Capable but minimalist Mini-ITX

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: As soon as everything on the finalized parts list is available, plus up to a few weeks if appropriate to let prices on the newest items come down.

BUDGET RANGE: Open, but considering the parts I already have, $500-$550 should be sufficient.

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Multi-purpose, meaning all typical uses of a home PC. Gaming is the highest priority, but will not include extremely demanding, newer FPS titles. Gaming or other functions should not require typical background tasks like virus scans, firewall, etc. to be terminated. Blue Ray is not required, but DVD R/W is. Current games include Dragon Age, Sacred 2, Guild Wars, Torchlight and casual games; will include Diablo III and Guild Wars 2 when they are released.

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: Keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, O/S (Win7 Home Premium), one 80GB Intel SSD, printer, LAN cable (but wireless is an option, preferably "N"), extra fans (80mm and 120mm). Have video card(s) for testing, but will need to add the "real" one later.

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS:, but I will consider Zipzoomfly and others.


PARTS PREFERENCES: Must be mini-ITX. Would prefer a 300W power ceiling, but can go higher if a Lian Li PC-Q07/08 is used for the case. PSU must have full range active PFC, as it needs to be legal for possible use in Europe. Case must include at least one fan out of the box, but I may mod in another.

OVERCLOCKING: Would like to avoid, as minimizing power use is a goal, but I will probably go for minor tweaks and/or unlocks.


MONITOR RESOLUTION: Mine will be 1920x1080, but "copies" of this build may use lower resolutions.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: This is "Green Gamer Part II," and minimizing power usage and space taken are among the chief goals. This may be a prototype of machines I will build for at least one (and up to 3) of my nieces for use in college and during extended international study. I have been waiting for three weeks for the new 45W AMD CPUs to be out, and either of the rumored mini-ITX boards from Sapphire and/or Gigabyte that support socket AM3 and have a PCI Express 2.0 slot. However, it seems in benchmarks that a 73W Core-i3 may have even lower power usage in actual use. How can that be, I wonder; given that a CPU will not use near its max TDP except when artificially loaded, the comparison benchmark at Anandtech seems to indicate that total power draw for an i3-530 is lower than for an Athlon II X3 415e. I'm otherwise favoring an AMD chip, as 1) they are cheaper, and 2) I feel a strong preference for "real" cores over hyperthreading, but it looks like decent i3 parts may already be available.

NOTES ON THE VIDEO CARD: I will not get one with the initial parts purchase, until I have done some testing. Test cards available to me include a HD4670, a HD4850, and a HD5770. Once I have determined where performance lies, in particular with the HD4670, most likely I will put a HD5670 or HD5750 in mine. The nieces will probably get the HD4670, a HD5570, or a HD5670, as their priority (truthfully!) is more on their studies and office-type tasks than games.

OTHER TESTING: If the 45W AMD CPUs become available, I may pick one up and test its performance in an existing machine before deciding if I want four cores, or if three is sufficient. I'm hoping three will do.

Here is one sample of a partial parts list, for the Intel option:

LIAN LI PC-Q08B Black Aluminum Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case
Model #: PC-Q08B
Item #: N82E16811112265
Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
Out Of Stock - Bummer! I am pretty sold on this case for the first one, but I'm also considering the Silverstone SUGO SG-05
( because it is smaller, lighter, and comes with a decent 300W 80+ PSU (reviewed favorably at, although it needs a slim optical drive and a special SATA adapter. This is a lot to pay for a case, but looks really good, especially for the number of drives it will take.
ETA: 6/3/2010 12:29:00 AM
$129.99 $129.99

ECS H55H-I LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
Model #: H55H-I
Item #: N82E16813135259
$79.99 $79.99
While ECS doesn't inspire confidence, Zotac seems more likely to inspire dread. Is it any wonder I wish those Sapphire and/or
Gigabyte boards would turn up?

Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D Green 380W Continuous power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power ...
Model #: EA-380D Green
Item #: N82E16817371033
$59.99 -$10.00 Instant $49.99
Nothing bigger; in fact I may choose instead to get the same 300W 80+ PSU that the SG05 uses; or, I may consider one of the low-cost OCZ modulars. Their quality isn't as good, but it won't be stressed, it doesn't suck, and modular cabling is a big plus in these builds. The first build, if done in the Lian Li case, may use a 500W 80+ Enermax Liberty I still have, but the ones for my nieces are more likely to have that 300W ceiling.

Intel Core i3-530 Clarkdale 2.93GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Model BX80616I3530
Model #: BX80616I3530
Item #: N82E16819115222
$124.99 -$10.00 Instant $114.99
I'd much rather have the real cores, and multiple builds are possible, but this may be the only option if I want to get this done
within a reasonable time frame. Performance benchmarks vary, and CPU performance is not likely to be the deciding factor in this
minimalist build, although this chip may better serve my nieces than one of the AMD offerings.

G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F3-10600CL9D-4GBNT
Model #: F3-10600CL9D-4GBNT
Item #: N82E16820231253
$96.99 $96.99
Physically small (no heat spreader) and only 1.5V, although it's only CAS9. Meh.

Subtotal: $471.95

I don't list a HDD or optical. As mentioned, I have an 80GB 2nd generation Intel SSD (yay TRIM!) that I will use in at least one of these. I'm leaning toward a 500GB 7200.12 for the magnetic drive in the Lian Li, or a 2.5" laptop drive for the SG05. The Lian Li will take a standard optical drive, which will probably be an Optiarc or other cheap alternative.
Thoughts? Comments? Know a source for the 45W AMD chips, or an ETA for a good socket AM3 mini-ITX board? THANKS!
21 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about capable minimalist mini
  1. Well,

    I know that you've "been around the block" ... bumped into you a few times ...

    ... I am a bit perplexed at why you would attempt to do this ... is size REALLY *THAT* important? ... I gotta say ... you are asking for a lot of hassles, now and later.

    What is your "vision", here ? (I thot mini-ITX was for pre-built ATOMs ! )

    = ?! =
  2. OK, I get it ... They are mobile and will be "dorm-hopping" and country hopping ...

    ... How about nice notebooks ? (why not that?)

    = Al =
  3. Yes, living space and packing space will be limited, hence I suspect their monitors will be smaller as well.
    Laptops have their own constraints, although that is a possibility. I suspect, however, that a "real" PC, even if only mini-ITX, would offer some distinct all-around performance advantages, be more repairable, and less prone to hazards, from theft to spills and drops. I could readily see one or two of them wanting both, although I'm not sure how much field work any of them might be doing, at least not the sort where a digital camera or voice recorder wouldn't be the tool of choice.
    For myself, I could see keeping the prototype as I will scale it to meet my own gaming needs. With two monitors on my desk and two boxes under it, and no good rearranging options (I've replaced my desk once already), two of these stacked would take up less space than my larger system now, and/or easily fit behind the monitors. I do hope to sell one or both of my full-sized systems, not that I'm in any big hurry :-).
  4. I'd really like to here your full report, both right after you build and 90 days after you build.

    I am an advocate of "components rights", and I would recommend something like an Antec Lanboy Air and a Corsair 550Watt PSU (end cruelty to innocent components ! )

    So, I guess I'm "not your guy", for "this one". But I am definately interested in the challenge and the outcome, so I will "hang back and lurk".

    = g'luck! =
  5. I tried a microATX a few years ago, and had lots of problems, although I think they could probably all be traced to lousy QA on the Apevia X-QPACK2 I used. :pfff: That's one reason I'm willing to consider the expense of a Lian Li on this one. Also, that case is big enough to allow me to "salvage" the build if a low-wattage PSU just can't cut it, especially on mine.
    Oh, and I absolutely refuse to use chokemax PSUs. Small is ok, crappy is not. BTW, I found a very positive review for that particular OCZ at HardwareSecrets. I also keep my OCs mild and cooling decent. I think part of why I can afford quality parts is because I don't fry other parts with risky settings or builds. Boring I'm sure, but cheaper that way. :p :ange:
    And please feel free to contribute; any ideas can only add to the "source material."
    I am going to try and document this build; may even do a Youtube video of it, and I will write up how it "feels" for gaming; not just raw numbers.
  6. Best answer
    maybe a 540 ... the bump in speed might make "the" difference, in some games and HTPC apps.

    Proper cooling without distracting noise seems a dubious proposition.

    = Al =
  7. Also ... since different (regional) power standards may apply, look for an auto-switching power supply ... so the girls don't fry their nice new computers ...

    ... I think this dude in the Phillipines posted about what happened when he forgot to (manually) select the proper input voltage ... poof! (to understate).

    Better be sure you make them student-proof ... in that regard.

    Also ... I would think that the WEIGHT of the LCDs, should be considered, regardless of size ... might be worth $20, to shave 5 Lbs.

    = Al =

    = Al =
  8. and ... just for the heck of it ...

    Carry-on Bag
    One bag plus one personal item (see below), per customer to be carried on the aircraft.

    The maximum combined linear measurement (L + W + H) of the carry-on bag is 45 inches (115 cm) up to 14 in x 9 in x 22 in. The maximum weight of the carry-on bag is 40 pounds (18 kg).

    If you are departing from or connecting through London Heathrow (LHR), you are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item as stated above; however, please note that the Department for Transport (DfT) regulations in the U.K. require that the 45 linear inches (114 linear cm) includes the handles and wheels of your carry-on bag.
  9. Any PSU without full range active PFC and 80+ (or better) certification is not on my radar; even the little 300W FSP in the SUGO case qualifies, and got a good review at HardwareSecrets.
    As for cooling, the Lian Li Q08 has two large fans, a 140mm in front and a 120mm on top. The SG5 just has a 120mm or 140mm (too lazy to confirm) in the front; both also have the PSU for exhaust. I doubt noise would be a problem in either of those.
    All the thought that needs to go into these is half the fun I think, although I hope I can decide soon and actually start ordering parts!
  10. Yup ... When I fetched those carry-on dimensions, I was envisioning that, in about two years time (if not before), *I* would be able to take a DECENT HDV Edit Rig on a flight, including two (thin and light) 22 inch panels ... All in one carry on case.

    Takes me back to my Compaq luggable, with 2x30MB half-hight drives and two 5.25" DS/DD Floppy Drives (slim-line, of course!) .. .All of that plust a 9" color vga CRT was like 40LBs and the exact size as a sewing machine.

    That was very very cool, at the time.

    = Al =
  11. Although it has some interesting features (e.g. good port selection), it's a FAIL on three points. First, the PSU is not up to snuff. Second, it uses an Intel Graphics Media Decelerator, and third it only accepts a low profile add-on GPU, limiting it to a HD5570 (especially given the subpar nature of the PSU; a low profile 9800GT is out).
    Now, if my tests suggest that a HD5570 would indeed meet their needs, I could seriously consider building in a similar case, using this Seasonic 300W 80+ bronze SFX unit: .
    Since I know my own needs are for a stronger one, the prototype cannot be limited to a low-profile GPU. And, although I hope to still operate with a 300W ceiling, the Lian Li case allows for a standard PSU just in case that limit is not realistic; it may not be if I go for a 73W i3 or 87W i5.

    Edit: Ah, you edited your message to include that Apollo. Just to guess, but that's got to be mid four figures... $4K minimum I'd say.
  12. Those lunchbox cases (just the kb/mon/chassis) USED to be really inexpensive ... back during the clone wars ... someone must be thinking of a wide x two version.

    --- I do love the concept ... mini-tower=suitcase w/2xwide LCD.

    = Zzzzz =
  13. I've been reviewing benchmarks and articles, and it looks like the Intel build is likely to be superior all around. I wouldn't care so much if AMD were "good enough" but used less power, but even that appears not to be true, and in any case fits under the 300W ceiling even with a HD5750.
  14. Might even be good to take to a LAN Party in your YARIS,
  15. Actually I drive a Hyundai Elantra Touring, or I will be again, but my wife and I were crunched just 2-1/2 hours ago (entirely other person's fault) as we were coming home from some errands. No one was hurt, but my car had to be towed. Like I say, there's ALWAYS a drone...grrrrr....
  16. sounds like everyone is ok ! ... we call that a "blessing", on MY side of the ditch.

    = Al =
  17. Well, it masticates a massive meaty member, but in the grand scheme of things will end up being a 2-3 week irritant, and little more (assuming my <1 year old car is properly fixed).
    The case I want should be in stock soon, so I'll probably get to order parts within the week.
  18. Ok, I made a minor initial intent-change (making it a little more powerful), and I've ordered these parts:

    ECS H55H-I LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
    Item #: N82E16813135259
    $10.00 MIR


    Found this PSU on a "guerilla" deal today; 80+ bronze and an obvious choice over any OCZ!
    Antec TruePower New TP-550 550W Continuous Power ATX12V V2.3 / EPS12V V2.91 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE ...
    Item #: N82E16817371020
    $20.00 MIR

    $79.99 (further discounted to $59.99 below)

    Went with a higher-end CPU. If I'm not getting four real cores, at least I want turbo-boost.
    Intel Core i5-650 Clarkdale 3.2GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Model BX80616I5650
    Item #: N82E16819115220

    This is the RAM that Tom's has found tightens up so well.
    Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model CT2KIT25664BA1339
    Item #: N82E16820148262

    Have yet to read anything bad about these, and apparently they're smaller than many, which is good.
    Sony Optiarc 24X DVD/CD Rewritable Drive Black SATA Model AD-7240S-0B - OEM
    Item #: N82E16827118030

    Freebie, I think with the CPU.
    Rosewill - HDMI to HDMI Cable - 6 FEET
    Item #: N82E16882021036

    $12.99 (Free combo item)

    Shipping Method:


    Subtotal $464.95
    Tax What's this? $41.91
    Shipping $8.13
    Promo Code -$20.00 (Antec PSU)
    Order Total $494.99

    I'll probably keep this one, but working with the small size and testing I'll do will still apply to likely future versions. I'll order a Lian Li PC-Q08 for this one, but it would be nice if I can use an even smaller case; that seems more dependent on the GPU than anything else. Since one niece has an e4500 now and is happy with it, even the least i3 would be a big improvement.
    I appreciate your comments. The grist was useful, and allowed me to better visualize how I will use this system myself long-term. Very likely, I will be retiring or donating my secondary 720BE system once this one is up.
  19. Best answer selected by jtt283.
  20. Well,

    ...That i5 proc is HT (yay) and will give you some definate "kick" ... and, nice guy that I am, ... I just verified (specs) that is has IGP ... it does.

    The PSU is somewhat suspect ... if you have any concerns (I do ... a little) ...

    And ... thnx for the pointz !

    = Al =
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