While Intel was busy showing off robots and doubling down on the Internet of Things at last week's Intel Developer Forum (IDF) last week, it was also displaying work on some of its bread-and-butter businesses. In addition to pushing a new method for manufacturing SSDs, the company unveiled a new motherboard form factor that continues the trend toward smaller PCs while providing a bit more upgrade flexibility.
Dubbed the 5x5 (for its dimensions in inches), the board is slightly larger than the one used for Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) systems and clearly much larger than the Compute Stick that the company debuted earlier this year. There's a big advantage to that size difference, however: While you're stuck with the processor in a NUC -- as the board lacks a socket -- the 5x5 offers a LGA socket that allows you to update the cPU if you so choose. In that regard, it's similar to a mini-ITX motherboard, but at 147x140mm, the 5x5 is 29 percent smaller.
The 5x5 board can handle either 35W or 65W processors, along with tiny M.2 form factor storage or a 2.5-inch drive. The one major drawback is that it doesn't offer a PCIe slot, which means your system will be limited to the integrated graphics from whichever Intel Core processor you choose. Gamers looking for the most performance in the smallest package will still have to rely on a mini-ITX board.
Small-form-factor PCs have become -- pardon the pun -- a sizeable market as they reach everywhere from living rooms to embedded solutions (kiosks, digital signage, etc.). With the 5x5 form factor, Intel is acknowledging that buyers might like more flexibility (to upgrade the CPU) but not too much flexibility (such as being able to add a discrete graphics card). Because the board was given a soft launch at IDF, we don't have a list of vendors that has announced products in the pipeline supporting the new standard. But given the company's market clout, and the success of the NUC form factor with other manufacturers, there should be a number of 5x5-based motherboards and PCs on their way soon.