What is an ITX motherboard?
Introduction of ITX Motherboards
Information Technology Extended, or ITX, is a form factor for small computer motherboards developed by VIA Technologies. Typically smaller in size compared with other motherboard form factors such as ATX motherboards and microATX motherboards, Mini-ITX motherboards are designed to be used in small form factor (SFF) computing units, and to be used with small and low-power CPUs and fewer expansion slots and connectors, though a wide range of features, including USB, Ethernet, and audio, etc. are still considered standards.
ITX motherboards are popular when it comes to building small, powerful, and portable systems to fit in tight spaces, and are often used in embedded systems, such as kiosks and digital signage.
How Has The ITX Motherboard Evolved Over Time?
Development of ITX Motherboards
Since the introduction of the original ITX form factor in 2001, there have been several different variations and, needless to say, improvements. For example, Mini-ITX, which was introduced in 2001 has a size of only 17 cm x 17 cm. Nano-ITX, introduced in 2003, is even smaller than Mini-ITX, with a size of 12 cm x 12 cm. Pico-ITX, introduced in 2007, is one of the smallest SBC form factors, with a size of only 10 cm x 7.2 cm.
In addition to the different motherboard size variations, the ITX form factor has also evolved to include new features and technologies. For example, newer ITX motherboards are now equipped with more advanced features, such as support for faster processors, more memory, and more I/O ports. They also often include additional technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB 3.2 support. Overall, the ITX form factor has evolved to become smaller, more advanced, and more versatile, making it a popular option for a motherboard in size-sensitive applications.
How to choose the best ITX motherboards?
As you attempt to choose an ITX motherboard that you think you are going to need, you may start to realize there are certain criteria–some criteria might matter more than others–that you will have to meet solely depending on the industry your PC is to serve in. Just to name a few of common concerns that will definitely arise, your application may rely on, for example, more computing power than storage, more networking than peripheral connection, more display finesse than control signals, and so on.
These concerns will dictate your purchase of the ITX motherboard as you do want everything in your business to be on the money. So, with a quick glance over the following sections, you will have a rudimentary of the criteria to guide you, and when it's time to build your PC, you will know what features and strong suits of the motherboard options on the market are going to be crucial or decorative, aka waste of money.
What hardware do I want to keep?
If you're only upgrading your PC system, you might want to first ask yourself what has been going well with the previous ITX motherboard and what hasn't. Since hardware upgrade is closely linked to the amount of downtime of your business, you certainly would not want to end up regretting the setup and having to power down the system for any minor hardware adjustments. Any underperforming services and potential problems such as glitchy imaging cameras or poor WiFi speed stability should immediately go on the list of your priorities. Find out where the problem occurs. Is it the low bandwidth USB port that cannot give the high-resolution camera enough leeway? Is it the old SATA drive that caused the program to crash from time to time? If there are peripherals that you do not wish to upgrade along with the ITX board at the moment, make sure they are good as new. Record all the existing unsatisfactory performances and test them out before you earmark the budgets.
What hardware has to go on the motherboard board?
For building new systems, this would be the most urgent question. It all comes down to what applications will be implemented in your business. Here are a few rules of thumb that might guide you to the right questions to ask, but you have to expect that the answer will always have some tradeoffs.
- What is prioritized in the application? Is it computing power, space, storage, graphics, control signals, etc.?
- Is the system going to be a workhorse and heavily used in incessant computing, including the TDP desktop CPU and the GPU? Do I need to budget carefully for power consumption and room for cooling systems?
- Do I have to save space by going for m.2 SSD storage and WiFi cards, or do I not care about size and plain old chunky SATA drives and GbE ports–do not forget the fiber cables that come into place–are more than welcome.
- Is PCI-E for graphics cards essential to my business? Can integrated graphics processing capability in the CPU handle the tasks such as dual display, image processing, video streaming, etc. that my business deems essential?
- Does the service rely on rapid and instantaneous tasks so I have to make sure there is enough memory? Is 16G enough? Or should I bump it up to 64G?
What other features do I need in an ITX Motherboard?
Certain ITX motherboards are designed to cater to certain industries. Not only hardware but also firmware and software features that are compatible with certain brands of providers can be what you're looking for, and you have to be careful when choosing compatible ITX motherboards. Bundled services and niche industry requirements such as tamper-proof storage and rugged designs might be paramount when the decisive moment presents itself. Beware of these added values that can be in conflict with the hardware features that you think you need but wouldn't be worse off without.
Here are some standardized and widely adopted firmware features for you to consider:
- Overclocking for temporary demands of performance
- AI optimizations for automatic optimal performance in different scenarios
- Security such as encryption and secure boot
- VM ware support for different operations systems in one computer
- NVMe for extra SSD speed boost and RAID for data redundancy and data loss prevention
- BIOS or UEFI remote management for easy maintenance
For the software features, most of them are manufacturers' proprietary enhancements that go with their hardware products. These enhancements include:
- Software utilities to optimize performance and monitor hardware status
- Audio and graphics fine-tuning software for the best experience
- Network controllers and adapters, Bluetooth controllers, and other connectivity-based software configurations
The added values of the above can seem inconsequential at first, and that's probably because we as end users are accustomed to working with computers that are already fine-tuned without realizing it. But once you have made a new purchase and overlooked these features, the impact of lacking them could be devastating.
Cost and budget
The quality, performance, and durability of the ITX motherboard you procure in the end have much to do with your choice of brand and price. But they are definitely not to be overstressed. Reputable and sizable motherboard manufacturers provide advantages that will benefit you in the long run but also may trick you in terms of decision-making. Ask yourself these questions and see how important they are in impacting your business operation:
- Are global brand names more reliable than local businesses? What reviews can I find to support that going for particular pricey brand names will guarantee a fitting future payoff?
- Does the motherboard come with a warranty? Does the warranty reflect truthfully about the set price?
- Have I or any source of information dealing with the brand name in terms of after-sale services? Are the sales representatives helpful in getting you prompt solutions to mitigate your loss?
- When there's a stalemate during your sourcing, does the brand name provide you a fair comparison with their competitors or do they deny the merits of going for other manufacturers?
At the end of the day, it's you who has to talk to the provider when maintenance and defects call for their service again. Get to know possible and predictable future scenarios and make sure when adversities occur, the cost of the product can honestly reflect how much toil that comes your way.
A Quick Peek at the Recommended Mini-ITX Motherboards
As of date, the discussion of choosing amongst motherboard manufacturing tycoons has not ceased being a hot invigorating topic. As a disinterested decision maker who seeks to source the best mini-ITX option for your business (which we assume you are) instead of a fervent believer of certain brands, you will find this quick walkthrough section very practical in guiding you through the main differences in mini-ITX boards of different manufactures.
In September 2022, the latest flagships that were built with the new chipsets Intel Z790 and AMD X670 obsoleted the existing motherboard market, especially those targeting the gaming industry, boasting their compatibility with the latest processors: Intel 13th-Gen Raptor Lake and AMD Ryzen 7000 Series. And amongst the standard ATX motherboards and other larger boards released, we are certainly flabbergasted that mini-ITX form factors are not entirely overlooked:
- ASUS ROG STRIX Z790-I GAMING (Intel 13th-Gen)
- MSI MPG Z790i EDGE (Intel 13th-Gen)
- ASUS ROG STRIX X670E-I GAMING (AMD Ryzen 7000)
- ASROCK Z790M-ITX (Intel 13th-Gen)
Needless to say, ASUS has always set the price mountain high (Amazon). MSI, by going in a different direction–RAID support–leaves out the PCI-E 5.0 x4 M.2 2280 storage, the key feat reflected by the prices of ASUS ROG STRIX Z790-I and X670E-I. Whether the 100-dollar difference in price is worth, it depends on your budget range.
The only feature that makes the slashing price of ASUS ROG STRIX Z790-I worth it is probably (and very subjectively) the two Thunderbolt™ 4, USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports. The potential of this spec is limitless (40 Gbps bandwidth and quick charging), but it is quite unsure how many of the customers are going to see the benefit of it.
On the second tier of these newly released products, mini ITX is again not the star of the show but not entirely left out. By going for Intel chipset B650, for example, ASUS ROG STRIX B650E-I, you can still enjoy the merits of the PCI-E 5.0 x4 M.2 2280 storage along with AMD Ryzen 7000 series processors.
But if you only care about the latest processors, MSI MPG B650I Edge WiFi might not even seem a bad idea:
At the end of the day, you are still helping your business with the latest support of DDR5 memories with the overclocking speed of 6400+ MHz, the powerhouses of Intel 13th-Gen Raptor Lake and AMD Ryzen 7000 Series, and the PCI-E 5.0 x16 graphics. So, the hundred-dollar differences in the amount of USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports and the PCI-E 5.0 x4 M.2 SSD could be the more decisive factors you might really mull over before you whip out the cash.
Many manufacturers of ITX motherboards that are suitable for use in industrial PC applications have been competing in the market. Some of the most famous and well-known brands include the following:
DFI is a Taiwanese manufacturer of industrial PC motherboards, DFI has been known for its high customer experience-oriented SBCs and embedded systems. DFI offers great designs and innovative solutions to a range of applications, especially in IoT and automation industries.
DFI's embedded Mini-ITX motherboard has a small footprint (170mm x 170mm) and is designed with a variety of I/O connectors and flexible DC/ATX power input. For low-power solutions, passive cooling is even available for users to enjoy an extended device lifespan. Designed in a compact motherboard form factor, Mini-ITX boards deliver high connectivity and scalability and are always regarded as the ideal solution for AGV/AMR, KIOSK, digital signage, and gaming.
ASRock’s ITX motherboards
A Taiwanese manufacturer of computer hardware and peripherals, it is known for its high-performance ITX motherboards for industrial applications. ASRock offers a wide range of ITX motherboards that are designed to be stable, reliable, and easy to use, and they are suitable for a variety of industrial applications, including automation, control, and monitoring.
Gigabyte’s ITX motherboards
A Taiwanese manufacturer of computer hardware and peripherals, it is one of the leading brands in the ITX motherboard market for industrial applications. Gigabyte offers a wide range of ITX motherboards that are designed to be durable, flexible, and easy to integrate, and they are suitable for a variety of industrial applications, including transportation, manufacturing, and healthcare.
MSI’s ITX motherboards
A Taiwanese manufacturer of computer hardware and peripherals, it is known for its high-performance ITX motherboards for industrial applications. MSI offers a wide range of ITX motherboards that are designed to be versatile, powerful, and easy to use, and they are suitable for a variety of industrial applications, including surveillance, security, and automation.
VIA Technologies’s ITX motherboards
A company that introduced the ITX form factor in 2001, and it is one of the leading manufacturers of ITX motherboards for industrial applications. VIA offers a wide range of ITX motherboards that are designed to be rugged, reliable, and long-lasting, and they are suitable for use in harsh environments and demanding applications.
How Are Different ITX Form Factors Applied in Different Industries?
Mini ITX Motherboards
The mini ITX form factor is used in a variety of industries, including computer hardware and electronics, home theater and entertainment systems, and industrial and scientific equipment. In the computer hardware industry, mini ITX motherboards and cases are popular for building small, energy-efficient desktop computers and home theater PC systems. In the electronics industry, the mini ITX form factor is used for embedded systems, single-board computers (SBCs), and other compact devices. In the home theater and entertainment industry, mini ITX systems are often used to build small, high-performance media centers and gaming systems. In the industrial and scientific sectors, mini ITX systems are used in a variety of applications, such as data acquisition, process control, and testing and measurement. In the following, we have a list of concrete examples of how this form factor is used.
- Industrial automation: Mini ITX embedded systems and single-board computers are often used in industrial automation applications, such as process control and data acquisition.
- Medical equipment: Mini ITX systems are used in a variety of medical equipment, such as diagnostic instruments, imaging systems, and patient monitoring devices.
- Retail kiosks: Mini ITX systems are often used in retail kiosks and point-of-sale terminals, where their high-definition display, small size, and low power consumption make them ideal for use in customer-facing environments.
- Military and aerospace: Mini ITX systems, capable of accomplishing urgent and demanding missions with minimum delay, are also used in a variety of military and aerospace applications, such as avionics, radar systems, and satellite communications.
Nano ITX Motherboards
The nano ITX form factor is used in a variety of industries and can adapt to many different settings. Here are a few top-of-the-list applications:
Small form factor (SFF) desktop computers: The compact size of Nano ITX motherboards makes them well-suited for use in small form factor desktop computers, taking up less desktop space while still providing the necessary computing power.
Home theater systems: Nano ITX motherboards are often used in home theater systems, where they can be used to build small, compact media centers that can play movies, music, and other types of media.
Embedded systems: Nano ITX motherboards are often used in embedded systems, which are computer systems that are designed to be integrated into a larger system or device, such as industrial control systems, medical equipment, and military systems.
Network-attached storage (NAS) devices: Since network-attached storage (NAS) devices are small computers that are focused on storage and network connectivity, these basic yet essential needs are perfectly met by Nano ITX, unlike other applications that require multiple functionalities.
Thin clients: Nano ITX motherboards are also used in thin clients, which are small, low-power computers that are used to access remote servers and other resources over a network.
Data acquisition and control: Nano ITX systems are often used in industrial applications, where they are used to collect, process, and transmit large amounts of data from sensors and other instruments. They can also be used to monitor and control industrial processes such as temperature monitoring and adjusting the flow of machinery to maintain optimal conditions.
Pico ITX Motherboards
The form factor Pico ITX, being small as a credit card, is typically used in applications where space is tightly allowed. Plus the low power consumption, 2.5” Pico ITX motherboards are often used in a niche variety of industries with particular requirements, including the following:
Automation: Pico ITX motherboards are often used in industrial automation applications, such as control systems, robotics, and machine learning. With their small size and low power consumption, Pico ITX motherboards are well-suited for use in automation systems that require a compact and energy-efficient computing solution.
Healthcare: Pico ITX motherboards are often used in healthcare applications, such as medical devices, diagnostic equipment, and telemedicine. Bulky and high-voltage healthcare equipment is generally taboo in a place where health issues are dealt with, making Pico ITX a favorite to base the application on top of.
Transportation: Another field where Pico ITX motherboards shine is in-vehicle infotainment systems, automotive control systems, and telematics. Simplistic and elegant vehicles can be easily pampered by this efficient computer form factor.
Retail: Pico ITX motherboards are also found in retail applications, such as point-of-sale terminals, kiosks, and digital signage. Dedicated to performing simple and straightforward tasks, and retail applications these end customer service points can be held up nicely by Pico ITX motherboards.
As its namesake, mobile-ITX computers are often designed for portable devices, such as handheld devices, and mini PCs, as well as in embedded systems and other applications where a small, energy-efficient computer is required. The modular design also makes it popular in industries that require equipment upgrades between short intervals. Here are some common examples:
Military: military applications rely on portability and ruggedness and may require handheld devices that soldiers can use in the field to communicate with each other, access maps and other information, and perform other tasks. These simple portable devices often find mobile-ITX a great candidate.
Medical: Mobile-ITX computers are used in a variety of medical applications, such as in portable ultrasound machines, handheld ECG monitors, and other medical devices. They are also used in hospital systems, such as patient monitoring systems and medical imaging equipment.
In-vehicle systems: In-dash navigation systems and other types of in-vehicle electronics have unique specifications that can be easily designed with modularized Mobile-ITX systems.
More to Know About ITX Motherboards: The Foreseeable Trend of The ITX Form Factors
The ITX form factor will definitely continue to become smaller and more compact, allowing for the creation of even smaller and more portable computers such as Pico-ITX which will soon become more popular and widely used. More advanced technologies and features including the support of faster processors, more memory, and more I/O ports will definitely be one improvement of focus. Smart technologies, such as built-in artificial intelligence or machine learning capabilities will also soon be the center of the stage as the demands for computing units tailored for these smart industries are on the rise.
Overall, the future of the ITX form factor is likely to be one of continued evolution and improvement, as new technologies and consumer preferences drive the development of smaller, more advanced, and more versatile motherboards.
The mini-ITX form factor, though small in size, is the largest of all the ITX form factors, with dimensions of 17 cm x 17 cm. Mini-ITX motherboards have a single processor socket (both socketed and embedded are possible) and support a variety of powerful high-computing processors. They have 2 memory slots that support up to 16 GB of RAM each (32 GB in total). Mini-ITX motherboards typically have a decent amount of expansions and connectivity options, with one PCI Express lane, SATA and mSATA interfaces, and a variety of I/O ports, such as USB 2.0 and 3.0 and up (both internal and external), multiple GbE Lans, and audio. With a powerful GPU mounted, separate dual high-definition display ports are also not an issue for top-notch models.
How are mini ITX GPU specifications unique among ITX form factors?
The mini ITX form factor is unique among motherboard form factors since its capability still meets a lot of demanding industrial requirements, despite having a smaller size and lower power requirements than ATX form factors, which allows for the use of smaller and more energy-efficient GPUs. This makes mini ITX systems well-suited for applications where space and power are limited, such as embedded systems and SCs.
And specifically, the characteristics of mini ITX GPUs are what make them stand out from all the small form factors. Here we break down the astounding features of this form factor’s graphic processing finesse:
- Low profile design: Mini ITX GPUs are often designed with a low profile form factor, which allows them to be supported in ITX motherboard cases with limited space. This makes them ideal for use in small desktop computers and home theater PC systems.
- Energy efficiency: Mini ITX GPUs are designed to be energy-efficient, with low power consumption and heat output. This makes them well-suited for use in applications where power is limited, such as in embedded systems or small desktop computers.
- High performance: Despite their small size and low power requirements, mini ITX GPUs are capable of delivering high levels of performance, making them suitable for use in gaming systems, machine learning, and signage.
Nano ITX Motherboards
Nano-ITX is the second smallest form factor to mini-ITX, with dimensions of 12 cm x 12 cm. Besides the processing unit, they are still highly similar to a high-capacity computer with a SODIMM slot for memory and both PCIe full-size and half-size for SATA storage and external graphics. Nano-ITX motherboards typically have fewer expansion and connectivity options than mini-ITX, but still offer an impressive amount of I/O ports, such as dual displays, control signals, and the standard USB and GbE connections.
Pico-ITX is a small form factor computer standard defined by its size of 10 cm x 7.2 cm, making it one of the smallest form factors available. Pico-ITX motherboards typically have a single processor socket and support a variety of processors. They have a single SODIMM slot for memory 2 GB of RAM. Other features typically found on Pico-ITX motherboards include storage sockets such as M.2 for SATA, PCIe for SSD card, or PCI Express Mini slot for mSATA, display (possibly dual) such as DP, HDMI, and LVDS, along with a variety of I/O ports, such as CAN bus, USB, GbE, and audio.
Mobile-ITX is indeed the smallest form factor in the ITX family, with dimensions of 60 mm x 60 mm. This makes it well-suited for use in extremely compact devices and portable applications where space is at a premium. Unlike other ITX form factors, mobile-ITX motherboards have minimum built-in components to retain their minuscule size, which means modules and carrier boards are an inevitable part of this form factor. But it is merely a necessary evil and makes its design more flexible to implementing a variety of processors, standard I/O ports found on other ITX form factors, such as USB and Ethernet, mobile-ITX motherboards, especially for mobile applications, such as a SIM card slot for cellular connectivity (such as 5G), and support for GPS and other location-based services. It is also possible that an SBC based on Mobile-ITX consumes less than 10 watts of power.
Founded in 1981, DFI is a global leading provider of high-performance computing technology across multiple embedded industries. With its innovative design and premium quality management system, DFI’s industrial-grade solutions enable customers to optimize their equipment and ensure high reliability, long-term life cycle, and 24/7 durability in a breadth of markets including Industry Automation, Medical, Gaming, Transportation, Energy, mission-critical, and intelligent retail.