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What is Balanced Technology Extended (BTX)?
Technically, the design of BTX allows better airflow, reduces power needs and utilizes enhanced technologies such as Serial Advanced Technology Attachment or SATA, Universal Serial Bus or USB 2.0 and Peripheral Component Interconnect Express or PCIe.
- The Balanced Technology eXtended form factor was designed and introduced by Intel with several new features that are complaints with the older circa 1996 ATX pattern with intent to replace the aging and not-so-perfect ATX form factor.
- A lot of improvements are made in the BTX design to make it smaller in size and also perform better and to be more efficient in terms of thermal regulations, lower system and component latency and better integration with rack mounts and blade servers.
- The Northbridge and the Southbridge chips are placed closely to each other and the components that they control specifically in the BTX in order to offer better and faster performance benefits.
- There are different types of BTX boards available based on their varied dimensions namely regular BTX boards, Micro BTX boards, Nano BTX boards and Pico BTX boards.
Understanding Balanced Technology Extended (BTX)
The BTX or Balanced Technology eXtended motherboard form factor was created with the intent to improve some of the issues such as power and excessive heat but these were acquiescent with the older circa 1996 ATX pattern.
However, it is not backward compatible with the ATX form factor even though it is standardized by Intel.
The first company to put it into practice was Gateway Inc and was followed by MPC and Dell.
Moreover, the 1st generation Mac Pro of Apple also used a few design elements of BTX in it but it was not completely BTX compliant.
They typically used a proprietary form factor.
There are lots of changes made in the design of the BTX form to offer more benefits and make the size smaller.
A few notable enhancements made in the design of this form factor are:
- A low profile with a reshaped backplane shaving inches off the height requirements that help the enterprises and system integrators while using blade servers or rack mounts
- A better thermal design with fewer obstacles and a much straighter path to ensure proper airflow to bring in better cooling efficiency overall
- Replacing the dedicated CPU fan with a large 12 cm case fan that draws fresh and cool air from outside directly in the case through the air duct thereby keeping the CPU cool
- The vertical mounting of the board on the left hand side which makes the fan or the graphics card heat sink to face upwards instead of facing in the way of the contiguous expansion card and
- Specific locations and mounting points of the hardware components in the structural design that reduces system latency as well as that between the components and also cuts down the physical strain given to the motherboard by capacitors, heat sinks, and other components while dealing with thermal and electrical regulations.
The Northbridge and Southbridge chips on the board are also placed very close to each other as well as to those particular hardware components that they control such as the Random Access Memory or RAM and the Central Processing Unit or the CPU.
These are also placed close to the different expansion ports such as:
- USB or Universal Serial Bus
- PS/2 or Personal System/2 and
- LPT or Line Print Terminal and others.
In order to reduce the size in the later version of the BTX boards, the heat sink or the thermal module is removed and is not attached to the motherboard solely anymore.
This is as opposed to the official specification which requires it to be attached to the Central Processing Unit.
Instead, it is now attached to the casing itself. This reduces the inertial load on the board due to its mass when there is some kind of mechanical shock.
This design change prevents the motherboard from being damaged.
This thermal module however comes in two types namely, Type I and Type II where the former is used in most of the cases and the latter is reserved for smaller computer systems.
However, the thermal modules have five specific parts in them such as:
- Heat sink
- Seal and
- A clip.
The four mounting holes also define the systemic interface between the chassis and the heat sink.
The distance between each of these holes is 4.4 inches by 2.275 inches or 55.79 mm by 111.76 mm.
This also means that it is required to have a certain amount of stiffness.
This arrangement, in technical terms, is called the Support and Retention Module in the specs.
This form factor is more scalable and offers significant benefits over the previous form factor specifications which include:
- Power delivery
- Heat dissipation
- Routing and board layout
- Structural integrity and
- High volume production costs.
A lot of new features are included in this system design that offers the benefits mentioned above which include and not limited to:
- Several configurations and sizes
- High-mass main board component support
- Higher number of expansion slots
- Improved electrical regulation and thermal management
- Reduced latency between the Southbridge and Northbridge chips
- Better component placements for back-panel I/O controllers
- Better cooling features and
- Lower height requirements.
This specific form factor however allows two different case heights such as:
- Type I cases that are typically 3.98 inches in height and support using regular expansion cards and
- Type II cases that are a bit smaller being 3 inches in height and the expansion slots would either use risers or have a low profile.
The design of the BTX allows it to use the same type of power connectors as is used by the ATX v2.0 which means that it has the similar +12 volt connector with 4 pins as well as a primary connector with 24 pins.
With all these design changes and features included in the BTX form factor, it offers much more flexibility in comparison to the ATX and others in the form factor family to the users, enterprises and the system integrators alike.
This is because this particular form factor comes in different board sizes and heights though the standard height is the same as the height specified in the form factor of the ATX family.
However, it offers a bit more than that which is an additional lower profile height which is fit to be used in those situations where the overall size of the system is needed to be reduced for a snug fit and optimal performance.
Size of BTX Motherboards
The sizes of the BTX motherboards gradually became smaller and smaller as compared to the original size of the regular BTX boards and are termed Micro, Nano and Pico, accordingly.
The actual specifications of each of the different variants of the BTX motherboards are as follows:
- The regular BTX motherboards measure 10.5 inches by 12.8 inches or 266.70 mm by 325.12 mm and have as many as 7 expansion slots in them
- The Micro BTX motherboards measure 10.5 inches by 10.4 inches or 266.70 mm by 264.16 mm and have 4 expansion slots in them
- The Nano BTX motherboards measure 10.5 inches by 8.8 inches or 266.70 mm by 223.52 mm and have 2 expansion slots in them and
- The Pico BTX motherboards measure 10.5 inches by 8.0 inches or 266.70 mm by 203.20 mm and have space for only 1 expansion slot to integrate in them.
As you can see it very clearly that the miniature forms of the BTX motherboards are different only in the width while the length of all is the same.
Out of all these types, the Pico motherboard is the smallest and is designed for riser card or half height applications with the common top half shared with other sizes.
It also has four mounting holes and may also have a 3.5 inch or a 5.25 inch drive bay just like the Micro BTX boards.
However, the larger regular BTX boards that are mounted by using ten mounting screws perform more like a mid-tower ATX case and will support different drive bays.
Will ATX Fit in BTX?
No it will not, though the BTX cases and motherboards look pretty much the same as the ATX analogs in terms of size and appearance, the ATX components will not fit in BTX because the components are physically not compatible.
However, initially for a couple of months after its launch, the BTX and ATX motherboards were so similar that it seemed it was possible to move from ATX to BTX and vice versa.
The main reason behind is that the BTX motherboard design was nothing different from the ATX motherboards only that it is turned upside down and the component location were different.
Later on, this particular form factor underwent big changes in order to make it into a mirror image of the ATX motherboards, and since the changes in the design of the motherboard, both these standards became incompatible with each other.
The BTX motherboards were now left side-right as compared to the earlier upside down designs of the board. This means that components are now installed on the opposite side of the case.
The most significant mismatch will be the BTX power supply units with the old ATX power supply units since these had an additional 4-pin 12 volt connector.
Therefore, in spite of the fact that the BTX motherboards were designed to replace the ATX motherboard, it is certainly not compatible with the older form factor.
It is all due to the redesigned and relocated thermal module in the motherboard which will not allow it to fit into an ATX case.
However, you can use a standard ATX power supply in a normal and tall case with BTX form factor.
Are BTX Motherboards Still Made?
No, these are not made any more. Just like the ATX, the BTX standard was also proposed by Intel but future developments have been cancelled by them since September 2006.
This is mainly done because they wanted to focus more on making low-power processors after encountering thermal and scaling issues with Pentium 4.
Moreover, the BTX form factor failed to gain widespread adoption in spite of several improvements made in its design in comparison to ATX and other related standards.
It is assumed that the most significant reason for BTX failing to gain the desired traction in the major markets is the introduction of a large number of CPUs, GPUs and chipsets as well as other more energy-efficient components.
Since these components consumed less power, they emitted less heat as well which eliminated the two major benefits of BTX. Another reason for its failure is the serious shortage of OEM adopters.
As a consequence of these two factors, the variety and availability of the BTX compatible components shrunk and became scarce.
In the beginning, it was only Dell and Gateway that manufactured computer systems based on this new standard but later on Fujitsu-Siemens, which is now Fujitsu, and HP also joined them with some of their own variants.
However, due to the shortage of the components, most of the manufacturers stuck to the ATX standard and continued to manufacture ATX products, some of them producing machines in bulk with ATX form factor.
So, with that this article on Balanced Technology eXtended standards has come to an end. With the information provided, you surely are now more knowledgeable about it than you were before you started reading it.
With such enhanced knowledge it will certainly help you a lot in making a choice, if you have to.