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?

Thread beginning with comment 641635
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
Comment by Luminair
by Luminair on Mon 6th Mar 2017 21:25 UTC
Member since:

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 in reply to "Comment by Luminair"
timbit42 Member since:

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:

Reply Parent Score: 1

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

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 Parent Score: 3

v RE[2]: Comment by Luminair
by egarland on Tue 7th Mar 2017 12:57 in reply to "RE: Comment by Luminair"
RE[2]: Comment by Luminair
by oiaohm on Wed 8th Mar 2017 08:50 in reply to "RE: Comment by Luminair"
oiaohm Member since:

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 Parent Score: 2