If you don’t know it already, the motherboard is the main component of a computer that holds every other component together.
A motherboard not only holds the CPU and RAM in place but also the audio capacitors for sound, PCIe slots for expansion, M.2 slots for SATA connectivity, and so on.
Now that we have understood how important a motherboard is to a system, let’s discuss briefly about the different sizes of motherboards available on the market.
The size is also referred to as form factor and there are several different form factors available today. These were introduced at different points in time as technology advanced over the years.
The boards aimed at solving different problems at the time making it a crucial stepping stone for further advancements in technology. There are many different types of form factors, however only a few remain in constant usage while others have been slow in adoption.
In this article, we will go through what actually is a form factor, how important it is, and different types of motherboard form factors.
At the end of the article, you will find a FAQ section that will answer some of the most common questions asked by users.
Let’s get started.
What Is Form Factor In Motherboard?
In simple words, form factor represents the specification of a motherboard. It shows the type of board, the dimensions, power supply, number of ports, etc.
It gives all the necessary details that would determine if a consumer wants to buy the product or not. There are different types of form factors that serve different purposes. For example, a full-sized motherboard has more PCIe connections than a small form factor board like the mini-ATX.
The types of the form factor of a motherboard are dependent on the evolution of technology. As computing technology advances, manufacturers of motherboards need to change their standards accordingly.
The standards ensure the size and layout of the board. For example, the recent development of PCI Express technology changed the layout and design of the motherboards that came out.
The change in form factors is a slow process, however due to changing demands the boards are required to evolve regularly.
In 1995, ATX boards and their standards were introduced. More than a decade later, in 2007, the latest update to the ATX standard was released. These are now currently known as ITX and are based on much smaller form factors and have their own standards.
The need for ITX boards came from the shift in the demand for compact PCs as many gamers looked towards a smaller system that they can travel around with.
Form factors are typically based on subsets and supersets. They aim at catering towards particular requirements of gamers. A desktop computer might require more connections and sockets than a multimedia system.
A multimedia system might not even have the capacity to add in an extra card to it but a desktop PC would. This is because the motherboards used in both of these systems are catered for these particular uses.
Their form factor is different and serves a completely different purpose. A small motherboard may provide convenience due to its space requirements, however, there is a sacrifice to it by compromising on an additional M.2. slot or an additional PCIe card slot.
Does Form Factor Matter?
Let’s look at the most obvious difference between a desktop and laptop computer, it’s the form factor. Both of these devices might be using similar parts, but these parts and components are attached or shaped differently.
The most obvious example can be a keyboard. Desktop computer keyboards are much larger than those present in a laptop. The same form factor is seen in a motherboard. A slot present in a Full ATX board might be present in a different position on a much smaller motherboard.
Form factors design is dependent upon the shape and size of components. The components present in the larger units are the basis of a form factor. These then affect how a smaller motherboard is manufactured in terms of design and layout.
Form factor is important for the efficient running of components. A mini USB receiver is not able to take in a micro USB. The same could be said about a micro USB.
It caters to that particular technology. Thus, with such advancements within the form factors of these connections and port, the form factor of the boards designed also changes.
These are important because the electronic specifications of these components might need similar amounts of power regardless of whether the board is small or large. To cater to these requirements, as mentioned before, the manufacturers ensure that the smaller form-factor board layout and design do not impact the required flow of electricity.
Form factors ensure that the component is not underpowered, or overpowered, thus saving it from damage. Different problems at the time were solved by the release of different types of form factors.
At the end of the day, what matters is the type of PC you’re building. If you’re looking to make a compact or a small system, then you simply cannot use a full-size motherboard.
You would need to get a mini ATX board to fit in your compact PC case. Your decision on what you want will narrow down your choices for a motherboard.
Types of Motherboard Form Factor
Let’s look at some of the different types of form factors in a motherboard and what they had to offer at that time.
The ATX form factor initially started selling in the mid-1990s. The ATX board was considered to be revolutionary at that time as it brought a lot of changes to the computer back then.
Previously, expansion slots came with riser cards that needed to be plugged into the board. However, with ATX there was no need for riser cards and it also reduced the space requirements.
The ATX board introduced power pins like the 20-pin connector and other headers for air ventilation. The board had fewer overlaps with the drive bays and connectors, unlike its predecessors. Internal I/O connections were also soldered to the board.
Micro-ATX came at a time when people started demanding for a lower-cost solution to the ATX motherboards. The Micro ATX motherboard offers similar benefits like its counterparts but has an improved design. The size of the board is also smaller than the Full-sized motherboard that helps in reducing the costs. The smaller size was achieved by reducing the number of I/O slots.
ATX and Micro-ATX are the most popular forms of motherboards. However, there is a non-standard proprietary form referred to as Mini-LPX and LPX.
These are low profile extended boards found in low-profile cases. The expansion boards run alongside the motherboard; however, you would need to use expansion cards with a riser card arrangement.
This arrangement results in a smaller case but comes at a limitation of expansion slots. The advantage of LPX boards is the integration of sound and video into it. Where the LPX falls short is the poor cooling and the inability to upgrade.
Mini-ITX boards are 17 cm by 17 cm and were initially introduced in 2001. The product was launched as a niche product and aimed at smaller computer systems.
The boards require low power to run and do not have any fans for cooling. This made it ideal for pairing it up with home theatre systems. The fanless cooling system made the mini-ITX a perfect board for PC systems running in quiet places like libraries, classrooms, theatres, and more.
The mini ITX board comes with 4 mounting holes allowing it to easily fit in ATX, micro-ATX, and other types of cases. Many older ITX boards used riser cards for expansion slots, however, the newer design has incorporated a single expansion slot.
The NLX is an updated LPX form factor board. The NLX board was introduced in the late 1990s as a solution to providing support for larger cases, video cards, memory modules, etc. The board has more options for repair and upgrade making it better than LPX. Existing LPX systems are now being converted to NLX as it is well suited to mass-market PCs.
The BTX form factor is also known as balanced technology extended motherboards. It is a complete change from the ATX boards.
Technologies like USB 2.0 and PCIe were the reason why BTX boards were created in the first place. The BTX boards are smaller than micro-ATX boards and have a better component placement especially with back panel I/O controllers.
The BTX pushed the industry towards tower sized systems that offer more system slots. The advantage of a BTX system is the way it uses airflow to cool the system.
The memory and expansion slots placements are switched with each other so that the main components like processor, chipset, and more get the air it needs. This reduces the need for fans in turn reducing the noise levels associated with more fans.
The major disadvantage of BTX boards is the fact that developers and manufacturers are slow to adopt this technology. The options to upgrade cases is not possible since a BTX board will never fit an ATX full tower case and vice versa.
Motherboard Form Factor Comparison Chart
Below is a comparison chart that shows some of the different types of form factors with their manufacturing date, dimensions and their usage.
12 by 9.6 inches
9.6 by 9.6 inches
6.7 by 6,7 inches
13 by 9 inches
13.6 by 9 inches
12.8 by 10.5 inches
How Do I Know If a Motherboard Will Fit In My Case?
There are two types of form factors that are generally used, ATX and Micro-ATX. ATX motherboards are full sized boards while Micro-ATX are a few inches shorter in dimensions. This means that an ATX board can fit a normal case or a tower case while a Micro-ATX fits in a mid-sized to small-sized cases.
The easiest way to know how a motherboard will fit in your case is to check the specifications of your case. If your case has a fitting capacity for a full-sized ATX board then purchase a full-sized board. If the case is mid-sized to small then you cannot fit an ATX board and will require a Micro-ATX board.
What Advantages Does ATX Have Over Micro-ATX?
ATX board has a lot more options to upgrade when compared to Micro-ATX. This is because ATX boards have more room or space that have been allocated for various components like more expansion slots. You’ll also find more power headers for connecting all sorts of cooling options like fans and water coolers.
ATX boards are not budget-oriented while Micro-ATX boards are built around a certain budget. Micro-ATX boards have fewer DIMM slots for memory and fewer PCIe slots. ATX boards also come with bombardments of USB ports and more M.2 slots than Micro-ATX.
Can I Fit a Micro-Atx Motherboard In an ATX Case?
The best thing about a micro-ATX board is the fact that it is backward compatible with its counterpart ATX boards. There are mounting points on a micro-ATX board that resembles those subsets present on an ATX board. This enables users to easily screw the micro-ATX board in an ATX case.
The I/O panel on a micro-ATX board also is similar to that of an ATX and therefore will easily fit in an ATX case.
Will an ATX motherboard Fit In a Mini Tower?
Mini tower case is very small in dimensions and cannot accommodate a full-sized motherboard. An ATX board can only fit in a mid-sized or a full-sized case.
Mini tower can fit a 17 x 17 cm motherboard and that specification is only fulfilled by a mini-ITX board.
What Are The 2 Main Components of a Motherboard?
A motherboard has a lot of components like audio capacitors, VRM heat sinks, PCIe slots, and more. However, there are a few main components of a motherboard that helps run a system. The first one is a CPU, the component where all the processing power comes from. The other one is memory or RAM; this allows the system to read and write the data from the temporary memory. Without these two components, one cannot run a system.
In order for users to determine the speed of their system, that they are trying to build; the right type of motherboard is indeed a necessity. The main thing to look out for is how compatible a motherboard is with other parts of the system. If you wish to have 64GB of RAM in your system then that narrows down your choice to an ATX board since an ATX board has the capacity to hold more than 64GB of RAM. If you’re looking for a simple system with an 8GB RAM then you have more options like mini-ITX, micro-ATX, and even ATX boards.
You also need to consider whether your board will run a certain type of processor. Some mini-ITX boards cannot handle the newer generation intel processors and are not compatible. If you’re looking to implement a mini-ITX board then you would need to search for a CPU that will work perfectly with these kinds of boards.