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What Size is My Motherboard?
Picking a motherboard can be tricky. There are many different sizes of motherboard available, and the size of a motherboard has a direct relation to what type of build a motherboard will be best suited for. Unfortunately the motherboard manufacturers don't provide much information about what tasks different sizes of motherboards are best suited for.
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Announced by VIA in 2007, Pico-ITX has become a popular format for speciality applications which requires an extremely small, low-power computer. The size of a Pico-ITX motherboard is about 100mm x 72mm (or about 4 inches by 3 inches). Pico-ITX motherboards usually include only a few basic connections such as USB, 3.5mm speaker/microphone, and a video output.
Pico-ITX systems are usually used in speciality applications like point-of-service terminals for businesses. The motherboards are rarely sold on their own and are virtually always sold in conjunction with a VIA processor.
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An increasingly popular format, Mini-ITX was originally created by VIA for its low power C3 processor. It has since been adopted by motherboard manufacturers for use with both AMD and Intel chipsets. Mini-ITX boards are 17cm x 17 cm (6.7in x 6.7in) in size. Mini-ITX motherboards are best suited for small home computers and HTPCs.
Currently there are Mini-ITX boards for processors using the AM2, AM3, LGA775, and LGA1156 sockets. Mini-ITX boards do line up with four of the mounting locations used by most ATX boards, so a Mini-ITX board should fit in any Micro-ATX or ATX case.
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One of the most popular motherboard formats, Micro-ATX is a standard created by Intel which has been in use for over a decade. Micro-ATX motherboards can vary somewhat in size because the standard is dictated by a maximum of 244mm x 244mm (9.6in x 9.6in). Micro-ATX motherboards can't exceed that, but can be smaller. They of course must use standard ATX mounting locations and so will fit in any Micro-ATX or ATX case.
Micro-ATX motherboards can be found in virtually any format with support for any socket. They always use the same chipsets as ATX boards but are typically lacking a few expansion slots due to their small size. Micro-ATX boards are suited for almost any role, but the limited number of expansion slots does limit their versatility. For example, it is often difficult to install a large video card and a sound card on a Micro-ATX board.
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The most popular motherboard format of the last decade and a half, the ATX standard's history goes all the way back to 1995. Since then it has become the most popular standard for motherboards. ATX motherboards have a size of 305mm x 244mm (12in x 9.6in) and will of course fit into any ATX case, although the physical size of the board is too large for Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX cases.
Because the ATX format is so popular there is a limitless combination of features available for these motherboards. They are made for every chipset and range from bare-bones budget boards to enthusiast products with multiple PCI express slots and a buffet of connections. ATX motherboards are suited for any build except for those which require a small size.
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An increasingly rare format, the Extended-ATX is simply a larger version of ATX. Its size is 305mm x 330mm (12in x 13in). Because of their size, Extended-ATX boards will only fit into cases made specifically for them.
The extra length gives Extended-ATX motherboards room for more expansion cards, but this is the only notable difference between ATX and Extended-ATX boards. Extended-ATX motherboards are typically used only in workstations and some servers.