Mini-ITX Penetrates Embedded Motherboards Market

The Mini-ITX form factor, introduced by VIA Technologies in 2002, has unexpectedly made significant inroads in the market. Originally driven by hobbyists seeking a smaller alternative to large desktop towers that house ATX motherboards, demand for the boards has spread to the embedded market as well.

The boards are a smaller than a traditional ATX motherboard, but also retain ample board real estate for integrated I/O. “The PC similarity of the Mini-ITX form factor was initially the reason hardcore embedded designers initially looked down on using it, but the resemblance has proved to be an enabler of the form factor being widely used,” says Eric Heikkila, Director VDC’s Embedded Hardware and Systems Practice. Mini-ITX has a standardized layout of mounting holes, panel I/O shield, and PCI slot similar to ATX boards. This has encouraged the rapid development of Mini-ITX chassis. The Mini-ITX form factor is also backward compatible, and these boards can be used in an ATX chassis because they work with a standard ATX power supply and 20-pin ATX power connector.

While backward compatibility is useful and has only added to usage of Mini-ITX, the major driving for Mini-ITX in the embedded space has been the low-power, low-heat characteristics of the form factor. This has enabled the development of fanless embedded computer systems using Mini-ITX motherboards, which are ideal for building extremely rugged and reliable embedded computing solutions for harsh environments.

Mini-ITX Embedded Motherboard Shipments Segmented by Form Factor, 2005-2008 (US$ in Millions)
2005-2008 Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR): 22.5%

The demand for MiniITX is currently being driven by embedded applications such as ATM and gaming kiosks, digital signage, industrial control, communications – codecs, mesh network boxes, etc., mobile video recording and transmitting units for law enforcement. Many other applications are driving demand, where a small board with low-power, low-heat dissipation is desired to make the system rugged, reliable, and adaptable to a small case.

Venture Development Corporation (VDC) is an independent technology market research and strategy consulting firm that specializes in a number of retail automation, RFID, AIDC, embedded, component, industrial, and defense markets. VDC has been operating since 1971, when the firm was founded by graduates of the Harvard Business School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today, we employ a talented collection of analysts and consultants who offer a rare combination of expertise in the market research process; experience in technology product and program management; and formal training in engineering and marketing. VDC’s clients include thousands of the largest and fastest-growing technology suppliers in the world and the most successful investors participating in the markets we cover.