Are you planning to buy a new computer or build one yourself?
Well, in either case, there is one essential component on which you need to give special attention, and that is the computer’s case or the cabinet.
If you give proper attention to case details, you may notice that they are usually marketed as being EATX, ATX or even Micro-ATX.
Now, you may be wondering what the difference among them, and whether you should really care about it, especially since there are so many other things to think about such as the processor speed, the amount of memory that your computer has, and what sort of graphics card it has, etc.
Well, trust me, you really do need to care about your system’s case type because that’s what defines its form factor and the type of motherboard it can accommodate inside it along with all other components and fancy lights.
EATX vs. ATX
The Extended ATX and Advanced Technology eXtended are both ‘form factors’. This means that they refer to the size and shape of the motherboard in your computer (and therefore also likely to the internal dimension of the cabinet).
You have to understand that every electronic device has a logic board to which various types of registers, transistors, storage units, rams, processors, GPUs and all sorts of electronic components are attached. We call such boards as motherboards, and they are available in the market in varying shape and sizes to which we usually refer as computer form factor.
Using basic logic, you can confidently say that a case labeled as Advanced Technology eXtended can comfortably accommodate a logic board of form factor Micro-ATX, but it’s not possible the other way around.
So, when it comes to EATX vs. ATX, which is better? Does it even matter?
An Old Standard
The original ‘ATX’ dates back to 1995, and it stands for ‘Advanced Technology eXtended’. They have a standard size of 244mm width and 305mm height. Intel develops it as a logic board configuration specification.
It is something that was created to standardize the way that computer parts would fit together so that if you bought a motherboard, you would know that it would fit in a standard case and that the other parts would slot in correctly. If you have ever had a standard sized desktop or tower PC, then you have probably had an ATX motherboard.
There was a trend towards smaller cases, for a while, and that’s where the Micro-ATX and Mini ITX size comes in. These types of motherboards are designed for the smallest of cases, and to fit low power consumption parts, for those who want something where size and quiet operation, with low heat dissipation, is a priority.
EATX takes steps in the other direction and is bigger than standard ATX. The question is, does bigger mean better?
Size and Functionality
If you’re buying a ready-made computer, then your primary consideration will be making sure that there is space under your desk or beside your monitor for the computer. You don’t need to care too much about anything else unless you want to future-proof your machine by making sure that it will be able to take full-sized graphics cards, extra memory or additional hard drives or SSDs.
If you are building a machine, then you will need to make sure that the case that you purchase can accept the motherboard that you plan to put into it and that the motherboard has sufficient PCI-E ports, SATA ports, and anything else that you might require.
Going down from ATX to a smaller format means that you will likely have to give up some functionality. EATX, on the other hand, tends to have more features. Standard ATX motherboards will usually have:
- 2 to 3 PCI-E x16 ports
- 3 PCI-E x1 ports
- Onboard sound and in many cases onboard video as well
- 4 RAM slots
EATX boards, being significantly bigger and costlier, will usually have four (sometimes more) PCI-E slots
This is particularly important if you are planning on using a very powerful graphics card which takes up two PCI-E slots because it means that you can still use the remaining slots for a super-fast PCI-E SSD, or other additional upgrades. The extra space on the board means that you can often enjoy the benefit of more USB slots and more additional features.
Price and Performance
For the most part, the price difference isn’t too noticeable between boards with comparable feature sets, but you may pay more for a board with extra features like integrated WiFi support or dual NVME M.2 slots.
The real difference is in performance. While stock boards should perform comparably regardless of size, people who are interested in overclocking will likely find that an EATX board can handle overclocking better than the smaller counterparts.
This isn’t so much due to the inferiority of the parts used in smaller boards. Really, a smaller board is a marvel of engineering in a lot of ways. The thing that sets boards apart are the heat dissipation, and it could be argued that it is often not the board that is the problem but the case that the board is in.
When you overclock, the bus and the processor run hotter, and smaller boards have less surface area to release heat, which means that it may be harder to get the machine running stable, especially in a small case where you are not likely to have a lot of fans and almost certainly won’t have the luxury of water cooling.
EATX boards are designed to go into large cases that can have more sophisticated cooling systems. Standard ATX boards will go into standard cases and tend to offer a good compromise, being big enough, feature-packed enough and flexible enough to be used as a high-performance machine and overclocked if necessary. Go smaller than that, and you are entering the realms where overclocking becomes less wise.
Which Should You Buy?
If you are making a purchasing decision, compare the feature set of each board side by side, and if possible look at photographs of the boards. There is little point saying “I just need an ATX board, it has enough ports” if one of the PCI-E ports will be rendered useless for you by a dual-width graphics card. It could be that you do need the extra ports on an EATX board.
Make sure that your case has the appropriate mountings for the motherboard that you decide to buy, and make sure that your power supply is good enough to run the motherboard and all of the cards and drives, as well as all of the fans attached to the case. Remember that PSUs will lose a bit of their output over time, so you may want a slightly higher wattage than you think you need as a buffer. A PSU with at least four 12v rails will give you the stability that you need, and prevent crashes in demanding games and other applications. It pays to invest in a top quality PSU for your machine.