Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Mar 2017 20:48 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

Okay so I'm using this perfectly fine article as an excuse to bring something up, so bear with me here.

If you haven't been paying attention to the PC world lately, you might not have noticed that the lowly PC has seen a bit of a resurgence, with interesting designs and unique concepts. We saw this come to bear at CES just a couple of months ago, where PC makers such as Dell, Lenovo, and HP all trotted out interesting laptop designs.

But the laptop isn't the only PC that's seen a design-focused revival. The lowly desktop PC has transformed from a boring beige or black box into a centerpiece of a modern desk space. An all-in-one computer in 2017 is both functional as a computer and beautiful to appreciate as a piece of design.

This is only slightly related, but it's something that has been bugging me for years, and since I was confronted with it again this past weekend, I might as well get it out of my system: why is nobody innovating anymore in the field of building your own computer? So many aspects of building your own computer are completely crazy when you think about it, and it seems like nobody is really doing anything to fix them.

For instance, why haven't we come up with a way to increase the power you can draw from a PCI-E slot, so that graphics cards don't have to be plugged into the PSU directly with unwieldy power cables, with connectors in the most boneheaded location on the graphics card?

Why are we still using those horrible internal 9/10-pin connectors for USB, the front panel, audio, and so on? These are absolutely dreadful connectors, spread out all over the motherboard in illogical places forcing you to route cabling in unnatural ways, and the pins can easily bend. This is terrible 80s technology that we should've fixed by now.

And the most idiotic connector of them all, which is huge, stiff, almost impossible to plug in, remove, or route properly: the ATX power plug from the PSU to the motherboard. This thing is probably one of the worst connectors you can possibly find inside any computer, and the slot on the motherboard is in an incredibly illogical place considering most case layouts. To make matters worse, the CPU power connector sits at the top-left (usually) of the motherboard, so that's another unwieldy connector and cable with an unnatural route that you have to deal with. It's just terrible.

I like the inside of my computer to look as neat and tidy as possible - not only because it looks nice and is easier to clean, but also because it improves airflow, something quite important with today's processors and graphics cards. However, aging standards with terrible designs and horrible usability that wouldn't look out of place in a 1960s mainframe make that quite the challenge.

We've seen some minor improvements already these past ten years or so, with the advent of modular PSUs and the death of the dreadfully terrible IDE cables and Molex connectors, but more work is definitely needed. We need a replacement for the aging ATX standard, which delivers enough power to the motherboard for the board itself, video cards, and the processors and fans, through a single cable with a modern, easy-to-use connector. It'd be great if a replacement for SATA could also carry power, so that we no longer need to route individual power cables to our hard drives. We need to get rid of 9/10-pin connectors for things like USB and the front panel, and replace them with easy-to-use USB-like connectors.

And last but certainly not least: put all of these things in locations that make sense for the vast majority of cases in use today, so we can reduce the length of cables, save money in the process, and end up with cleaner, easier-to-use computers.

Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, case makers, Microsoft, and whomever else is involved here - sit around a damn table for once, and hash this stuff out. ATX is outdated garbage, and needs a modern replacement. ATX was introduced in 1995 - do you still want to use Windows 95? OS/2 Warp? Version 1.2.0 of the Linux kernel? System 7.5.1? Floppies? CRTs? Of course you don't!

Then why the hell are we still using ATX?

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Comment by Luminair
by Luminair on Mon 6th Mar 2017 21:25 UTC
Luminair
Member since:
2007-03-30

1) I'm pretty sure power cables need to be thick
2) Motherboard OEMs could use (and sometimes do use) regular USB connectors internally, but other standards are good too
3) See DAN A4-SFX to see what a modern desktop looks like. It supports a full size graphics card in a box smaller than an external GPU case which holds nothing but a GPU

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by Luminair
by timbit42 on Mon 6th Mar 2017 22:14 UTC in reply to "Comment by Luminair"
timbit42 Member since:
2013-03-22

This Mini-ITX case isn't as small but I love how the motherboard hangs from the top and the air flows from the bottom to the top: http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=333&area=en

Reply Score: 1

RE: Comment by Luminair
by fmaxwell on Tue 7th Mar 2017 10:26 UTC in reply to "Comment by Luminair"
fmaxwell Member since:
2005-11-13

1) I'm pretty sure power cables need to be thick


You are, of course, correct. Just for example, here are the specs of a Corsair RMX ATX power supply:

+3.3V@25A; +5V@25A; +12V@70.8A; -12V@0.8A; +15VSB@3A

You can't supply that kind of amperage without large connectors fed by massive amounts of copper.

Reply Score: 3

v RE[2]: Comment by Luminair
by egarland on Tue 7th Mar 2017 12:57 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by Luminair"
RE[3]: Comment by Luminair
by ssokolow on Tue 7th Mar 2017 15:15 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by Luminair"
ssokolow Member since:
2010-01-21

ATX power cables need to be thick.

Computers don't need thick power cables.

Look at a NUC. Look at a tablet. Look at a laptop. Computers need 2 wires, relatively thin. The way ATX delivers power is a mess. It's far more space efficient today to simply deliver 19-24V DC to the board and have it DC-DC voltage convert whatever it needs from that. Doing the conversion in the power supply is much less space and resource efficient and requires the supply to implement capabilities that are never used and run tons of basically pointless wires.


Previous commenters have already disproved that in several dozen ways.

The peak wattage requirements of Desktop PCs don't magically drop if you move the DC-DC conversion out of the PSU and the motherboard can only carry so much current, given that a thin PCB trace must be much wider than a fat wire to safely carry the same amount of current.

I have a desktop GPU that doesn't require an external power connector (a GeForce GTX750)... because I specifically decided I couldn't justify the cost of anything more powerful than a mobile GPU for the machine in question.

Edited 2017-03-07 15:19 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Comment by Luminair
by Alfman on Tue 7th Mar 2017 15:42 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by Luminair"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

egarland,

ATX power cables need to be thick.

Computers don't need thick power cables.

Look at a NUC. Look at a tablet. Look at a laptop.


All of these typically sacrifice performance and peripherals for lower energy consumption. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not an apples to apples comparison.

Computers need 2 wires, relatively thin. The way ATX delivers power is a mess. It's far more space efficient today to simply deliver 19-24V DC to the board and have it DC-DC voltage convert whatever it needs from that.


Or, why not just feed 120V or 240V with the thinnest wires possible and save 100% of the space that would be wasted by having a power supply at all? Right? Obviously I'm being sarcastic, but I'm trying to make a point that reducing complexity & wiring in and around the power supply needs to be measured against adding more complexity, expense, space, heat, fans, electrical noise, etc to other system components.

Doing the conversion in the power supply is much less space and resource efficient and requires the supply to implement capabilities that are never used and run tons of basically pointless wires.



Perhaps ATX does not hit the right balance, and you may be right about useless voltages, however a strait up 24V as you suggest would just end up shifting complexity IMHO.

Linear regulators are simple, but since they achieve lower voltage through resistance, most of the energy from your 24V supply would be lost to heat (and require heatsink/fan). If you propose using a buck regulator instead, you'll end up needing to build many mini power supplies, and I'm inclined to think that the sum of all these is less efficient, more expensive, and more failure prone than wiring up a primary power supply.

Any money saved by simplifying the primary power supply would likely result in more money lost on more expensive system components.

Reply Score: 4

RE[3]: Comment by Luminair
by Luminair on Tue 7th Mar 2017 19:29 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by Luminair"
Luminair Member since:
2007-03-30

I feel like this would be a new motherboard standard that shunts $50 of PSU components into $100 of motherboard components

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Comment by Luminair
by oiaohm on Wed 8th Mar 2017 08:50 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by Luminair"
oiaohm Member since:
2009-05-30

This is where it gets interesting. Open compute Decathlete Server Motherboards that are x86 like the everything else only have +12V rails with a ground from the power-supply. None of this 3.3V or 5v or 15V.

Reduces complexity of tracks motherboard in fact down stepping the +5 and 3.3V on the motherboard anyhow. Because ATX motherboards end up having power filters on every rail anyhow because power supplies are not always good.

So there is really no logical reasons to keep the ATX plug with the boards that have already been made.

Remember the higher the voltage lower the amps the more current you get through a cable.

So a 3.3V 25A and 5V 25A and a 12V 25A are all about the same size cable.
3.3V is 82.5W
5V is 125W
12 is 300W
All over the same cable size.

The multi voltages in the ATX power cable trace to before we had highly effective and compact dc-dc converter circuits so required voltages had to come off a transformer in the power-supply.

So yes the power cable could be simplified a lot. The power supply could also be simplified a lot.

The issue is the circuits to make sure that 3.3 volts and 5 volts are correct on the motherboard are in fact bigger and more heat generating than putting dc-dc converters on the motherboard to provide those voltages. So when Decathlete Server Motherboards design as done they went it was pointless to have those voltages coming out of the power-supply. It 12V+ where dc-dc converting starts being bigger than regulating.

15V in ATX is also fairly much pointless in new systems that are PCI bus or better. -12V and +5 is pointless on systems that are pure PCI Express.

Why is PCI Express 5V pointless the PCI Expresses voltages are +12V +3.3V and ground.

Then you look at ram DDR3 used 1.5 and DDR4 uses 1.2 with a 2.5V. So you are going to DC-DC covert this anyhow. Then you get to your CPU voltages and you are going to DC-DC convert that again anyhow.

The reality is most of modern motherboards don't run on voltages that come from power supply.

So this bring the big question why are we still using ATX power supplies when we are just DC-DC converting on the motherboard anyhow. Even 3.3 volt for PCI-e is iffy to come into motherboard by power supply cable. Having to run the 3.3 volts cross the board to the PCI-e slots is a self a problem when you could have a dc-dc converter sitting off the 12 volt rails the PCI-e slots need.

Getting rid of the ATX board might be hard. But the ATX power-supply really does not suit how modern boards work.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Comment by Luminair
by aliquis on Thu 9th Mar 2017 01:48 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by Luminair"
aliquis Member since:
2005-07-23

The upside down ATX = BTX is better.

I would kinda be ok simply with case fixing the ATX board upside down though.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Comment by Luminair
by daedalus on Fri 10th Mar 2017 10:53 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Comment by Luminair"
daedalus Member since:
2011-01-14

Yes - better placed connectors, and reversed expansion cards so that the heat can rise from their hot side are the two biggest things there. It's a pity it didn't catch on. Not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than ATX, which is still carrying legacy baggage from AT times...

Reply Score: 2

Why slots?
by oblivious on Mon 6th Mar 2017 21:31 UTC
oblivious
Member since:
2016-03-21

"PCI-E slot, so that graphics cards don't have to be plugged into the PSU directly"

Why not remove the slots instead? And have all card be connected via cables (power+data in one ofc) so that we can put them where we want.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Why slots?
by Luminair on Tue 7th Mar 2017 19:17 UTC in reply to "Why slots?"
Luminair Member since:
2007-03-30

That's a fine idea. Cables which carry pcie do exist and are expensive. You can use them if you choose!

Reply Score: 2

RE: Why slots?
by bobf0648 on Wed 8th Mar 2017 12:49 UTC in reply to "Why slots?"
bobf0648 Member since:
2014-06-09

because data and address lines need to be short.
power doesn't care

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: Why slots?
by oblivious on Wed 8th Mar 2017 12:51 UTC in reply to "RE: Why slots?"
oblivious Member since:
2016-03-21

Umm.. Im thinking speed of light/electron etc should be very minimal at these distances.

Reply Score: 1

RE[3]: Why slots?
by stestagg on Thu 9th Mar 2017 12:20 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Why slots?"
stestagg Member since:
2006-06-03

The signal propagation rate for copper is ~300 000 km/s.

At 4ghz, this translates to about 7 cm per cycle, so track/cable length really starts to matter at these speeds

Reply Score: 2

Physics and generality mainly
by Flatland_Spider on Mon 6th Mar 2017 21:50 UTC
Flatland_Spider
Member since:
2006-09-01

Because there is a box, literal and figurative, that everything has to fit into.

There is two places that needs significant attention, it's the mini-PCs like the NUC which require a power brick and an alternative to the ATX sized PSUs.

Apple can integrate a PSU into a NUC sized, so I don't see what the problem is for everyone else.

SFX is a good attempt at reducing the size of the PSU, but it's not widely accepted or available.

why haven't we come up with a way to increase the power you can draw from a PCI-E slot


I'm pretty sure drawing that much power would melt the board or the board would require too many layers to make it profitable. There are actual technical reasons, but I'm not an EE.

Aside from GPUs, there isn't much else that needs that much power. Phi cards might need the power, but that is two examples out of everything that plugs into PCIe slots.

Why are we still using those horrible internal 9/10-pin connectors for USB, the front panel, audio, and so on?


It's the most generic way to interface with the physical buttons and interfaces, people know how to work with it, and it's space efficient.

This is really fine. A motherboard is a generic piece of hardware, and as such it needs a generic interface. Pins are the way to do it.

Cases and MBs have gotten better over the years at standardizing the pins and connectors. Many MBs will come with a block that bundles everything together and plugs directly into the pins.

At the end of the day, you're still buying a generic piece of hardware, and it needs to cover as many bases as possible to be useful to the widest variety of people.

And the most idiotic connector of them all, which is huge, stiff, almost impossible to plug in, remove, or route properly: the ATX power plug from the PSU to the motherboard.


I'm pretty sure the ATX power plug is due to the physics of electricity, and not necessarily the will of the engineers to design something unwieldy and obtuse.

The connection location makes sense. It's usually closest to the CPU, and until recently, most cases had the PSU at the top of the case.

I like the inside of my computer to look as neat and tidy as possible


Higher end cases are getting better about leaving space behind the MB tray to route cables.

Buy Dell, or customize it. The OEMs have the ability to do lots of custom stuff, and anyone with the skill could do something similar.

However, most people don't have the skill to do lots of custom work. For example, people can buy kit cars and create something that is faster then any factory car of similar price, but most people don't have the skill, or time ;) , to build a car. Even if they do, they don't necessarily have the same build and designs standards as say Porsche or Honda.

It'd be great if a replacement for SATA could also carry power, so that we no longer need to route individual power cables to our hard drives.[q]

SATA is being replaced with M.2, which plugs directly into a socket on the MB.

[q]Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, case makers, Microsoft, and whomever else is involved here - sit around a damn table for once, and hash this stuff out.


Intel introduced BTX, AMD introduced DTX, MS makes software, and Nvidia doesn't care because they sell ARM chips. BTX and DTX were attempts to replace the ATX standard, and they both die unceremoniously. OEMs like Dell and Apple can do weird and wild things because they sell the whole stack, and they can stock 10 years worth of parts. Everyone else is selling parts that meet the lowest common denominator in order to be applicable to the widest audience.

There has been significant evolution of the ecosystem in the last ten years, and there is more experimentation going on then every before. Progress is just slow, and it's dependent on there being a viable market for the hardware.

Reply Score: 9

RE: Physics and generality mainly
by bhtooefr on Tue 7th Mar 2017 00:55 UTC in reply to "Physics and generality mainly"
bhtooefr Member since:
2009-02-19

I'm pretty sure the ATX power plug is due to the physics of electricity, and not necessarily the will of the engineers to design something unwieldy and obtuse.


Yes, you're limited on how much current you can safely carry over a pair of pins. However, one problem with ATX is that it was designed in an era where the power supply was expected to generate all necessary voltage rails... and then voltage regulation ended up having to move to the motherboard with Pentium MMX and II anyway, and the Pentium 4 went to +12 volt as the source for CPU power (with an additional connector to handle the additional current).

Business desktops have gone the other way - something like an OptiPlex 9020 has just an (IIRC) 8-pin connector from the power supply to the motherboard, and it's +12 only, even the standby voltage is 12 volts. Any other power needs are regulated down by the motherboard, and even drive power is taken off the motherboard.

BTX and DTX were attempts to replace the ATX standard, and they both die unceremoniously.


BTX was absolutely an attempt to replace the ATX standard, but it had two issues. The first issue was that the board was mirrored for no good reason, affecting compatibility with high-end graphics cards late in the BTX era. The second issue was that BTX's requirements for RAM location were designed around having a northbridge, making performance worse on designs with an integrated memory controller on the CPU (RAM had to be further away than ATX designs allowed, limiting speed).

The big benefit of BTX, however, was its cooling architecture... and the aftermarket PC world copied that, with tower coolers. Sure, a tower cooler on a rearward-mounted-socket on an ATX board doesn't cool as well as the BTX layout (which is designed to cool downstream components as well), but it does still work.

DTX, on the other hand, was far more complementary to the ATX family of standards. DTX is literally just Micro-ATX that isn't as wide - 8" wide instead of 9.6" wide. Still 9.6" tall, and still follows ATX and Micro-ATX mounting conventions. Similarly, Mini-DTX is 8" wide Mini-ITX (as opposed to 6.7" wide, but still 6.7" tall). Both failed, but you can stick DTX and Mini-DTX boards into Micro-ATX cases without a care in the world, there's some low-end "Micro-ATX" boards that fit into the few DTX cases that exist, and Mini-ITX boards will fit into every Mini-DTX and DTX case. (My current gaming rig is actually built into a case that explicitly has a Mini-DTX-compatible configuration, the NCASE M1.)

And, for completeness, let's bring up ITX (something very, very similar to Flex-ATX, which also didn't take off very well) and Mini-ITX (which very much took off, to the point that Intel adopted it as an ATX-derived standard).

Edited 2017-03-07 00:56 UTC

Reply Score: 3

Here's why in the hell...
by SitrucKram on Mon 6th Mar 2017 21:51 UTC
SitrucKram
Member since:
2013-12-02

It works. It's cheap. It's safe.

Seriously, though. It's not like there haven't been advancements to the standard since 1995. We are now on version 2.4 of the ATX standard.

Edited 2017-03-06 21:52 UTC

Reply Score: 5

Comment by ssokolow
by ssokolow on Mon 6th Mar 2017 21:54 UTC
ssokolow
Member since:
2010-01-21

Back in 2004, Intel (creator of ATX) did create a successor with superior space efficiency, airflow, and structural strength for heavy components like heat sinks.

I still remember watching it with optimistic curiosity when one of my computer magazines did a piece on it.

It's called BTX (Balanced Technology eXtended) and a combination of limited OEM interest and a shift to cooler-running components (which dropped OEM interest even further) killed it off.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BTX_(form_factor)

I suspect that, nowadays, nobody with the power to shepherd such a standard sees it as worth the investment.

(In early versions of the BTX spec, you could install an ATX mobo in a BTX case (and vice-versa) simply by turning it upside-down. Even that nod to supplies of existing stock didn't generate enough OEM interest.)

Edited 2017-03-06 21:56 UTC

Reply Score: 5

RE: Comment by ssokolow
by Delgarde on Mon 6th Mar 2017 22:32 UTC in reply to "Comment by ssokolow"
Delgarde Member since:
2008-08-19

I suspect that, nowadays, nobody with the power to shepherd such a standard sees it as worth the investment.


Agreed. Both in business and home use, laptops (and tablets) have become ubiquitous... desktops remain the domain of office workers and hobbyists. And the former are all using pre-built Dell boxes anyway, so it's really just the hobbyists, the gamers, who would care about nicer wiring in their windowed case.

And while that's an important market segment, it's not big enough to justify the pain of major compatibility-breaking spec changes...

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by ssokolow
by kriston on Wed 8th Mar 2017 16:31 UTC in reply to "Comment by ssokolow"
kriston Member since:
2007-04-11

Yeah, only Dell adopted it.

It was also hard to fit AMD processors in it due to how long the board traces were. I have a BTX Dell with an AMD processor and it's weird inside how the processor is positioned to keep the board traces as short as possible.

Reply Score: 1

Eliminating power wires
by Alfman on Mon 6th Mar 2017 22:02 UTC
Alfman
Member since:
2011-01-28

The issue with mainboard power is that PCB traces aren't good for carrying the high currents that can be needed by PC peripherals, especially if you have a lot of them. It's not good for EMI either.

Graphics cards or other devices with insufficient power will cause failures themselves or to other devices. I've seen plenty of intermittent crashes that miraculously go away when a better power supply is used. Recently I fixed a glitchy USB device by attaching it to an external power supply.

Rather than running power lines through the motherboard, maybe manufacturers could find a way to integrate power cabling into the chassis itself. Would that address your criticism of clutter and airflow?


I'd kind of like to see PCs evolve to something a bit more high tech than air fans though, maybe a mini-compressor with liquid CO2 or something, superconductivity could open up huge opportunities for home computing ;)


It may be a bit messy, but a very low tech way to keep everything cool is just to submerge the PC in a mineral oil aquarium. I'd previously heard that you could submerge everything except for the power supply, but in this video they submerge that as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtufuXLvOok

Reply Score: 2

RE: Eliminating power wires
by acobar on Tue 7th Mar 2017 01:18 UTC in reply to "Eliminating power wires"
acobar Member since:
2005-11-15

Most good power supplies are modular, it is people's fault that they don't want to pay for them. Same happens with good computer cases, they have places where you can route your cables and make the whole thing look "clean" and, again, people don't want to pay for them.

There is a price for almost anything we want to achieve. I don't care too much about the internals (well, not if I can keep a good air flow inside, somehow) but saving on power supplies is probably the biggest mistake most people that assemble their own computers do, they not only gives you lower electricity bills when compared to cheap ones, they produce less noise and less heat (what may help decrease the stress of all components inside the case).

Oh well, lets go back to complain about things we really don't understand that well (Alfman, this is, obviously, not directed toward you).

Reply Score: 3

RE: Eliminating power wires
by unclefester on Wed 8th Mar 2017 05:10 UTC in reply to "Eliminating power wires"
unclefester Member since:
2007-01-13

T
It may be a bit messy, but a very low tech way to keep everything cool is just to submerge the PC in a mineral oil aquarium. I'd previously heard that you could submerge everything except for the power supply, but in this video they submerge that as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtufuXLvOok



Pretty stupid IMO. You end up with a oil soaked fire hazard.

Ultra pure water is used to cool some super computers. It has almost zero electrical coductivity.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Eliminating power wires
by Alfman on Wed 8th Mar 2017 08:34 UTC in reply to "RE: Eliminating power wires"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

unclefester,

Pretty stupid IMO. You end up with a oil soaked fire hazard.



The auto combusition temperature of mineral oil is over 500F, it's the same oil they use in extremely high voltage & current power transformers:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformer_oil

Consider that it takes a lot of heat to bring a pan of oil to ignition temperature even with a red hot heating element (ie the kitchen stove). A PC will auto-shutdown well before reaching such critical temperatures. And if you were worried about it you could always install a thermal fuse failsafe to cut the power.

Mind you, the whole oil setup seems heavy, highly messy and impractical to me, so I wouldn't do it either, but never-the-less it seems like an effective alternative to conventional air cooling methods within the PC.

Edited 2017-03-08 08:36 UTC

Reply Score: 2

Form nit picking
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Mon 6th Mar 2017 22:05 UTC
Bill Shooter of Bul
Member since:
2006-07-14

For the most part, the more important aspect is performance and cost. The answer to most of your questions is a combination of "that would degrade performance unless we went crazy on components and jacked up the cost".

Most people don't care. Not enough self builders willing to pay enough to make it worth any industry standard group's time. So standards are more inline with keeping higher performance at lower costs, to keep dell, hp, lenovo, etc in business.

Reply Score: 3

Modules
by timbit42 on Mon 6th Mar 2017 22:33 UTC
timbit42
Member since:
2013-03-22

We could have standard sized modules and the case could be a backplane of slots with all the power lines. The PSU, CPU, graphics card, SSD could all use the same sized modules that plug into the backplane. Perhaps there could be 2 or 3 different module sizes for smaller components or for building smaller systems.

Reply Score: 1

Still want to use CRTs?
by shakeshuck on Mon 6th Mar 2017 22:47 UTC
shakeshuck
Member since:
2011-03-21

Er, actually, yes!

Both my main monitor and my TV are CRTs!

I am a bit of an unusual case, though. I have an odd condition which means I can't look at LCD screens for any period of time, otherwise my vision goes squiffy.

I don't know what I'm going to do when they go pop. ;)

Edited 2017-03-06 22:50 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE: Still want to use CRTs?
by jgd42 on Tue 7th Mar 2017 00:02 UTC in reply to "Still want to use CRTs?"
jgd42 Member since:
2013-02-14

I don't know what I'm going to do when they go pop. ;)

I assume you're referring to the CRT popping, not your eyes. ;)

How about a projector?

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: Still want to use CRTs?
by shakeshuck on Tue 7th Mar 2017 08:30 UTC in reply to "RE: Still want to use CRTs?"
shakeshuck Member since:
2011-03-21

Mmmh - Haven't tried that approach.

I do like my photography, too - I don't know if projectors are anything like correct colour rendition?

I guess beggars can't be choosers, though, right? ;)

Reply Score: 1

ATX is still around because of
by fwmiller on Mon 6th Mar 2017 22:56 UTC
fwmiller
Member since:
2005-11-10

thermals basically. While there are a variety of smaller form factors, the NUC being the latest, the bottom line, you have to bleed the temperature rise somehow. The easiest thing to do is to provide fans and volume. You just can't build a high-performance machine with a good graphics card in smaller than Mini-ITX and that's pushing it.

Reply Score: 1

Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

thermals basically. While there are a variety of smaller form factors, the NUC being the latest, the bottom line, you have to bleed the temperature rise somehow. The easiest thing to do is to provide fans and volume. You just can't build a high-performance machine with a good graphics card in smaller than Mini-ITX and that's pushing it.


I'm not talking about the size of the board or the case. I'm talking about the outdated connectors and cables, which are horrible to use.

ATX isn't just about size; it's also about the power delivery and related issues.

Reply Score: 1

SitrucKram Member since:
2013-12-02

The power cables really don't bother me much. I know what each pin does, and I know what I'm buying. Switching power supplies really shouldn't be improved upon too much - they are efficient and cheap at this point.

I'd much rather see a breakthrough on SATA buses, PCI-e cards that can actually saturate the bus with data, more integrated chips, better board components... The point I'm trying to make is that R&D focus shouldn't be on making a new motherboard standard. They already have a good design. Let's focus on making the machines better.

Reply Score: 1

RE: ATX is still around because of
by daedalus on Fri 10th Mar 2017 10:56 UTC in reply to "ATX is still around because of"
daedalus Member since:
2011-01-14

ATX has terrible thermals as far as expansion cards are concerned. Think about a standard PC tower case - all the cards go in upside down, i.e., the heat-generating components are on the underside of the card. That's a ridiculous way of doing things, and is only the case because PCI was originally designed to fit the same space as ISA slots, and therefore had to be turned upside down.

Reply Score: 2

Sign me up....
by brostenen on Mon 6th Mar 2017 23:48 UTC
brostenen
Member since:
2007-01-16

Been into computers since early 80's. Give me free breakfast and lunch (so I will not have to give that a single thought), access to a workplace and all possible modern top of the line components, 100% freedom to do it my way and the complete industry to back my request for stuff to work with.

And I will design the hell out of it and finish it in one week.

Not joking. All I want is the credit for doing it. (and the free meals)

Reply Score: 2

RE: Sign me up....
by Delgarde on Tue 7th Mar 2017 00:45 UTC in reply to "Sign me up...."
Delgarde Member since:
2008-08-19

Give me free breakfast and lunch (so I will not have to give that a single thought), access to a workplace and all possible modern top of the line components, 100% freedom to do it my way and the complete industry to back my request for stuff to work with.

Is that all? ;)

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Sign me up....
by brostenen on Tue 7th Mar 2017 17:56 UTC in reply to "RE: Sign me up...."
brostenen Member since:
2007-01-16

Yup... That's it.
It will be fun to make, and if the industry chooses to use the design, I will be happy. Plenty enough for me.

Reply Score: 1

Comment by ilovebeer
by ilovebeer on Tue 7th Mar 2017 00:30 UTC
ilovebeer
Member since:
2011-08-08

Thom, there's plenty about PC design that I wish were different also. But, there shouldn't be any mystery as to why there's little or no push for a big overhaul at this point. There just isn't any real need. Even if there were, such an overhaul would still need to pass a Cost-Benefit analysis, which likely wouldn't happen. PC's aren't something that are in constant adjustment. You plug everything in, close the case, and probably don't open it again until some component dies and needs replacing. Do it matter what it looks like, nope. Does it matter if the power connector is stiff? Nope. Does it matter that power hungry video cards need connecting directly to the PSU? Nope. Does it matter internal usb almost always uses a 9-pin header connector? Nope. So, sure you could change that to be cooler or more optimized in some way, but at the end of the day the usb ports will provide exactly the same capability and be used in exactly the same way so why re-invent the wheel at this point?

I don't expect to see any big design changes until something major is introduced like new composite materials used in electronics which dramatically alter conductivity/thermals, or a move away from silicon-based stuff. Something new that demands redesign. Who knows though, I'm just a user who might be short-sighted on this subject.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by ilovebeer
by Priest on Tue 7th Mar 2017 05:12 UTC in reply to "Comment by ilovebeer"
Priest Member since:
2006-05-12

A lot has changed with the design though.

1. Network cards and modems were often a separate PCI card instead of being built into the motherboard

2. Onboard graphics were a chipset on the motherboard instead of being built into the CPU

3. External PCI sound cards were popular and now very few people use them

4. Before SATA we had huge very ugly IDE ribbon cables that took up tons of room and airflow.

5. Cases had CD rom and floppy drives and now have neither.

6. hard drives were the only way to store data and now we have smaller SSD's.

7. Even SSD's are smaller as MB's are starting to embrace the M.2 port.

8. Onboard graphics are getting better to the point that 1080p games are passable without dedicated GPU's

The personal computer has seen massive changes in the last 10 years but ATX motherboards and full/mid sized towers are still a common thing.

It does seem like people are just recently trending to Mini-ITX cases and like small form factor (SFX) PSU's but it's still kinda niche. The lower power footprint of this last batch of GPU's is making SFX PSU's a more attractive option recently.


Everything around ATX has changed drastically but I agree with Thom that I think we could see some better standards here. With modular PSU's you could even keep the same PSU and swap just swap out the modular connectors or relocate them on the motherboard.

If I can power my entire MBP off the tiny and thin little magsafe cable that's super easy to connect then why do all of my PC components need those huge difficult connectors? Individually they are all pulling less power than the combined power of my MBP and the magsafe cable is amazing if you have never seen one. It's very simple and elegant and may be Apples's greatest achievement.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by ilovebeer
by karunko on Tue 7th Mar 2017 07:15 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by ilovebeer"
karunko Member since:
2008-10-28

If I can power my entire MBP off the tiny and thin little magsafe cable that's super easy to connect then why do all of my PC components need those huge difficult connectors?

Not to nitpick (okay, just a little) but the components with the "difficult connectors" are inside the case so, strictly speaking, there is still just one power cord going to the PSU. Okay, the cable is thicker, but it's hardly fair to compare the power requirements of a MBP with that of even a modest desktop PC -- let alone a fully loaded rig that can draw in excess of 500 W for the GPUs alone.

And just to stay on topic: I don't have any actual numbers, but my guess is that most people buy pre assembled PCs anyway and don't know/care, while those used to put together their own are not that scared of cabling and, sometimes, connectors in awkward places. It's already been mentioned, but the situation is not that dire if you're willing to pay for a good motherboard, case and modular PSU -- but yes, putting together a mini-ITX system definitely requires a bit of planning! ;-)


RT.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by ilovebeer
by acobar on Tue 7th Mar 2017 16:12 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by ilovebeer"
acobar Member since:
2005-11-15

If I can power my entire MBP off the tiny and thin little magsafe cable

Aside from the fact that notebooks are not power guzzlers, you do understand that from your outlet you get 110 or 220 V ac, don't you? If your system draws 5 A your wire does not need to be that thick. Now, contrast that with the usual 5 or 12 V cc connections you have inside your case. Now you know why some GPU's may need one or two six-wires connections and why you have to connect a 4-wire plug on your motherboard close to the CPU.

If things could be made cheaper, even only by cents, while keeping quality and safety, it would be already done (OK, to some degree).

The good news is, the performance/power have been increasing all these years for CPUs and GPUs, nobody is going to bother putting optical drives on computers and mechanical hard-drives are going fast the dodo way. Your desire of thin things you be here sooner than most of us think.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by ilovebeer
by ilovebeer on Tue 7th Mar 2017 16:31 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by ilovebeer"
ilovebeer Member since:
2011-08-08

Yes, PC's have evolved over the years but everything you've listed amounts to shuffling things around and bolt-on additions. None of it can be describe as `major PC redesign`. You have the same basic design parameters. Part of that is limitations of the materials used to build PC's. If you look at the guts of a PC from 10-20 years ago, and look at the guts of a PC from today, much of it will look the same and follow the same design path.

My previous message wasn't talking about incremental updates, bolt-on's, etc. I was talking about a truly new design that takes PC's in an obvious different direction.

Reply Score: 2

Notes
by Treza on Tue 7th Mar 2017 00:44 UTC
Treza
Member since:
2006-01-11

- ATX is build for compatibility with the old PC slots (for ISA, VESA, PCI, PCIexpress) and is a major reason for the poor mechanical design.

- There is a limit to the current available through edge connectors (which are cheap), it is cheaper to use cables than have extra thick copper layers and special connectors in the mainboard PCB for few high-power loads.

- There are already many many standards of PC boards for embedded computers (COMexpress for example)

- Industrial standards are now using a single 12V power supply (and eventually a standby power input). ATX 3.3V, 5V, -5V, -12V is totally obsolete.

For me, the main reason of ATX persistance is that it is cheap. There are better solutions, better connectors, more rugged, some allow hot plug, and are used in servers.

SATA connectors for signals and power are probably the worst.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Notes
by acobar on Tue 7th Mar 2017 01:49 UTC in reply to "Notes"
acobar Member since:
2005-11-15

ATX 3.3V, 5V, -5V, -12V is totally obsolete.

So, motherboards are going to have another converter to power the USB devices?

Reply Score: 3

Worst connector? Ha!
by Anachronda on Tue 7th Mar 2017 00:55 UTC
Anachronda
Member since:
2007-04-18

<blockquote>This thing is probably one of the worst connectors you can possibly find inside any computer</blockquote>
<p>Nope. Ohio Scientific Challenger 4P (I think that was the model). The backplane was 100-pin Molex connectors. Took a screwdriver to pry a card out of the backplane.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Worst connector? Ha!
by shotsman on Tue 7th Mar 2017 08:15 UTC in reply to "Worst connector? Ha!"
shotsman Member since:
2005-07-22

you guys really have not been around long enough.
I still have my power wirewrap tool for patching backplanes.
My first job as an apprentice was to wire up a 6ft cabinet. This was for a computer (1970). All the logic modules were on small PCB's that were connected via miles and miles of wire on the backplane (i.e, the inside of the 6ft tall cabinet).
That was a nightmare. Finding one wrongly wired up connection was an absolute horror. Testing the cabinet took as long as it did to wire it.
DEC under the Olsen brothers started out making small logic PCB's. This was sort of like a giant assembly of these. This all went into a Boeing 727 Flight Simulator.
The UK National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park has some lovely old computers including a Cray-1. Fiddling with an ATX is childs play when compared to that.

Reply Score: 5

CBBBAP
by Bringbackanonposting on Tue 7th Mar 2017 01:56 UTC
Bringbackanonposting
Member since:
2005-11-16

I think most share the same view, wouldn't it be nice...
The answers should be obvious, too many vendors, race to the bottom pricing, and so on. Vendors make changes if there is a dire need for change, usually technical reasons, not for the hell of it. That is something that Apple has the power to do and make it stick sadly. The "next best thing" may have the power to make a change in form factor so other vendors are forced to follow. Another way is to make change with backward compatibility. Otherwise it's ATX for the forseeable future.

Reply Score: 2

Amiga A4000 and Atari STs
by leech on Tue 7th Mar 2017 06:00 UTC
leech
Member since:
2006-01-10

Sure is nice working on my Amiga A4000D and Atari STs, where they don't really need all that much air flow because the components for the most part remain cool instead of spreading heat everywhere.

My biggest problem with modern day computers is that your really have to feed them tons of power and throw in plenty of air flow. I have to crank up my speakers so I am not hearing my Asus Strix 1080 GTX when I game...Oddly, the 980 GTX version didn't have the issue...

I'm hoping one of these days the CPU/GPU gets to the point where they are so powerful that they end up going with less power/heat. Now there is still too much of a trade off.

For the most part though, as others have said already, ATX is really most only reserved for custom built desktops, I have seen a few HP desktops that have non-ATX connectors and much like the Atari ST and Amiga, the power for floppy / hard drives comes up from the motherboard.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Amiga A4000 and Atari STs
by karunko on Tue 7th Mar 2017 13:12 UTC in reply to "Amiga A4000 and Atari STs"
karunko Member since:
2008-10-28

I have to crank up my speakers so I am not hearing my Asus Strix 1080 GTX when I game...Oddly, the 980 GTX version didn't have the issue...

There are quieter cards, though (http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-nvidia-geforce-gtx-1080-gr...). Mine is a GeForce GTX 1080 AMP! from ZOTAC and it doesn't seem loud at all -- but maybe just because I was using two R9 290X in CrossFireX before! ;-)


RT.

Edited 2017-03-07 13:12 UTC

Reply Score: 2

I can't agree more.
by egarland on Tue 7th Mar 2017 06:29 UTC
egarland
Member since:
2005-08-05

ATX is an outdated mess.

The power connector is definitely a huge disaster. Look at how NUCs and laptops connect to their power supplies. 2 wires. That's it. The whole thing functions just fine. DC-DC conversion for all the weird voltages take up less space than the connector we use to pull them in from the power supply these days. Don't believe me.. look at a NUC and imagine it with an ATX power connector on the board. It's obvious. Manufacturers just gave up on improving so here we are.

I'm waiting for someone to release a NUC sized device that will dock with an external video card. Have the video card supply the computer with power and airflow instead of the other way around. Modern desktops should be 1/20th of the size they are today and far cheaper but ATX is standing in the way.

Reply Score: 0

RE: I can't agree more.
by fmaxwell on Tue 7th Mar 2017 12:38 UTC in reply to "I can't agree more."
fmaxwell Member since:
2005-11-13

The power connector is definitely a huge disaster. Look at how NUCs and laptops connect to their power supplies. 2 wires. That's it.

That's just an AC adapter that provides a single DC voltage. The rest of the power supply is inside the case. Your CPU, GPU, RAM, etc. is not running off of 19.5V.

The whole thing functions just fine. DC-DC conversion for all the weird voltages take up less space than the connector we use to pull them in from the power supply these days. Don't believe me.. look at a NUC and imagine it with an ATX power connector on the board. It's obvious. Manufacturers just gave up on improving so here we are.

That's as silly as saying that lightweight, narrow bicycle tires, when compared with car tires, prove that car "manufacturers just gave up on improving so here we are."

What good is your NUC's 65 watt AC adapter going to do for a desktop system with a 90 watt CPU, 180 watt GPU, 16GB of RAM, several hard drives/SSDs, half a dozen USB ports, etc.?

Modern desktops should be 1/20th of the size they are today and far cheaper but ATX is standing in the way.

That's a pretty bold statement, So how about sharing your credentials and experience? Do you work as an EE? Do you have a degree in electrical engineering? My decades of engineering haven't given me an understanding of how to shrink a modern desktop by a factor of 20.

Edited 2017-03-07 12:41 UTC

Reply Score: 4

RE: I can't agree more.
by gilboa on Wed 8th Mar 2017 11:22 UTC in reply to "I can't agree more."
gilboa Member since:
2005-07-06

ATX is an outdated mess.

The power connector is definitely a huge disaster. Look at how NUCs and laptops connect to their power supplies. 2 wires. That's it. The whole thing functions just fine. DC-DC conversion for all the weird voltages take up less space than the connector we use to pull them in from the power supply these days. Don't believe me.. look at a NUC and imagine it with an ATX power connector on the board. It's obvious. Manufacturers just gave up on improving so here we are.
I'm waiting for someone to release a NUC sized device that will dock with an external video card. Have the video card supply the computer with power and airflow instead of the other way around. Modern desktops should be 1/20th of the size they are today and far cheaper but ATX is standing in the way.


How can you possibly compare of a 50-60w device to 500w (if not 900w) PC?
While ATM must account for 1 (or two) 100+w CPUs (if not 145w), 150-300w GPU(s), large amount of memory (which dissipate a lot of heat) and rotating / flash drives, a NUC must only account for a 28 CPU, no GPU and a single flash device.

Far worse, while ATX machine can usually run at a 100% load for weeks, the NUC will usually throttle down after a couple of minutes of high-load.

- Gilboa

Reply Score: 2

Really there are other motherboard designs
by oiaohm on Tue 7th Mar 2017 09:48 UTC
oiaohm
Member since:
2009-05-30

http://www.opencompute.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Decathlete...

This is open-compute Decethete board v1
http://www.opencompute.org/wiki/Server/SpecsAndDesigns
There is a v2 that is a different layout.

Are these kinda overkill for a desktop computer truly yes. As they are designed for 2 cpu chips and two power supplies.

Thinking these are designed for 1U to 2U form factor they are very compact.

Yes the Decethete systems do have a lot simpler power cable to motherboards.

So there are groups in the high end server world who hate ATX and have got unified to make replacement.

Currently who is going to put in the effort to have enough money to get a new desktop motherboard off the ground that is universal.

ATX has been the board of the home builder for a long time. Mostly because its standard and everyone supplies the same kind of things.

Its not like companies like Dell and HP want people to be able to upgrade all their machines instead of buying new ones. There have been machines with odd motherboards for basically for ever.

Now if there is a replacement to the ATX board I would love to see it to be open compute class where every thing about the board is published and vendors get to compete who can be cost effective at making exactly the same thing.

Reply Score: 2

Comment by fmaxwell
by fmaxwell on Tue 7th Mar 2017 11:33 UTC
fmaxwell
Member since:
2005-11-13

For instance, why haven't we come up with a way to increase the power you can draw from a PCI-E slot...


Ohm's Law.

The GEFORCE GTX 1080 Ti will require 250watts of power. That's about 21 amps at 12V. So let's say the power has to go six inches from the supply connector to the PCI-E. With motherboard internal copper layer thicknesses of 0.5 oz/ft^2 and a 5 degree C temperature rise limit, you're looking at a six inch wide trace. Now, multiply that times two because you need a return (ground) that can handle the same current. Want dual cards? Okay, then foot-wide traces for +12V and ground.

That's just some back of the envelope calculations and people can play what-if games with multiple layers for +12V and ground, point-to-point large gauge jumpers soldered to the board, averaging current draw, etc. But if you try to move that much current without external connectors and large gauge wires, you're going to end up with a motherboard as big as an extra large pizza box with a price tag that will make it a non-starter.

Reply Score: 6

Standards
by grat on Tue 7th Mar 2017 14:28 UTC
grat
Member since:
2006-02-02
Comment by kurkosdr
by kurkosdr on Tue 7th Mar 2017 16:23 UTC
kurkosdr
Member since:
2011-04-11

Because ATX is a royalty-free standard every OEM, vendor, you-name-it understands and that keeps costs down because they don't have to re-invest in understanding a new thing.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by kurkosdr
by brostenen on Tue 7th Mar 2017 18:04 UTC in reply to "Comment by kurkosdr"
brostenen Member since:
2007-01-16

And who is saying that a new design can't be royality free? If a new design is made with the same basic idea as lego as it's foundation. Well... Then it would something "new" and fresh. Just borrow heavy from servers, lego, and other modular stuff all around you. Then name it MATX for "Modular-ATX".

Reply Score: 1

My dream form-factor
by DonQ on Tue 7th Mar 2017 17:19 UTC
DonQ
Member since:
2005-06-29

ATX is old, yes. I'm eagerly waiting for a new standard, fully wireless, including power supply - you take PC case, pile all components (motherboard, CPU, RAM etc) into it and connect it to power outlet - and all components will be powered and communicating without any messy cables at all.

Microwave oven _almost_ works this way ;)

Reply Score: 2

RE: My dream form-factor
by grat on Wed 8th Mar 2017 15:49 UTC in reply to "My dream form-factor"
grat Member since:
2006-02-02

Wow. Pity the laws of thermodynamics and physics make your dream impossible until we get room temperature superconductors.

Also-- your dream box would generate enough interference to fry any electronics nearby.

:)

Reply Score: 2

As already posted...
by Megol on Tue 7th Mar 2017 18:25 UTC
Megol
Member since:
2011-04-11

... it's because ATX just works, have no significant weaknesses and because cables would be required anyway.

P=U*I or power is voltage times current.

Processors and GPUs are (for this argument*) near 100% efficient. That means a system with a 100W processor and a 300W GPU will need 400W of power. Now let's use the above equation:

I=P/U

400W at 12V: I=400/12=33.34A
CPU: 8.34A
GPU: 25A

The GPU requires 3x the current. The motherboard have significant routing (in many layers of metal) and area (for the local switching regulator) dedicated to delivering that power to the CPU. This is done close to the CPU to improve efficiency and making it possible to route signals to/from the CPU instead of just power. The complex multi-layer motherboard is much more expensive than a simple copper cable for delivering power.

IOW it wouldn't be logical to remove cables for power delivery, sure they could be made less obvious or easier to route but that can be done in an updated ATX standard.

(* not in absolute terms as nearly 100% of the power consumed is turned to heat, that's the state of technology)

Reply Score: 2

More seriously....
by grat on Wed 8th Mar 2017 15:52 UTC
grat
Member since:
2006-02-02

The biggest problems with ATX aren't ATX's fault-- the motherboard connectors for front panel, switches, LED's, etc., is the biggest pain when I build a computer.

USB and front-panel audio are pretty simple, since they're typically surrounded by keyed shrouds, you've got to be something of a gorilla to bend pins or install them wrong.

I want to know why all my motherboards have an LPT port on the board.

Reply Score: 2

kriston
Member since:
2007-04-11

We already solved this with BTX but only Dell adopted it.

Reply Score: 1

Comment by snorkel1
by snorkel1 on Wed 8th Mar 2017 17:46 UTC
snorkel1
Member since:
2012-02-25

ATX is fine, and it works great.
There are new cube style double chamber full ATX cases available now that are great. You can with just a bit of work make the inside of your case super clean with individually sleeved cables.

Its more of the case design than the PSU standard that affects how clean it looks inside, and anyways all that is mute if you don't have a window on the case, if you can't see the inside who gives a frick....

Reply Score: 1