AMD DTX small form factor system preview

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AMD engineers have been working on reference DTX motherboards and systems, of course, despite their caution that it's up to their partners to produce components and systems for sale. AMD offered a reference DTX system for SPCR to try, describing it as a work in progress. We accepted the offer; we've had a week to play with the system.

Yes, this is the same DTX system pictured on the front page, next to a typical wireless mouse.

The prototpye board lacks HDMI and eSATA or Firewire.
Only low profile cards can be used , but vendors can use different case configurations, including a different PSU type.

It's packed quite tightly. Note use of SFX power supply and stock AMD heatsink fan.
The CPU fan draws in outside air through a vent in the chassis cover.
The PSU fan was missing an intake vent, which meant it ramped up in speed, even while idling.

The optical and hard drives are mounted on a tray removed by undoing a single thumbscrew.
There's space and vents at the front corner for a small intake fan if needed for an add-on graphics card.

Specification Description
Dimensions & weight Approx 14" x 13" x 4", 10 lbs.
Mainboard DTS with AM2 socket, AMD690G chipset
CPU AM2 BE-2350
Hard Drive 7200rpm 3.5"
RAM 2 x 512 MB - DDRII
Optical Drive Notebook DVD drive
PSU 250W Enhance Electronics
Front I/O 2 x USB, Audio (speaker, MIC)
Card Reader SD Card, CompactFlash
CPU cooler Stock AM2

It is a compact, minimalist system with a motherboard based around the excellent AMD690G chipset, which integrates the ATI X1250 graphics chip, capable of running HD video with a fast enough CPU. (Any AMD A64 processor running 2.4 GHz on this chipset will do any type of HD.) It came with a gig of RAM and an AM2 BE-2350 (dual core 45W processor running at 2.1 GHz), and with Vista Home Premium preloaded. The system is reasonably presentable with rough edges in presentation, BIOS options and acoustics. No serious measurements or tests were run; there are many reviews of such components which show what kind of performance can be achieved. The range of applications tried worked smoothly, much as expected from such a system.

The sample system ran too loud for our taste, due mostly to a thermally-controlled power supply fan that was over-eager to cool in the absence of a vent for fresh air intake. The measured SPL was around 30 [email protected] right after bootup, but within a few minutes in idle, the PSU fan sped up and became louder, measuring some 38 [email protected] At full load, the noise reached nearly 44 [email protected] All this noise was directly attributable to the PSU fan and its lack of intake airflow. Thermal sensors on the motherboard did not work properly with any monitoring utilities we tried; suffice it to say there was no obvious evidence of misbehavior, meaning the system was not overheating. All this, despite relatively high efficiency in the PSU, which drew only ~48W at idle and 89W at peak maximum load.

AMD pointed out that this weakness in the rerefence design had already been noted and was being modified. So the reference system is really just a preview, a snapshot of a work in progress — and the work has already moved beyond this photo, as the details are being changed.

As with any form factor specification, perfection will be in the details... of design implementation and execution. Nothing in the publicly available 10-page DTX specifcation supports AMD's statement that "low acoustic noise will be fundamental" to the definition of the DTX specification. Unless the spec undergoes dramatic expansion, it seems more realistic to expect that some models will be quieter than others, as usual; some by design and others by happenstance.

DTX looks like an eminently viable platform option for both SFF computers as well home theater or media PCs, the latter especially with the current AMD690G chipset. (Competitive performance chipsets for both AMD and Intel platforms are sure to follow, however. It's the way of the tech world.) The compatibility that AMD has obviously worked hard to achieve in DTX should encourage vendors in both enthusiast DIY and OEM sectors. Now it's a question of just when. We look forward to the retail products whenever they arrive — hopefully sooner than later.

Much thanks to AMD for the chance to examine this reference DTX system.

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Articles of Related Interest
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Shuttle SB86i BTX SFF system
Albatron KI690-AM2 Mini-ITX motherboard
VIA EPIA EN12000E Mini-ITX motherboard
AOpen i945GTt-VFA C2D m-ITX motherboard

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