PCs don't drive technology the way they used to. Yet significant developments in form factors, bus systems, motherboard specifications, storage interfaces, and memory type in the second half of 2004 will alter PC appearance and functionality, both inside and out.
One of the biggest changes will come when PC makers roll out systems based on the Balanced Technology eXtended (BTX) specification. Released by Intel in September 2002, the BTX form factor replaces the current Advanced Technology Extension (ATX) for desktop computers. BTX is a complete rewrite of the PC specification that provides better cooling, superior power distribution, less noise, and smaller form factors.
BTX will pave the way for smaller PCs to become the norm, as associated cost reductions make them acceptable in the mainstream market. This will necessitate new motherboards and power supplies, as well as better heat-dissipation strategies. While some systems will roll out this year, it will be well into 2005 before BTX PCs ship in any significant volume.
Another development will be the adoption of PCI Express as the next-generation onboard expansion technology. With its serial-based data exchange featuring radically new sockets and board layout, PCI Express will replace the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) and the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP).
The most significant memory development will be the use of Double Data Rate 2 (DDR2) SDRAM in PCs. DDR2 will be available with the same PC core logic chip sets that support PCI-Express. But with DDR2's price premium, it only will be used in high-end products in 2004.
Finally, the migration of PC hard-drive interfaces from Parallel ATA (PATA) to Serial ATA (SATA) that began in 2003 will shift into high gear in 2004. SATA also will appear in mobile and optical storage devices, reducing parallel interfaces to legacy devices like floppy-disk drives.
With all the exciting technologies entering the market, the PC will look quite different at the end of the year.