[SFFn] How STX Changed My View of SFF

confusis

John Morrison. Founder and Head writer SFF.N
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This article marks a return to my editorial content - occasional articles entirely based on my personal opinion. These are part of a series focusing on issues in the SFF niche. All content is entirely opinion of myself, not of SmallFormFactor.net, and should not be taken as fact.

For years, I was a Micro-ATX SFF stalwart. I never truly believed M-ITX could offer all I needed in a system, with lackluster networking, audio and storage solutions, as well as just poor physical design. CPU coolers sat too close to RAM or expansion slots, minimal drive expansion was available, and the boards just looked... cheap. I also sat on the sidelines with the likes of dual-socket boards, offering me immense bang for my limited buck.


Read more here.
 

Shahmatt

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Sep 6, 2017
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Hmm. How about ever better integrated graphics causing GPUs to become redundant for all except the most extreme games?
 
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tinyitx

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Jan 25, 2018
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I think I have just read that Intel has recently acquired some big names from AMD, ready to beef up their graphics development.
But, I think, Intel is likely to go into the market of discrete video cards rather than beefing up their onboard graphics.
If this is true, Intel onboard graphics is not going to get much more powerful in the future.
 

JosephEK

Cable-Tie Ninja
Mar 6, 2017
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I'm not completely sold on APUs yet. From what I know having to relly on system RAM is a big bottleneck and driver updates are supposedly slower to arive. Then you have to find a m/b with the video outputs you want.

That said I am a sort of low-power usage sort of fanatic and having a CPU & GPU combined with a total TDP of only 65W is incredible.

The author of the article has ascended beyond mATX, but I'm strongly considering it over my current Ivy bridge ATX system as a compromise of value, expandability and far more portable form factor.
 
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comagoosie

sff is life
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May 8, 2018
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Very nice article! I have mixed feelings about micro-stx. While it is nice that you can plop in your own compatible CPU, CPU cooler (iirc you swapped in a noctua l9i), ram, and storage -- aren't you still limited in upgradeability? A brief trip to newegg didn't reveal micro-stx mobos or mxm graphic cards I can swap in. To me, micro-stx is between a nuc and a regular mini-itx system.

The platform has tons of potential, as I would believe most users don't require all the ports a mini-itx provides: full length graphics card, 95W+ TDP CPU -- most users aren't 4k AAA gaming or deep learning!
 
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BirdofPrey

Standards Guru
Sep 3, 2015
797
493
This article marks a return to my editorial content - occasional articles entirely based on my personal opinion. These are part of a series focusing on issues in the SFF niche. All content is entirely opinion of myself, not of SmallFormFactor.net, and should not be taken as fact.

For years, I was a Micro-ATX SFF stalwart. I never truly believed M-ITX could offer all I needed in a system, with lackluster networking, audio and storage solutions, as well as just poor physical design. CPU coolers sat too close to RAM or expansion slots, minimal drive expansion was available, and the boards just looked... cheap. I also sat on the sidelines with the likes of dual-socket boards, offering me immense bang for my limited buck.


Read more here.
I never understood complaints about drive expansion or networking tbh. Even many years ago, it seems like dual NICs was standard even for mITX boards with the added bonus many of them had WiFi even if that's not a huge boon for desktop usage, but it also, usually means bluetooth (since most wifi cards be they mPCIe or M.2 are combined modules) which was never something ypu could count on for bigger boards. As for storage, how many drives do you need? In my own experience, trying to cram more drives in is less efficient than just fewer, larger drives, and if you want to run a proper RAID array, the onboard HBA isn't going to cut it, so ITX fails by not having a second slot for a RAID card rather than not having enough drive connectors.

I will agree on the troubles getting a proper cooler to fit with everything being so cramped. I never understood why there haven't been any manufacturers bold enough to try switching to SODIMMS or replacing a quartet of SATA connectors with a miniSAS connector and putting the proper cable in the box. There's a LOT of space manufacturers could be saving.

I don't think we're there yet on the Intel side, alas.
Even on the AMD side, it isn't that fantastic. Even the most recent Vega 11 is only pushing 30-40 FPS on lower resolutions, and motherboard manufacturers haven't been taking advantage of freesync by putting DP ports on their motherboards (HDMI freesync monitors are often newer and more expensive and it's a crapshoot whether or not a given motherboard supports freesync over HDMI)

Very nice article! I have mixed feelings about micro-stx. While it is nice that you can plop in your own compatible CPU, CPU cooler (iirc you swapped in a noctua l9i), ram, and storage -- aren't you still limited in upgradeability? A brief trip to newegg didn't reveal micro-stx mobos or mxm graphic cards I can swap in. To me, micro-stx is between a nuc and a regular mini-itx system.

The platform has tons of potential, as I would believe most users don't require all the ports a mini-itx provides: full length graphics card, 95W+ TDP CPU -- most users aren't 4k AAA gaming or deep learning!
As far as I can tell, STX is very much intended to be an OEM thing much like Thin Mini ITX was. We'll see if it suffers the same fate, or if it picks up consumer uses like mPCIe and M.2 did. MXM is still probably the biggest issue with MXM cards, when you can actually find one, being more expensive than the equivalent desktop card
 
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Nanook

King of Cable Management
May 23, 2016
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I never understood complaints about drive expansion or networking tbh. Even many years ago, it seems like dual NICs was standard even for mITX boards with the added bonus many of them had WiFi even if that's not a huge boon for desktop usage, but it also, usually means bluetooth (since most wifi cards be they mPCIe or M.2 are combined modules) which was never something ypu could count on for bigger boards. As for storage, how many drives do you need? In my own experience, trying to cram more drives in is less efficient than just fewer, larger drives, and if you want to run a proper RAID array, the onboard HBA isn't going to cut it, so ITX fails by not having a second slot for a RAID card rather than not having enough drive connectors.

I will agree on the troubles getting a proper cooler to fit with everything being so cramped. I never understood why there haven't been any manufacturers bold enough to try switching to SODIMMS or replacing a quartet of SATA connectors with a miniSAS connector and putting the proper cable in the box. There's a LOT of space manufacturers could be saving.

Even on the AMD side, it isn't that fantastic. Even the most recent Vega 11 is only pushing 30-40 FPS on lower resolutions, and motherboard manufacturers haven't been taking advantage of freesync by putting DP ports on their motherboards (HDMI freesync monitors are often newer and more expensive and it's a crapshoot whether or not a given motherboard supports freesync over HDMI)

As far as I can tell, STX is very much intended to be an OEM thing much like Thin Mini ITX was. We'll see if it suffers the same fate, or if it picks up consumer uses like mPCIe and M.2 did. MXM is still probably the biggest issue with MXM cards, when you can actually find one, being more expensive than the equivalent desktop card
Agreed. I hope that STX and MXM becomes more popular, and prices will go down with economy of scale. It’s a matter of time before we’re playing full AAA games and productivity work on tiny devices.
 
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Necere

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You know what I'd kind of like to see - rather than micro-STX - is an STX board with a PCIe slot on the edge, like those PIO mini-ITX boards. Wouldn't be quite as small as micro-STX with MXM, but being able to use any off-the-shelf GPU would more than make up for it, IMO.

BTW, anyone happen to get ahold of the STX dimensional drawings? Would be useful for anyone wanting to make case for it.
 

VegetableStu

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what about behind the motherboard? maybe with a taller right angle socket
 

deeree

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Mar 4, 2017
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I think it's unlikely that we'll see more mass produced MXM GPUs since you can't find them in current gen laptops. Manufacturers prefer BGA because of space and compatibility issues. More sceptic thoughts can be found in this Gamer's nexus video:
 

owliwar

Master of Cramming
Lazer3D
Apr 7, 2017
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for me, the first downside of micro stx is that its intel only, and the seccond is that it comes with a case. I mean, I like the look of the deskmini, its suble. but the ideia that its comes with the full package only and its only one case? total turn off. I would love to make a case for it as well

I really like the rest of it though. I would love to see more mainstream external power bricks as well. if big power sypply vendors could make 300w external bricks for an affordable price, I guess it would be a win win for us. but that would only happen if more motherboards had integrated power conectors
 
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Necere

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what about behind the motherboard? maybe with a taller right angle socket
This would almost certainly violate the maximum component height for the back of the motherboard. Also only really useful for back-to-back style layouts, whereas with an edge or traditional frontside socket, it's fairly trivial to convert to other layouts via a riser.
 
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BernardoZ

Founder of Z-CASES
z-cases.com
Feb 7, 2018
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Great article @confusis !

You know what I'd kind of like to see - rather than micro-STX - is an STX board with a PCIe slot on the edge, like those PIO mini-ITX boards. Wouldn't be quite as small as micro-STX with MXM, but being able to use any off-the-shelf GPU would more than make up for it, IMO.
This doesn't make much sense to me. STX boards have embedded front IO, so if it had PIO too, you would only be able to use <15cm gpus.

But I get what you mean, as I find the MSI Trident 3 mb one of the coolest sff boards ever made:
 

Sean Crees

Airflow Optimizer
Jan 1, 2017
352
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It's been said before, but until i can buy an MXM graphics card from Newegg and Amazon at a price similar to their desktop variants this form factor is dead on arrival.

Another pretty major issue, but not as deal crushing as the first one would be better availability of faster than JEDEC standard speed memory in the SODIM form factor.

Having an AM4 option would be nice as well.

Fix these problems and i'll get super hyped about the STX form factor.
 
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Necere

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Feb 22, 2015
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Great article @confusis !


This doesn't make much sense to me. STX boards have embedded front IO, so if it had PIO too, you would only be able to use <15cm gpus.

But I get what you mean, as I find the MSI Trident 3 mb one of the coolest sff boards ever made:
Fair point, it was just a thought in passing really. In fact the fixed front I/O was one of my complaints about the form factor way back when.
 
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CircleTect

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Circle Studio
May 1, 2017
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You know what would be cool - if a group of us joined forces to make a totally custom motherboard spec, perfectly tailored to the needs of SFF (down to the port layout). Waiting and relying on the major vendors to provide us with the next great platform is boring.

STX is an important step in the right direction, but I'm worried it won't do well if AsRock only continue to sell it in the DeskMini package.
 

BirdofPrey

Standards Guru
Sep 3, 2015
797
493
You know what would be cool - if a group of us joined forces to make a totally custom motherboard spec, perfectly tailored to the needs of SFF (down to the port layout). Waiting and relying on the major vendors to provide us with the next great platform is boring.

STX is an important step in the right direction, but I'm worried it won't do well if AsRock only continue to sell it in the DeskMini package.
First off, how many people here are Hardware Systems Architects, Electronics Engineers and/or Electrical Engineers?
Second, if the community WERE to come up with a motherboard spec, what reason would any vendors have to support it. All of the form factors that have been successful have been pushed by VERY big companies (or multi-company conglomerates) with a LOT of clout, and these same groups have just as many, if not more attempts at making new standards that died unceremoniously, because even that wasn't enough to overcome market inertia.