The incredible shrinking PC

SAN DIEGO – If small is beautiful, then a new breed of PC cases about to be released could catch the eyes of those looking for custom-built space-saving office desktop or home media computers.

Designed by Intel, which calls it the microATX slim form factor chassis, the goal is to squeeze a micro ATX-sized motherboards and cards into a box that could be almost half the size of many desktop PCs, in part by taking advantage of lower-power CPUs.

The chipmaker estimates some 40 per cent of the PCs made by brand-name computer manufacturers are considered small PCs. That puts independent system builders at a disadvantage because they can’t offer similar sized machines, Haitham Abul-Haija, senior technical marketing engineer for Intel’s digital office and small form factor unit, explained in an interview at the company’s Solutions Summit here Tuesday.

To meet that challenge Intel created an open specification for computer case manufacturers who think there’s a market for smaller PCs, pushing the fact that the design means system builders can use its latest CPUs.

So far three manufacturers have said yes:

In Win Developments said its BK 623 case will be available to distribution in the middle of next month and will cost about US$50, including power supply;

Enlight Corp. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., said a model will be out before June;

Chembro, of Ontario, Calif., said its first case, which will cost about US$60, will be available early in the second half of the year.

These initial cases will be either 12.l litres in volume in size (about 323 by 140 by 276mm) or 10.8L.

However, case makers are also looking at shells that are 7.5L and 5.8L small. These sizes can be achieved by using an external power supply, a thin optical drive or low profile cards. Representatives of In Win, Enlight and Chembro said they are gauging customer response to these sizes before deciding on going into production.

Dubbed by Intel as the Mt. Jade project, Abul-Haija said the company managed to shrink chassis by designing a thermal partition separating the motherboard to make sure fresh air is brought into the shell to cool the CPU rather than warm air from other parts of the PC.

A single 250 or 300 watt fan is enough for cooling.

(For details of the specifications go to

The designs are well suited for the channel because there is no added costs – all boards and peripherals are standard-sized, Abul-Haija said.

He believes business, education and medical markets looking for smaller than average PCs will be good customers.

MicroATX computers don’t have to be skimpy. In Win’s BK 623 has four USB ports and one Firewire port on the front and four full-height expansion slots inside.

Jude Daigle of PA Computer Connections of Pittsburgh was enthusiastic about the concept when he saw a display at the show. “People don’t feel they need huge computers any more, unless they’re filling it with hard drives,” he said.

“Small is in.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer. Former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, Howard has written for several of ITWC's sister publications, including Before arriving at ITWC he served as a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times.

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