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Desktop computers still represent the best value for money when it comes to how much performance you get for every Dollar you spend. However, more and more users prefer the small footprint and portability of a laptop. If your laptop hardly ever leaves the house, you may however be better off with a Mini ITX PC.
Never Heard of You
What’s “Mini ITX”? I hear you ask. Well, there are various standards for the size and layout of a computer’s motherboard – the component that all the other parts attach to. Mini-ITX is one of the smallest of these standards.
If you want to build a computer in one of the many tiny Mini ITX PC cases you have to use a Mini-ITX motherboard as the basis of your system.
So why should your next PC be a Mini ITX PC? In this article I’m going to give you a few (in my opinion) compelling reasons to consider these tiny desktop computers for yourself. Of course, they aren’t right for everybody, but by the end of this piece you should know what camp you fall in.
Space Saver, Not Invader
The biggest (or perhaps smallest) reason to have a Mini ITX PC is the small size of these systems. PCs have long ago ditched need for big hulking tower cases, but that’s still the perception a lot of people have.
If you’ve adopted a laptop as your main computer, but mainly use it on a desk anyway, then a Mini ITX computer represents a better deal, since it mostly uses standard desktop parts.
Why is that good? Well, it means that spec-for-spec a Mini ITX computer is cheaper than a laptop. So for the same money you can get a better machine or you can save money for the same performance.
(Almost) No Compromises
The next reason relates to what I just mentioned. The higher up you go in laptop specifications the more rapidly the prices climb. Laptops that use high-end CPUs and GPUs are prohibitively expensive, hot and noisy.
These sorts of machines are only suitable for a very small subset of consumers and they already know who they are.
So if you need top-tier performance, but also want something small, Mini ITX is perfect.
In the past the tiny systems could only hold low-end parts suitable for basic home entertainment computers, but thanks to advances in technology the latest and greatest performance parts will work just fine in them.
There is no reason you couldn’t build an absolute monster of a computer into an ITX case. For example, here we have Linus from Linus Tech Tips shoehorning a 22-core CPU and a GTX 1080 into such a computer.
Sure, this is hardly typical, but unless you need multiple CPU sockets and multiple top-tier GPUs, there’s no performance hit for Mini ITX PC membership. If you’re willing to pay for it.
The Rule of Cool
Computer cases have become more and more creative, but ATX cases are just variations on the same old rectangular box. It doesn’t matter how much perspex or LED lighting you put in, they are usually boring.
Mini ITX cases, on the other hand, let case designers run wild. Just look at this awesome case from Deepcool. There is nothing in the ATX realm like it and there are many more awesome designs like this available.
Since a Mini ITX PC is similar in size to gaming consoles, they are just as at home under your big screen TV as they are on a desk. With a wireless keyboard and mouse in tow you can scrap that console and build something better for the same or slightly more money.
If you plan on building a Steam Machine of your own, Mini ITX is also the best choice. Consoles better watch their collective backs when it comes to a Mini ITX PC.
Why NOT to Go with a Mini ITX PC
I would be pretty dishonest if I didn’t also take some time to discuss the reasons why you might NOT want to go the route of a Mini ITX PC.
- The motherboards can be surprisingly expensive
- And limited in RAM slot or extended features.
- That goes for the cases themselves too
- You may need a smaller GPU card, unless the case specifies otherwise
- Overclocking is generally out.
- In fact, temperatures are higher overall
- Multiple GPUs are usually not an option.
- Actually building the computer is frustrating
The Tip of the Iceberg
All of this means that you really should make sure that a Mini ITX system can handle the components you intend to use in your computer. Not only that, you have to be sure that they will fit inside the case you are interested in.
Sites like PC Part Picker can tell you if everything is compatible or not. You can also just research the published dimensions of every part you are going to use and make sure they’ll fit.You should also be aware that these days many ITX cases can accommodate water cooling, which basically solves your thermal issues. They may even have enough room to
You should also be aware that these days many ITX cases can accommodate water cooling, which basically solves your thermal issues. They may even have enough room to water cool the CPU and GPU.
As a case in point (pun intended), this is my ITX case. The Corsair 380T
It has an internal rail that can take one 240mm radiator or two 120s. There’s even room for a reservoir if you want to use a custom loop. Quiet AND cool? You better believe it.
The Small League of a Mini ITX PC
So does the idea of a Mini ITX PC appeal to you? Either way, you’ll probably have no optical disc, so remember that you can install Windows from a USB drive and this is also a good time to consider swapping to an SSD so be sure to check out both of my other articles.
Lead Image by user brewbooks via Flickr CC BY SA
Tristellar case image is the Property of Deepcool (Fair Use)
380T case Image is the Property of Corsair (Fair Use)