POS ITX Motherboards Dissected: A Guide for Understanding the Ins and Outs
- by quanzheng
Recently, Elon Musk nearly sent a starship to space. Apple announced the launch of its AR headset. You can get a gaming PC, with once-impossible specs, for around $1000 - $2000.
Sounds normal, right?
Truth is: things weren't always this rosy. Less than 5 decades ago, computer engineers could barely design a motherboard.
In fact, it was only 41 years ago, in 1981, that Patty McHugh, an IBM engineer, designed the first motherboard, the Planar Breadboard.
Today, not only do we have more advanced motherboards, they come in varying sizes and have different applications. One of these applications is in POS machines.
In this post, we'll explore the type of motherboards used in POS machines, ITX motherboards.
Let's start with some explanations.
What's a Motherboard
Although computers were in use before 1981, they were both size-and-cost inefficient. But thanks to Moore's law and motherboards things have changed.
While Moore's law guided manufacturers towards size-and-cost efficient systems, motherboards made these systems possible.
Let me explain.
You see, prior to the design of the Planar Breadboard, computer engineers used backplanes to connect the several PCBs that make up a computer system.
Simply put, a backplane is an electrical connector.
In early computers, engineers made discrete circuit boards for individual components of a computer. And each circuit board was connected to a backplane. This system enabled communication between the discrete circuit boards.
But something changed in 1981. IBM released a personal computer with a circuit board that contained a 4.77MHz microprocessor, 16Kb memory, and an 8-bit ISA connector. It was the first PC that had a motherboard.
That's to say. Unlike a backplane, a motherboard is a PCB that comprises the crucial components of a computer and allows communication between these parts.
Parts of a Motherboard
As explained in the previous section, motherboards comprise the crucial components of computers. I've outlined these crucial components below:
- CPU sockets ( slot for the microprocessor. Sometimes, microprocessors are soldered to the board)
- Memory slots ( slots for RAM)
- Flash memory ( contains system firmware, either UEFI or BIOS)
- Clock generators (generate synchronization signals)
- PCI ( peripheral component interface)
- Storage connectors (ODD, SDD, HDD)
- CMOS battery
- USB ports
- Floppy connector
- Heat sinks
Most modern-day computers may have more or less of the afore-listed components. However, hardware and software standardization ensures similar computers use the same form factor, and thus have similar and interchangeable parts.
Motherboard Form Factors
Picture this: your computer is faulty. And in a bid to repair it, you discover similar parts in the market either have different dimensions, I/O ports, mount holes, or power supply compatibility.
Not an exciting scenario, right?
Well, to avoid the afore-said scenario, computer engineers agreed on a set of standards for similar computers regardless of manufacturer. We call these standards form factors.
Although there are numerous form factors in the industry, we'll focus on the most popular motherboard form factors. These form factors include:
- XT form factor
- AT form factor
- Baby-AT form factor
- ATX form factor
- ITX form factor
XT form factor
The XT form factor is the first motherboard form factor to enter the computer manufacturing industry. This form factor was designed in 1983. It was IBM's motherboard design for its first home computer, the Personal Computer XT.
This form factor is now obsolete and had an optimal size of 216mm * 279mm.
AT form factor
AT form factor, also known as Full-AT, is another IBM innovation designed in 1984. And as you've probably guessed, it's the motherboard of an IBM personal computer, the IBM Personal Computer/AT. The AT form factor is obsolete and has a Max size of 305 0mm * 279 - 330mm.
Baby-AT form factor
After the Full-AT motherboard, It turned out IBM wasn't done with motherboard innovations. They needed a smaller version of the AT motherboard. So, they designed the Baby-AT motherboard.
Functionality-wise, it's equivalent to the Full-AT. However, it had a Max size of 216mm * 254-330mm.
ATX form factor
The Baby-AT and Full-AT motherboards were the de-facto motherboard form factors for another decade. However, Intel decided it was time for a change in 1995.
They designed the ATX (Advanced Technology eXtended) motherboard. And as proof of their ingenuity, this motherboard form factor is still in vogue. It has a typical size of 305mm*244mm (9.6in*12in).
But Intel didn't stop there. In 1996, they designed a motherboard that was 25% smaller than the ITX motherboard, the Micro-ITX. Today, there are several miniature versions of the ITX motherboards. These include:
- The Flex-ITX motherboard (Intel, 1999, 228.6mm * 190.5mm)
- The Mini-ITX motherboards (AOpen, 2005, 150mm * 150mm)
ITX form factor
The various forms of ATX motherboards dominate the computer manufacturing industry. However, most of these boards aren't suitable for small form-factor installations
So, VIA Technologies developed the ITX (Information Technology eXtended) motherboards in 2001. These motherboards have a size of 170mm * 170mm and are optimal for fan-less low-power-consumption systems such as POS machines, home theatre PCs (HPTCs), and small form factor gaming PCs.
POS Machines and ITX Motherboards.
A POS (Point of Sales) machine is a computer with a POS terminal. In simple terms, it's a hardware system designed specifically for processing payments in the retail and hospitality industry.
However, nowadays, there are software-based POS terminals, which can be loaded into any hardware and OS. As such, you can develop a custom POS with your hardware and software.
Let's use Wuibu as an example.
Weibu is an OEM motherboard manufacturer, which also offers computer hardware wholesale. Apart from its initial offering of Mini-ITX PCs, Mini-ITX gaming PCs, and other small form factor PCs, it's also a motherboard manufacturer.
Thus, you'll find several ITX motherboards on its website. These include:
- The PE3950-ML-ME, a low-power ThinMini-ITX with Intel® Apollo Lake SoC Series
- The PN5105-D4 ML/ME, a low-power ThinMini-ITX with Intel® Jasper Lake SoC Series.
Every facet of human technology has experienced unbridled growth in the last five decades. These advancements are thanks to innovations like the Mini-ITX motherboards.
This innovative motherboard technology allows computer manufacturers to create the type of low-power fan-less computer systems used in POS terminals.
Then again, technological advancement is propelling the retail and hospitality industry towards software-based POS terminals. As a result, it's possible to produce a custom POS terminal with Mini-ITX motherboards like Weibu's PN5105-D4 ML/ME.
Hopefully, this article provides enough information on ITX motherboards to help you make the best decision for your business.