Making Sense Of The Motherboard (Part IV)

The last form factor that we will discuss is the NLX. NLX has been a form factor in use with desktops for quite some time. It is a compact form factor, often referred to as a “low-profile application”. NLX motherboards are easily distinguished by the riser card to which the expansion cards connect. The riser cards allow from two to four expansion cards to be plugged in. These expansion cards sit parallel to the mother board.

Servers with this form factor offer power that is similar to the larger traditional servers, but in the size of a VCR. The obvious benefit of the NLX form factor is that the bulk of a traditional server is reduced to a space-saving smaller server. Additionally, servers assembled in a rack mount case can be secured to a rack, which can itself be secured to the floor, providing better equipment safety.

Here’s a summary of the form factors outlined above, including what they are typically used for and the maximum number of slots.

  • ATX: This form factor is commonly used in tower and desktop systems. It supports a maximum of 7 expansion slots.
  • MicroATX: This form factor is a smaller version of ATX. It supports a maximum of 4 expansion slots.
  • FlexATX: This form factor is the smallest version of ATX. It supports a maximum of 3 expansion slots.
  • BTX: This form factor is commonly found in newer tower and desktop systems. It supports a maximum of 7 expansion slots.
  • PicoBTX: This form factor is the smallest version of BTX. It is commonly used in smaller low-end systems and supports a maximum of 1 expansion slot.
  • microBTX: This form factor is slightly smaller than the regular BTX. It is commonly found in newer mid-range systems and supports a maximum of 4 expansion slots.
  • NLX: This form factor can be found in smaller desktop and mini towers. The number of expansion slots supported varies.

Other Form Factors
Beyond these principle form factors, some companies have created their own motherboard layout. For the manufacturer, this proprietary design allows for specific and custom creation of servers. For the end user or technician, however, it can be a nightmare, often requiring special training by the manufacturer before the custom equipment can be serviced. There is also the possible difficulty of locating the specialty parts.

Integrated motherboards have several common components built into the motherboard that would otherwise be on expansion cards. These can include video, audio, modem, and network cards. Non-integrated motherboards require separate expansion cards for each component. Benefits of integrated motherboards include lower price, while the major drawback is the danger of component failure that would result in replacing the entire motherboard.

Motherboards are available in several different form factors, some of which have become obsolete. The less commonly used AT boards were developed by IBM. Baby AT was a smaller version of the AT created around the desktop structure. The major problem with the Baby AT was compatibility with full-size expansion cards. Due to the orientation of the processor, RAM, and expansion cards, the Baby AT motherboard made it difficult if not impossible to use full size expansion cards. ATX motherboards do not have the same issues as the Baby AT. The majority of computers over the past several years have been built around the ATX form factor. The NLX form factor was created for low-profile systems. This includes small desktops as well as rack mount systems. In more the past few years, the BTX form factor has gained popularity and is commonly used in new-generation systems.

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