Big things come in small packages. Motherboards are one of the most crucial computer components that host and provide electrical power to the individual component while becoming the route for communications. A motherboard comes with different and various form factors that are meant for various computing applications. Nowadays, many industries require rugged and small motherboard form factors to fit into space constraints industrial applications. So, let's get into the blog to know more about small form factor motherboards and their special features.
What Is a Small Form Factor Motherboard?
A small motherboard form factor can fit into a space constraint and small form-factor industrial computers. Small form factor (SFF) motherboards come in various sizes and shapes: Mini-ITX, 3.5" SBC, 2.5" PICO-ITX, and the smallest 1.8" FEMTO ITX is starting to make an appearance in the embedded market. These small motherboard form factors are often aimed at the embedded or industrial markets, like kiosks, factory control units, automation and even medical devices. Therefore, the small form factor motherboard allows it to perfectly fit into the limited space area of the industrial computers by utilizing the Single Board Computer (SBC) technology.
Why Small Form Factor Motherboard Utilize SBCs?
SBC or Single Board Computer is a functional computer configuration built onto a single circuit board. Some components and parts in a computer usually built independently from PCB, such as CPUs, RAMs, and GPUs, are soldered together onto a single board all on a single peripheral component board (PCB). Small form factor motherboards utilize SBC configurations because of the high levels of integration, reduced components, and connector counts, which allows the SFF motherboard to operate in smaller, lighter, reliable, and more power-efficient operations. As a result, they are used in various applications from industrial automation, automotive computers, health care, and even military applications.
Learn More About Single Board Computer (SBCs)
Benefits of A Small Motherboard Form Factor
Small motherboards such as the ITX motherboards are small enough while still providing CPU sockets for flexibility in processing performance. Moreover, smaller form factor motherboards like the 3.5" motherboards utilize a Single Board Computer (SBC) design, which combines all computer components in a single substrate. SBCs tend to be low-powered, making it an ideal solution for entry-level industrial workloads that require just a sufficient amount of power consumption and performance. As a result, small form factor motherboards are able to use passive cooling designs and have a low TDP from 7 to 15W. Here are more benefits that a small form factor motherboards offer, such as:
SBC Durability and Reliability
Small form factor motherboards are commonly found in embedded systems or industrial computers, which normally require a higher level of durability and reliability during their deployments. In addition, the small and compact designs allow the small form factor motherboards to run fanless, reducing moving parts and mitigating downtime. As a result, fanless small form factor motherboards are capable of withstanding the harshest industrial deployments without compromising performances.
Moreover, some small form factor motherboards provide an additional protection layer called the conformal coating to increase their durability. Conformal coating is a method of applying a thin layer of polymeric film on the PCB for extra protection against dust, moisture, chemical, extreme temperature exposures, and shock and vibration. But only specific deployments require conformal coating on the motherboard as it can add more cost, for example in many mission-critical military deplloyments
Heat and electrical performance play a significant role in the motherboard's longevity, especially when it comes down to industrial-grade deployments. Therefore, small form factor motherboards are built from durable and reliable industrial-grade components to support motherboard longevity even further. Furthermore, each motherboard component is selected carefully to achieve better electrical performance to operate in wide operating temperature and exposure to high levels of shock and vibrations in remote or mobile embedded applications. As a result, a small form factor motherboard can survive for up to 5 to 7 years of operations; thus, it helps to reduce RMAs, increase the product life cycle, and provide a lower total cost of ownership.
Another significant benefit of a small form factor motherboard is its cost-effectiveness for numerous industrial applications. The single-board computer design allows a low-powered solution, in which it does not require more power to feed separate individual functions that are required by a power-hungry commercial motherboard. In addition, the small footprint motherboards work in conjunction with fanless design reducing overall cooling costs. As a result, a small form factor motherboard is simple and flexible for solutions that demand simple configurations to be used across a large number of systems. The benefits provided by industrial motherboards may or may not appeal to every application but they still make them the most effective solutions for countless configurations.
Small Form Factor Motherboard in Industrial Applications
Small form factor motherboards are known for being compact, durable, reliable, and long-lasting when it comes down to its key features. Each small form factor motherboard has unique features to match various industrial deployments perfectly. Therefore, choosing the right motherboard is crucial to enhance efficiency and effectiveness during deployments. Here are some industrial deployments that require small form factor motherboards:
- Automated Guided Vehicle
- Kiosk and Vending Machine
- Digital Signage
- Factory Automation
- Surveillance and Security
- Medical Devices and Analyzers
Different Types of Small Motherboard Form Factors
Small form factor motherboards offer different sizes to match numerous industrial applications. Therefore, starting from the Mini-ITX, 3.5-inch SBC, 2.5" PICO-ITX, and finally the smallest 1.8" FEMTO-ITX. That said, choosing the right type of form factor will greatly benefit different application requirements in terms of size and performance. Here is the detail of each different small form factor motherboard to choose from.
What Is ITX Motherboard?
ITX, short for Information Technology Extended, is a compact form factor motherboard that was developed by VIA technology in 2001. ITX small form factor motherboard is specifically engineered for passive cooling in low-cost space-constrained industrial computers. In addition, the compact configuration of ITX motherboards makes them perfect for embedded IoT and edge computing solutions.
What Is the Smallest Form Factor Motherboard?
The Mini-ITX motherboard form factor measures 170mm x 170mm in size. It is the largest form factor among the other ITX SFF motherboard standards. In addition, the mini-ITX can fit a full PC configuration with sufficient expansion slots and I/O ports on a single board configuration with ultra-low power x86 processors that are soldered onto the motherboard. Therefore, ultra-low power consumption allows the small form factor motherboards to operate in fanless designs by a heatsink instead of utilizing an active spinning fan, consuming less than 25watts.
Premio Mini-ITX Motherboard
The Mini-ITX small form factor motherboard supports PCIe slot and two memory slots for expandability. For industries that require various I/O ports to operate, pico-ITX is the right choice for its rich I/O, including VGA, HDMI, COM, GPIO, DIO, and many more. Here are more key features for MINI-ITX:
- Supports Intel® 6th/7th Gen Intel Core™ processor (LGA1151) with Intel Q170 PCH
- 1x PCIe x16, 1x Mini-PCIe
- 1x mSATA (shared with Mini-PCIe), 1x M.2, and 4x SATA 6.0Gb/s
- 5x COM port, 6x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0
- TPM 2.0 supported
- 0°C to 60°C extended operating temperature
3.5-inch Small Form Factor Motherboard
A 3.5-inch small form factor motherboard measures 146mm x 120mm in width and length. The 3.5-inch does not define the exact size of the motherboard; instead, it is the size of the compatible disk drive, which measures 3.5 x 3.6-inch. Therefore, due to the small form factor and fanless design, it is compatible with a 3.5" rotating hard disk that perfectly fits the motherboard. The 3.5" motherboards are also powerful enough to host SoC (System on Chip) at only a ~15watt TDP design.
Premio 3.5” Single board Computers
The 3.5" small form factor motherboard supports intel 8th Generation Intel Core Mobile U-Series or a Celeron Processor with a DIMM slot for DDR4 (up to 32GB) for powerful data processing and multitasking to handle various IoT sensors and devices. Here are more key features for 3.5" SBC:
- Support 8th Gen. Intel® Core™ Mobile U Processor & Intel® Celeron® Processor
- 2x Mini PCI-e (Gen3) w/ SIM slot support
- 2x SATA 6.0Gb/s
- 4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps), 4x RS-232/422/485 internal headers, 2x USB 2.0 internal header
- TPM 2.0 Supported
- -40°C to 70°C extended operating temperature
The pico-ITX small form factor motherboard measures 100mm x 72mm in size, the second smallest form factor motherboard. PICO-ITX SFF motherboard factor is specifically designed to bring the performance of x86 or 32-bit CPU and operating system to an embedded system at only under 10watts TDP design. Therefore, pico-ITX motherboards have been widely used in industrial automation, in-vehicle systems, retail management, and many more.
Premio 2.5” Single board Computers
The Pico-ITX SFF motherboard is known for its compact size and highly reliable computing solutions for many industrial applications. Here are the key features for PICO-ITX:
- Intel® Celeron® processor J1900, up to 2.0GHz
- 1x 204-pin DDR3L SODIMM. max up to 8GB
- 2x half-size mini PCIe for communication or expansion modules, 1x mSATA Socket
- 1x USB 3.0, 3x USB 2.0
- Dual independent display supported by 1x HDMI and 1x LVDS
- -10°C to 70°C extended operating temperature
Premio 1.8" FEMTO-ITX
Here are the key features for FEMTO-ITX :
- AMD Ryzen ™ Embedded R1606G with Radeon ™Vega 3 Graphics – Highest 2C Performance
- DDR4-2400 signal channel memory up to 8GB
- 1x Front Panel, 1x 8-bit GPIO
- 1x RJ45, 2x Micro HDMI, 1x Type C USB 3.1 Gen 2
- 2x Micro HDMI
- TPM 2.0
Premio has been designing and manufacturing top-notch small form factor motherboards for over 30 years. Each of Premio's motherboards has been carefully tested and validated to guarantee applications in the harshest industrial environments. As experts in OEM, Premio provides end-to-end engineering services to meet different configurations and challenges. From a full custom solution to a small change in I/O, we help customers achieve specific requirements without compromising performance. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.