Desktop computers have undergone many improvements in recent years and continue to evolve with better design, greater computing power, and smaller central unit with better space allocation.
Desktop computers used to be very bulky. Nowadays, a desktop computer box measures approximately 20 x 45 x 48 cm (width x height x depth) and can meet the most demanding needs a home user could have, such as high-end gaming and rendering of complex graphics and video.
The size of the box, also known as the central unit or tower, is mainly determined by the size of the motherboard which is the main and basic printed electronic circuit of a computer. On the motherboard, we mainly plug the processor and RAM. There are also other essential pieces and/or computer peripherals that are connected with it via cables but occupy a separate space inside the box (e.g., the power supply and fans).
The most common household towers are called Full Tower, Mid Tower, Mini Tower and Small Form Factor and are designed to be able to accommodate motherboards of sizes EATX, ATX, MicroATX and Mini-ITX respectively, and to also fit a power supply, fans, storage media (e.g. hard disks), etc.
Wikipedia has an extensive list of motherboard sizes:
In the chart below we see that a full tower will accommodate all motherboard sizes, while a mid ATX tower, which is now the standard tower size in the market of home desktops, will accommodate all motherboard sizes except maybe for the Extended ATX (depends on internal configuration of the box).
|Case Size||Extended ATX||ATX||Micro-ATX|
|Small Form Factor||No||No||Yes|
One Mid Tower is a box measuring approximately 20 x 45 x 48 cm (width x height x depth), and the ATX motherboard is approximately 30.5 x 24.4 cm (length x width). The remaining empty space is used to house the power supply box, optical media, storage media, fans, and also to be able to circulate the air inside the box. In the picture below the red outline in the back of the box represents the area occupied by the motherboard.
The empty space at the bottom of the box is occupied by the power supply (at the lower left corner) and is used to spread the power supply wires to be connected to the motherboard, fans and side devices. There are two necessary connections between the power supply and the motherboard – one to supply the motherboard and another specifically for the processor.
The empty side space right of the motherboard, is mainly used for shelves that hold optical media such as a DVD player and storage devices such as hard drives (i.e. HDD) and solid-state drives (i.e. SSD).
These empty spaces can be eliminated so that we have a tower with almost the size of the motherboard. For the following reasons:
- The optical drives are not needed anymore and the cost of SSD drives continues to decline. As a result, we are able to set up a computer with no internal hard drives. And as there are forms of SSD fastening on the motherboard without the need for cables, we can have a tower without its side. This can be costly in the present, but in the near future will be the standard.
- Without the side column and with less power cords that are ending mostly on the motherboard, the power supply can be placed in parallel with the motherboard and at the same height, thus eliminating all the lower space.
So we end up with a lighter and smaller box with height and length that clearly depends on the size of our motherboard. The motherboards have received many improvements in their design and all modern cards have a single core chip, the Northbridge – while older mobos had a second one called Southbridge – associated with the processor, the RAM memories and all other units. So to complete the picture of the future desktop computer, let us envisage the improvements in the design and size of the motherboard itself:
- Disappearance of the SATA connectors. As we’ve done away with the need to connect devices with SATA cables since we can plug them directly onto the motherboard, the SATA connectors are unnecessary.
- Disappearance of all exterior physical ports which can be replaced by a single port type for all purposes. We believe that in the future there won’t be many different external ports for different purposes such as USB, Parallel Port, e-SATA and HDMI. There will only be a USB Type-C (or other) in which we can connect everything – from external drives etc. storage devices to monitors, speakers, microphones, headphones etc. An exception might be our favorite Ethernet network port.
- Finally, something that may be a thing in the distant future, the SSD will reach the speed of RAM (which is 10 times faster in the present) and so they will be unified.
So to summarize, a common desktop computer of the future will look like this:
- It will operate silently because there will be no noisy mechanical parts involved such as mechanical hard drives and DVD players. Furthermore, the silent water cooling systems would be preferred than the noisy air cooling systems with fans.
- It will only consist of the case, the power supply and the motherboard.
- The case will be lighter and smaller in height and length and its size will clearly depend on the size of the motherboard.
- The motherboard, beyond the inevitable power sockets, will only have slots for the CPU, for memory and expansion cards.
- The motherboard will have only 1-2 types of external ports. Ethernet and USB Type-C.
We can complete the picture with endless design options for the tower such as LED lights inside and sides of transparent plexiglass.