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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | System Case | Form Factors ]

WTX Form Factor

For a long time, the Baby AT form factor was the standard used by most PCs. Baby AT was replaced by ATX, and then a slew of ATX variants, including microATX and FlexATX, were developed. The trend with these most recent form factors has been towards smaller and smaller size, reflecting the rise of the burgeoning lower-end, sub-$1,000 PC market. (FlexATX motherboards are only a little over half the size of ATX ones.) At the same time, however, PC technology continues to increase in power and performance, allowing it to make its move into the high-end professional market for high-performance workstations and servers. To address the needs of this specialty market, in 1998 Intel introduced the new WTX form factor, where the "W" is intended to stand for "workstation".

One of the intentions of the WTX form factor is to standardize the current proliferation of different large PC-based workstation and server designs. With the previous standard form factors being too small for high-end multiple-processor, multiple-hard-disk, large-memory solutions, manufacturers have had to "roll their own", with the result being many different, potentially incompatible designs on the market. WTX is meant to change this by giving manufacturers a standard more likely to be suitable to their customers' needs. Maximum WTX motherboard size is a whopping 14"x16.75", over double the maximum size of a regular ATX board. The goal of the WTX form factor is to support both current and future high-end motherboard and CPU technologies, and other features in demand by workstation and server users. To that end, the form factor is geared specifically towards flexibility of design; for example, exact mounting hole locations are not prescribed for the case. Instead, the motherboard is designed to mount to a metal plate that comes with it, and the plate installed into the case.

You can find detailed specifications and other information about WTX at the WTX Home Page.

A WTX server case, with a large multiple-CPU motherboard installed.
(SuperMicro's SC850)

Image SuperMicro Computer, Inc.
Image used with permission.

Since WTX cases are designed to be used in high-end systems, they are designed to handle the features that the customers of such systems demand. This includes space for high-capacity, redundant power supplies, removable panels for easy access to components, locking front panel doors, a large number of hard drive bays (usually for hot-swappable SCA SCSI drives in a RAID configuration) and locations for multiple cooling fans. For added flexibility, some WTX cases are designed to support the installation of ATX or Extended ATX motherboards in addition to WTX motherboards. While the WTX form factor includes a specification for beefy WTX power supplies to power WTX systems, some WTX cases come with ATX power supplies.

Size and features don't come without a cost, and WTX cases are priced accordingly. Due to the expense, WTX will likely remain for some time only in the high-end market. It will be interesting, though, to see just how quickly WTX systems filter down from the "high end" market Intel is targeting, to the upper end of the consumer market. Intel often tries to focus their latest and greatest technologies only to the highest end of the market, but history has shown that due to the hunger for performance exhibited by many users even in the middle of the range, it doesn't always stay there. :^)

Next: Case Switches

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