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Mini motherboards: the shape of the future?

Mini motherboards: the shape of the future?

Mini motherboards: the shape of the future?

So motherboard maker ECS has just announced their new mini-ITX motherboards, bringing the AMD Kabini platform to the desktop masses. It has a soldered-in SoC (system on a chip) AMD A6-5200 containing four 28nm Jaguar cores and a Radeon HD 8400 Graphics Core Next GPU.

There’s also a whole host of expansion opportunities on this tiny motherboard, is this motherboard the shape of our PCs of the future? Of course not, after all who would be crazy enough to build a mid-level gaming PC using only AMD Jaguar cores? Oh wait a minute.

But it still got me thinking about the future of desktop computers and whether we really need those chunky ATX motherboards.

This AMD Kabini-based motherboard/APU combo isn’t a particularly powerful setup, in fact, its core APU has at most half the computing power of the upcoming SoC processors in the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. But even this low-end motherboard has expansion slots that can happily accommodate SSDs and PCIe graphics cards, allowing for some decent low-end gaming performance.

Looking up the stack, though, such as Intel’s Z87 micro ATX or mini-ITX motherboards, you can plug in high-end CPUs and pair them with appropriate discrete graphics cards to rival just about any ATX-sized desktop in the market.

In the past, smaller size boards sacrificed performance to compress to this microscale. Since so much of the performance-critical hardware is based on the processor package rather than the motherboard chip, the motherboard itself doesn’t need much hardware to make a competitive gaming system.

Another thing about this motherboard that might give us a glimpse into the future of PC gaming is soldering processors. This is already on Intel’s Iris Pro Haswell CPU card and is only set to appear on the desktop in a BGA (Ball Grid Array) setup. This means it’s soldered to the board like the Kabini APU on the ECS motherboard above.

And, if reports are true, the far-flung 14nm Broadwell chips may also see many BGA products.

I personally think the days of the ATX form factor are numbered. You can already fit enough hardware on a mini motherboard for a decent overclock, if you insist on selling your soul to the multi-tentacle gods of multi-GPU gaming, then mATX boards like Gigabyte’s G1.Sniper M5, Will cater to your dual card fantasies.

But what do you think? What makes you stick with a standard ATX board for your next build, or are you drawn to tiny machines?

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Wilbert Wood
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