With all the talk of Intel pulling a number of it’s Mini-ITX motherboards off the market (More information here and here), it seems a good time to take a moment and discuss what the Mini-ITX board is as a whole, and where its headed.
The Mini-ITX is a motherboard type referred to as Small Form Factor — a name that carries over to the case and system its a part of. The distinction is largely one of literal size: Its just 6.7”x 6.7″, or 17 x 17 cm for the rest of the world. It began life as a hobbyist board in 2003, but it’s broad application and feature set — in particular it’s I/O and ability to go fanless with passive cooling — made it a good fit in a variety of devices and it is now the workhorse of many small PCs. The configuration and components have developed and improved over the years, driving many manufacturers into the game and keeping the format in high use.
Smaller is Better… Sometimes.
When you are talking about motherboard, size is important but not the only concern. Engineers can make TINY motherboards. However, the smaller you get, the less you can pack in. Sacrifices are made. Take a phone or tablet for example. It’s more powerful than most desktops from 10 years ago, sure, but even the best have maybe a few mini ports or a USB. It works wonderfully for it’s purposes, but what if you need Dual HDMI, COM, VGA, and 4 USB ports all on the same board? Its a real-estate game, and the smaller the board the less there is. Mini ITX is the balance point between general boards with lots of I/O options and specialized boards where choice is limited.
The Future of Mini ITX
The future is looking interesting for Mini-ITX. In a decade of existence, it has transitioned from an small player made by one company (Via) to the standardized platform for Small Form Factor thanks to players like Intel. It’s market share continues to grow and serve the needs of those who need standardization and flexibility at a low cost. However, as Intel leaves the Mini-ITX market and many look to custom board design to meet their needs where does that leave Mini-ITX?
Without a time machine, or a crystal ball, its difficult to know for sure, but the trend lines that Logic Supply is seeing indicate that Mini-ITX will remain the standard when customization and diverse I/O are needed. But custom motherboards, and the unique solutions they allow, will continue to rise as customers seek the benefits of integrated bare-bone systems.
All in all its a very interesting time to be in the Small Form Factor market.