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Published: 12-19-2022

What is ATX12VO?

Power supply standard updates aren’t the sexiest or most newsworthy development, and you may have completely missed the 2019 announcement of ATX12VO. It usually takes a while for new hardware standards to actually manifest as something you can buy off the shelf, and now we’re seeing motherboards and PSUs for this new standard on the horizon.

So how exactly is ATX12VO different, and why did things need to change? Let’s break it down so it all makes sense.

The Multi-rail Problem

In the PSUs we all know and love, things are more complicated than you think. The power supply takes AC power from the wall outlet and turns it into DC power so that your computer components can run, but different parts of your computer need different voltage levels!

So PSUs have multiple “rails” supplying 12V, 5V, and 3.3V. Because the PSU has to contain so many components to sustain multiple conversions and voltage supplies, it makes them inefficient, complex, and more expensive than they have

12V Or Bust

ATX12VO (12 Volt Only) power supplies throw put 5V and 3,3V rails. You get 12V, and that’s it. As a result, the traditional 24-pin motherboard connector is a thing of the past. Now you’ll get two connectors, one a 10-pin plug and the other a 6-pin plug.

Image credit: MSI)

ATX12VO PSUs and motherboards still conform to ATX specifications. So they will fit into ATX cases, and all current components such as hard drives and RAM will work with the new motherboards. So all you have to do is make sure you have an ATX12VO PSU and motherboard and you’re good to go.
The Promise Of Power and Money Savings
What are the advantages of ATX12VO? First, the PSUs should be more efficient, wasting less power as heat. Currently, 80 PLUS efficiency is the gold standard, but we expect ATX12VO PSUs to blow that out of the water while also costing less than the previous multi-rail designs on a watt-for-watt basis.

In particular, ATX12VO PSUs promise significantly better idle power efficiency. Given that most of us don’t actually turn our computers off, this is a significant advantage, but it’s even more important for data
centers. We expect ATX12VO to create significant energy waste reductions in data centers where any idle time, however short, will use less power than before.
Motherboards Have New Responsibilities
Since components like CPUs and SSDs aren’t suddenly going to run on 12V power, the power still needs to be converted somewhere. The answer lies with ATX12VO motherboards, which will convert voltages locally when components need them.

It’s possible that at some future point all PC components will be engineered to run on 12V of power, but until that day this conversion has to happen. Doing it on the motherboard as and where its needed is more efficient than having permanent rails in the PSU dedicated to supplying all of the voltage computer components need.

Even if that 12V for everything day never comes, one of the key reasons Intel proposed a single-rail PSU in the first place was because we don’t have as many 5V and 3.3V components in PCs compared to when the original ATX spec was created.

The downside is that ATX12VO motherboards may be more complex, less tidy, and perhaps even a little more expensive. On the upside, while you may use the same PSU for a decade, every time you change motherboards, you’ll be upgrading your power delivery system.
A Different PC Building Experience

Perhaps the biggest adjustment with ATX12VO is how we build PCs. The first systems with these PSUs and motherboards will be OEM devices, and it might actually make assembly line PC building easier, but for those of us who hand-build these systems, a mind-shift is needed when it comes to cable management.

There will still be PCIe connectors coming from the PSU to components like the GPU since these are 12V parts, but now your SATA drives will connect both power and data to the motherboard. That might make cable management easier in some ways, but it will feel weird!

For most people, it will likely be a few more years before they have to deal with ATX12VO, but we’re excited to see how we can use this new specification to build affordable, power-efficient workstations for our customers.