Thresholds in computing: Part 11 – A Thin-ITX challenger appears: The Intel 5×5

(Part 11 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

Before I temporarily ended my series on thresholds in small-form-factor computing, I talked about Thin-ITX being the last stop in a series of miniaturisations. For a while it looked like the Intel NUC might become the next form factor; there were third-party cases and coolers being made for it, and Intel has stuck with it for three generations, gradually lending it the stability needed for OEMs to build businesses around the product. Nobody wants to make accessories and alternative parts for something that could disappear in
a year or two.

But in CES 2015, something interesting appeared: a socketed sub-ITX motherboard.

intel-sff-mobo Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 11 – A Thin-ITX challenger appears: The Intel 5×5

Thresholds in computing: Part 10 – Beyond Thin-ITX

(Part 10 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

In my previous posts on Thin-ITX, I made two complaints:

  1. There is still some cabling required in Thin-ITX, to connect the front panel ports (USB, audio) and power button to the motherboard.
  2. A Thin-ITX system can still be further shrunk, since nothing really limits it to a minimum size of 17×17cm.
  3. There are still more sources of heat than are really required for a Thin-ITX system
    The first two issues have been resolved by another (unofficial) form factor: Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC). The NUCs are barebones small-form-factor systems—just add CPU, RAM, SSD, and water—with motherboards measuring 10×10cm. They carry the full range of connectivity (USB, audio, HDMI/Displayport) enjoyed by most PCs, although perhaps not the full complement.

nuc-hand-ports1

These things are deliciously small. In fact,at  12×11×3.5cm, they are barely larger than the motherboards they house. This is an approach to cabling elimination that we’ve seen before in ITX: If you can’t bring the board closer to the sides, bring the sides closer to the board. Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 10 – Beyond Thin-ITX

Thresholds in computing: Part 9 – heat dissipation and Thin-ITX

(Part 9 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

I wish I had the equipment to make the kind of heatmaps that Puget Systems does in their comparison of horizontal vs vertical cooling. But I don’t, so we’ll just have to make do with overlays again.

Heat sources in a passively cooled system
Heat sources in a passively cooled system

Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 9 – heat dissipation and Thin-ITX

Thresholds in computing: Part 8 – Thin-ITX vs Mini-ITX

(Part 8 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

When Intel released the first thin-ITX motherboards at Computex in 2011, many folks were left scratching their heads: what use is thin-ITX when we already have ITX? It quickly seemed that aside from use in all-in-one (AIO) systems, thin-ITX was a stillborn idea, consigned to a quiet fizzle-out once Intel had a more robust strategy figured out.

Thin-ITX parts

Today it is still hard to tell if thin-ITX is going to really take off. But what I noticed, assembling my own thin-ITX system, is that it’s not about the “thin” at all. Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 8 – Thin-ITX vs Mini-ITX

Thresholds in computing: Part 7 – ITX cooling

(Part 7 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

Previously on Thresholds in computing, we crossed the 120W threshold and shrunk the PSU to picoPSU-size, leaving CPU cooling to be the main factor in determining case size.

More than a year ago, I bought a Realan E-Q6 ITX case, walking my talk and trying to see what it is like, shoehorning a high-end quad-core setup into such a tiny case. I’d tried this earlier, in a previous post on PSU efficiency, but I don’t have the power meter I used to make those measurements any more, and my setup has changed a bit since then. I didn’t actually use a picoPSU, but the 120W LR1005 PSU bundled with the case is about equivalent.

Another thing to note: I am not a hardware reviewer, and don’t make it a point to keep static setups that I can use to assess the performance of various coolers that I come across. All I’m using is lm_sensors reporting and a power meter acquired off eBay. Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 7 – ITX cooling

Thresholds in computing: Part 6 – How much power does a desktop need?

(Part 6 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

When we last stopped, we were down to SG08-size, which fits a mini-ITX motherboard and a full-size graphics card. And we were about to remove that graphics card to see how much smaller we could go.

Silverstone SG08 [Anandtech]
Silverstone SG08 [Anandtech]

Silverstone SG08, left and right view (without CPU cooler) [Anandtech]
Silverstone SG08, left and right view (without CPU cooler) [Anandtech]

Let’s say we remove that graphics card. What’s left? Mainly just the CPU cooler, and the power supply. We can’t get much smaller without shrinking either of these. And so we’re back to the question we asked in Part 2: Does it need to take up so much space?   Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 6 – How much power does a desktop need?

Thresholds in computing: Part 5 – Steam Machine, ITX done right

(Part 5 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

So I said we were going to shrink the desktop further today. Well, that will have to wait some days longer, since iFixit’s teardown of the Steam Machine beta just arrived in my feeds.

Steam Machine (beta kit) with controller
Steam Machine (beta kit) with controller

The Steam Machine ’s innards follow closely a number of optimisations we have laid down in Parts 2 and 3, and Valve has gone one step further as well—we’ll get to that shortly. Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 5 – Steam Machine, ITX done right