Building an ITX system. Information and FAQ

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Gaming ITX Homebuilt Systems Motherboards Cases
Rammy
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ITX Builds
There have been an ever increasing number of questions regarding ITX builds, and given my interest in the topic I have been answering quite a lot of them. My aim with this guide is to type less, and hopefully cover more ground. I aim for this to be pretty detailed, so it'll take quite a while to update it with all the information I'd like. Comments are welcome, though you can also PM me if you have any issues or ideas for additions.

Contents
  • What is ITX?
  • ITX Advantages
  • ITX Disadvantages
  • When to ITX
  • When not to ITX
  • Cases
  • Motherboards
  • FAQ


What is ITX?

ITX, or more precisely Mini-ITX, is the smallest of the three main motherboard sizes, measuring 170mm by 170mm. Traditionally it was more commonly found in HTPC type machines but the rise of enthusiast ITX cases and motherboards has dramatically increased its popularity as a gaming and general use platform.

ITX Advantages

It pretty much boils down to one word – size. ITX cases can be cut down to incredibly compact dimensions, this often has the additional benefit of reduced weight

ITX Disadvantages

Cost – While ITX cases are not usually incredibly expensive, a suitable ITX motherboard might be 10-20% more expensive than it might be for ATX or mATX, usually with reduced features. Also without upgrade avenues, much of the cost of a system has to be paid up front.

Choice – When building most mid-high end computers, the choice of CPU is between the AMD FX line and the Intel i3/i5/i7. ITX removes this choice entirely as only Intel CPUs and AMDs A-series APUs are supported at the ITX size. While the APUs can offer fantastic performance on a budget, this guide will predominantly focus on gaming/general use builds which are more likely to use discreet graphics, and that is likely to mean Intel CPUs.

Compatibility - All cases, however large, will have limits on how big certain components can be. In ITX, these limits are exaggerated and most cases will have fairly important limits on graphics card and power supply length, as well as how tall CPU coolers can be.

Flexibility – Most ITX cases will impose limits on you if you chose to do a certain thing. An example of this might be that you can’t use some drive bays if you install a standard sized graphics card, or you can’t install an optical drive if you want to have more than one 3.5” drive. Checking (and double checking) these limitations is very important.

Upgrade Potential – Most of the features you want your system to have must be addressed before you pick a case or motherboard, as you won’t be able to add things later. If you need Wifi then you ideally need to pick a motherboard which has it as standard. Even something as simple as adding another HDD at some point may be problematic. Another example would be memory. Most ATX/mATX boards have four DIMM slots, but ITX boards only have two, and you’d usually want to populate both for dual channel mode meaning you wouldn’t be able to add more.

SLI/XFire - The popular SLI and Crossfire technologies are a total non-starter at ITX level as the boards only have a single PCIe x16 slot.

When to ITX
If you want a compact system
If you want something portable

When not to ITX
If you want the best bang for your buck
If you want a multi-graphics card setup
If you want a high end AMD build
If you want a machine that you can upgrade

Cases-
Bitfenix ITX Cases-
All of Bitfenix ITX cases are internally very similar as they are all based on the original Prodigy chassis. Due to this, the limits of all three will be identical-
Maximum graphics card length- 330mm without HDD cage. 180mm with.
Maximum PSU length- Recommended 150mm. 160mm will fit with some work.
Maximum CPU cooler height- 180mm+

Bitfenix Prodigy ITX

http://www.bitfenix.com/global/en/products/chassis/prodigy/
A reasonably sized case with exceptionally good airflow and radiator provision. It isn't the smallest case, nor is it the most stable (those handles are pretty wobbly) but if you want to do water cooling in SFF, it's the go-to case.

Reviews-
http://www.anandtech.com/show/5867/bitfenix-prodigy-review-the-affordable-performable-miniitx
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/2012/09/06/bitfenix-prodigy-review/
http://www.legitreviews.com/bitfenix-prodigy-mini-itx-case-review_1986
http://www.vortez.net/articles_pages/bitfenix_prodigy_review,1.html

Bitfenix Colossus ITX

http://www.bitfenix.com/global/en/products/chassis/colossus-mini-itx/
Sitting between the Prodigy and Phenom for airflow, it offers many of the advantages of both as well as it's pretty unique lighting system.

Reviews -
http://www.tweaktown.com/reviews/5922/bitfenix-colossus-mini-itx-chassis-review/index.html
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2014/01/09/bitfenix-colossus-mini-itx-review/1

Bitfenix Phenom ITX

http://www.bitfenix.com/global/en/products/chassis/phenom-mini-itx/
A reasonably sized case with elegant looks and proper feet. Solid front means worse cooling than the Prodigy or Colossus and no provision for optical drives.

Reviews-
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2013/11/26/bitfenix-phenom-review/1

NEW - Antec ISK600

Maximum graphics card length- 317.5mm
Maximum PSU length- ATX
Maximum CPU cooler height- 170mm

Reviews-

NEW - Coolermaster Elite 110

http://www.coolermaster.com/case/mini-itx-elite-series/elite110/
Maximum graphics card length- 210mm
Maximum PSU length- 180mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- 76mm
Compact cube in the same vein as the Elite 130. Short graphics cards only and no ODD, but tiny dimensions and likely to be very cheap.

Reviews -

Coolermaster Elite 120

http://www.coolermaster.co.uk/product.php?product_id=6837
Maximum graphics card length- 343mm
Maximum PSU length- 180mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- 65mm
A very compact but surprisingly well featured case that is priced incredibly well in some countries. Airflow isn't brilliant as there is no exhaust and space is tight. CPU cooler height is very limiting. A value winner.

Reviews -
http://www.anandtech.com/show/6110/cooler-master-elite-120-advanced-case-review-little-in-almost-every-way
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2012/09/14/cooler-master-elite-120-advanced-review/1
http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Cooler-Master-Elite-120-Advanced-Case-Review/1599
http://www.legitreviews.com/cooler-master-elite-120-advanced-mini-itx-case-review_2003


Coolermaster Elite 130

http://www.coolermaster.com/product/Detail/case/mini-itx-elite-series/elite130.html
Maximum graphics card length- 343mm
Maximum PSU length- 180mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- 65mm
Basically a revised Elite 120 with minor tweaks and aesthetic changes - "A very compact but surprisingly well featured case that is priced incredibly well in some countries. Airflow isn't brilliant as there is no exhaust and space is tight. CPU cooler height is very limiting. A value winner."

Reviews-
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2013/09/30/cooler-master-elite-130-review/1

NEW - Corsair 250D

http://www.corsair.com/en/pc-cases/obsidian-series-pc-case/obsidian-series-250d-mini-itx-pc-case.html
Maximum graphics card length- 290mm
Maximum PSU length- 270mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- approx 150mm+
Interesting new case in the Obsidian range. Pretty compact, a design I'm really impressed by overall. Support for 240mm radiator is very impressive too. Will be interesting to see what the reviews make of it's performance.

Reviews-
http://www.anandtech.com/show/7710/corsair-obsidian-250d-case-review
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2014/01/21/corsair-obsidian-250d-review/1
http://www.guru3d.com/articles_pages/corsair_obsidian_250d_review,1.html
http://hexus.net/tech/reviews/chassis/64817-corsair-obsidian-series-250d/

Cubitech Mini Cube

http://www.cubitek.com/products/mini-series/mini-cube
Maximum graphics card length- 280mm
Maximum PSU length- 150mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- 150mm
Simple in pretty much every way, positively and negatively. Size limitations will be an issue in many regards, and there is no optical drive provision either. Cooling isn't brilliant.

Reviews -
http://www.guru3d.com/articles_pages/cubitek_mini_cube_review,1.html
http://www.hardwareheaven.com/reviews/1675/pg1/cubitek-mini-cube-case-review-introduction.html

EVGA Hadron Air

http://www.evga.com/Products/Product.aspx?pn=110-MA-1001-K1
Maximum graphics card length- 267mm
Maximum PSU length- N/A
Maximum CPU cooler height- 139mm
Tiny, great looking, and surprisingly well featured (it even fits a slim ODD). The downside is that it is very expensive, doesn't have great internal flexibility and is slightly limited by its 500W PSU.

Reviews-
http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/hardware-canucks-reviews/63167-evga-hadron-air-mini-itx-case-review.html
http://hexus.net/tech/reviews/chassis/62469-evga-hadron-air/
http://www.tweaktown.com/reviews/5924/evga-hadron-air-mini-itx-chassis-review/index.html

Fractal Design Node 304

http://www.fractal-design.com/home/product/cases/node-series/node-304-black
Maximum graphics card length- 310mm
Maximum PSU length- 160mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- 165mm
Compact, simple design with good airflow using two intake fans and an exhaust. The main negative is the cost, as it's not cheap, especially when compared to the relatively similar Elite 130 which doesn't have the same CPU cooler height, but does fit in an ODD.

Reviews-
http://www.anandtech.com/show/6470/fractal-design-node-304-mitx-case-review-paving-the-way-to-the-future
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2012/09/19/fractal-design-node-304-review/

Lian Li PC-Q33

http://www.lian-li.com/en/dt_portfolio/pc-q33/
Maximum graphics card length- 220mm
Maximum PSU length- 200mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- 180mm
Simple hinged design, installation and tinkering should be very easy. Great space for PSU and CPU cooler but the graphics card space is limited.
Also, it won't be cheap and the airflow (despite the vented sides) won't be amazing. No ODD either.

Lian Li PC-TU100

http://www.lian-li.com/en/dt_portfolio/pc-tu100/
Maximum graphics card length- 193mm
Maximum PSU length- SFX
Maximum CPU cooler height- 60mm
Very small, tough and with a carrying handle. Pretty significant limits imposed on every component does cut back flexibility. No 3.5" drive support is a shame.

Silverstone FT03 Mini

http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=333
Maximum graphics card length- 254mm
Maximum PSU length- SFF
Maximum CPU cooler height- 78mm
Unique styling and orientation, but a pretty awkward internal layout. SFF PSU limitation is a problem, as is the high price tag. Probably the smallest footprint of the bunch though, and still with enough space for a slim ODD

Reviews-
http://www.anandtech.com/show/5848/silverstone-ft03-mini-review-well-make-you-fun-size
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2012/09/28/silverstone-ft03-mini-review/1

Silverstone SG05

http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=210
Maximum graphics card length-
Maximum PSU length-
Maximum CPU cooler height-

Silverstone SG06

http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=227
Maximum graphics card length-
Maximum PSU length-
Maximum CPU cooler height-

Silverstone SG07

http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=261
Maximum graphics card length- 309mm
Maximum PSU length- N/A
Maximum CPU cooler height- 117mm

Reviews-
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2010/06/28/silverstone-sugo-sg07-mini-itx-case-review/1

Silverstone SG08

http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=317
Maximum graphics card length- 309mm
Maximum PSU length- N/A
Maximum CPU cooler height- 117mm

Reviews-
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2012/09/17/silverstone-sugo-sg08-review/1

COMING SOON - Silverstone Raven RVZ01

Maximum graphics card length- 330mm
Maximum PSU length- SFX
Maximum CPU cooler height- approx 60mm

Reviews-

NEW - Xigmatek Nebula

http://www.xigmatek.com/product.php?productid=219
Maximum graphics card length- 200mm
Maximum PSU length- ATX
Maximum CPU cooler height- 80mm

Reviews-

COMING SOON - Zalman Mi-3

Maximum graphics card length- 330mm
Maximum PSU length- SFX
Maximum CPU cooler height- approx 60mm

Reviews-

COMING SOON - In Win 901

http://www.inwin-style.com/pd_info.php?id=386
Maximum graphics card length- 300mm
Maximum PSU length- 200mm
Maximum CPU cooler height- approx 130mm

Reviews-


Motherboards
There isn't really enough space here for me to discuss every motherboard on the market, so I'll pick out a few popular choices with group tests and a few words on why you might want to pick them.

Socket 1155
Socket 1155 is the socket for mainstream Intel 2000 and 3000 series processors. It has been superseded by socket 1150, but remains popular due to generally lower costs and similar performance. If you are using a K-series processor then you will be shopping amongst Z77 chipset boards, otherwise H77 and B75 are usually more appropriate. H61 boards are still available but I wouldn't advise on them as they are fairly light on modern features. For a comparison of the chipset features, see this guide - LINK

Useful articles-
TomsHardware Z77 Group Test
Xbitlabs Z77 Group Test
Anandtech Z77 Group Test

Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI

The GA-H77N-WIFI stands out because it is the cheapest socket 1155 ITX board which comes with Wifi. It's as simple as that. There are cheaper boards if you don't need Wifi, and for a little more you can get a Z77 board, but this is universally the cheapest Wifi enabled board on the market, and in a portable system that can be hugely significant. It's got a slightly awkward layout, which goes against it, but if you aren't overclocking, need Wifi and want to keep costs down, this is going to be your first pick.

Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe

The Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe stands out because it is basically the best socket 1155 ITX board money can buy. It has great overclocking potential, great compatibility with even really huge CPU coolers a massive list of features. The main downside is the cost. It has generally been the most expensive of its competition, but it does justify a lot of that difference.


Socket 1150
Socket 1150 is the socket for mainstream Intel 4000 (and eventually 5000) series processors. If you are using a K-series processor then you will be shopping amongst Z87 chipset boards, otherwise H87, H81 and B85 are usually more appropriate.
For a comparison of the chipset features, see this guide - LINK

Useful articles-
TomsHardware Z87 Group Test


GA-H87N-WIFI

For the same reason I picked out the H77N-Wifi, I do the same with the H87 version. It picks up a few extra SATA 6Gbps, but essentially it has the same advantages and disadvantages of it's predecessor. If you want a Haswell ITX system with Wifi, this is a good place to start.

ASRock Z87E-ITX

I picked out the Z87E ITX over the similarly priced MSI and Gigabyte models due to the CPU location within the motherboard. In a tight case, it might actually be too far away from the graphics card, and cause the opposite problems, but in general it should have a better cooler compatibility than it's direct competitors, and the only real reason to get a Z87 board is for overclocking - cooler support is important. For example, the Noctua NH-D14 lists this board as compatible, when the Gigabyte is not.

Asus Maximus VI Impact

The Maximus Impact is the "money no object" pick. It's basically in a class of one, as it is so much more expensive than the ASRock, Gigabyte and MSI boards, and it attempts to justify it's price tag with a huge feature-set including it's own discrete soundcard. It's technically very impressive, but it's hard to escape that in some markets it costs double the price of the Gigabyte and MSI boards.


Socket FM2
Socket FM2 is the socket for 5000 and 6000 series AMD APUs, as well as some modern versions of Athlon II X2 and X4. These boards are divided into A55, A75 and A88X chipsets. For a comparison of the chipset features, see this guide - LINK


FAQ

Will my cooler fit?
This isn't as simple a question as it sounds. In the majority of ATX towers, the only figure you need to concern yourself with is the maximum CPU cooler height. In an ITX system, this figure can be dramatically smaller as well as issues produced by the size of the ITX motherboard.
There are effectively four qualities which can effect CPU cooler compatibility-
  • Maximum CPU cooler height
  • Position of CPU socket within the motherboard
  • Height of RAM heatsinks
  • Location and clearance of fan positions

Now, this can involve components from four different manufacturers so a definitive "will this fit?" is often hard.

To get the best possible information, follow these steps-
  • I'd always start by searching for people with the same motherboard and cooler (and ideally case) to see if they ran into any issues. It seems obvious but it can provide a lot of insight without much effort.
  • Check a motherboard compatibility list for your chosen cooler. Some companies (especially Noctua) are great at providing these. Others are often produced by communities like this. Picking a motherboard with a CPU socket nearer the centre of the board and further away from the graphics card slot will give access to a greater number of coolers.
  • If possible, buy low profile RAM. ITX DIMM slots are often pretty close to the CPU socket, and extended heatsinks are relatively pointless and will increase compatibility issues.
  • Check that your chosen cooler is within the maximum CPU cooler height for your chosen case*. This is relatively straightforward but can be complicated by optional or modular case components like ODD bays. *For reference, a Coolermaster Hyper 212 Evo is 159mm tall, a Noctua NH-D14 is 160mm tall. Most popular tower coolers are of similar heights.
  • For radiator based coolers, you need a fan mounting (usually 120mm or 2*120mm) with enough a small amount of clearance at the sides and at least 30mm at the end to accommodate the piped section. Again, finding an appropriate compatibility list is very helpful.


Will my PSU fit?
This should be relatively straightforward. The official length of an ATX PSU is 140mm, though a significant percentage of modern PSUs extend to 150or160mm and are still referred to as ATX. All manufacturers list dimensions for their PSUs, so it's just a case of checking these.
An "ATX" PSU will be 86mm tall, 150mm wide, and usually somewhere between 140 and 180mm in length.
In addition to the length of the PSU casing, it is worth considering that there would need to be some space in which to insert modular connectors (if applicable) and to route the cables. Some case manufacturers will have taken this into consideration when supplying data, others may have not. The reviews linked above should provide some insight into this.

Will my PSU fit in my Bitfenix Prodigy?
Gets asked a lot. As stated above the PSU bay in a Prodigy is 180mm deep, but you need space to route cables (unless you mod cutouts). Bitfenix suggests sticking to 150mm, but 160mm is perfectly doable if you connect all the cables before pushing the PSU in and securing it.
Good PSUs to fit in a Bitfenix Prodigy which will work for most builds would be the XFX Core 550 (non modular) or Antec HCG-620M (semi modular).