The form factor of a PC is rarely something that you need to think about, until you try to purchase a PC that's smaller than a mid-tower. That's when tough decisions need to be made. Do you go for a pre-built system from Shuttle or Dell, which, for the most part, use proprietary designs, or do you try and build one using an off-the-shelf micro-ATX motherboard and the smallest case you can find?

If you're a do-it-yourself kind of person, then you'll probably take the last approach and mix and match the best components to suit your needs. The good news is that AMD is thinking about the small form factor PC market and has introduced a new open-standard form factor for motherboards and cases - it's called AMD DTX - which it hopes will be adopted by end users and PC companies alike.

AMD DTX isn't a revolutionary design (it hasn't 'flipped the script' like the BTX form factor did to ATX, for example); motherboards based on DTX will actually be compatible with ATX-style cases, and while DTX motherboards may look similar to a micro-ATX motherboard, DTX boards will be smaller.

This, in turn, should allow case manufacturers to create smaller enclosures than ever before, or even allow them to pack more gadgets into certain models, without completely cluttering the enclosure with cables.

There will be two versions of AMD DTX introduced: full DTX and Mini-DTX. Full DTX-based systems will be able to dissipate up to 65W of heat, when running AMD's 65W CPUs, while Mini-DTX systems will be able to dissipate up to 45W of heat, when running AMD's 45W CPUs. Systems based on the Mini-DTX form factor, therefore, should be sought by users who want a standard, low-cost PC that won't burn too much coal.

From a design perspective, AMD DTX boards will still have the same basic components as micro-ATX boards, and the same number of rear expansion slots, but their dimensions will be smaller. Additionally, and this is of most benefit for users who wish to adopt the DTX standard early, DTX boards will be usable in ATX cases.

AMD sent us an engineering sample of its AMD DTX concept PC, which is being used to showcase how DTX can be implemented. It was fitted with PC and notebook-style components, using AMD's Diamond 2, Full DTX-based motherboard, which runs AMD's 690G chipset.

It will be up to motherboard vendors to decide what type of features their products will eventually have, and which chipset they will use, but one thing that aroused interest was the provision of an ExpressCard slot on the front of the case. While the Diamond 2 motherboard doesn't feature an ExpressCard facility, we can only hope that motherboard vendors will implement this feature on their new models, as it will give users another option, and a more convenient one, for expansion.

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