons. The fundamental problem is that there doesn't seem to be any industry-wide collective agreement or any single answer about how to approach smaller form factors. On one hand, Full DTX may find itself squeezed from above by microATX systems that allow for additional expandability. On the other, Mini DTX's second expansion slot may not make it an especially compelling alternative to the existing Mini-ITX options.
The key things I took away from my conversation with Mr. Brandenburger were that Intel has thought extensively about small form factor PCs, and that it doesn't have any major objections to the provisions of the DTX spec. That's no ringing endorsement, but it is a good sign. AMD seems to have done its homework. As a result, Intel may allow room for DTX to flourish, should AMD's efforts begin to get some traction. Currently, though, AMD is still very much on its own. Intel has no plans for DTX products, and none of the manufacturers we contacted had plans to build DTX-sized motherboards for Intel CPUs.