Advice on form factor and case for portable gaming rig.

Hello all,

It's time for me to upgrade, and I am just having a hard time making up my mind on what form factor and case to use. I have always used either full towers or at the minimum, a midi atx case, however I never use them to their full potential. I only have 2 hard drives (possibly 3 soon) and the only expansions I fill are the graphics slots.

I have recently begun moving around a lot during the week for work, I live in 2 different locations that are around 150 miles apart so currently, I leave my PC at one location as it is a bit of a ballache to keep lugging it around. I will also be attending the odd lan, and moving my PC to friends and families places for gaming / editing etc.

I am currently using an Antec 300, which will be sold with my current rig to build the new one. The 300 has been good, but cable management is poor, and its not the easiest to move around (but by no means the most difficult either I realise).

I am fixed on an i5-2500k, 8GB of 1600+ ddr3 ram and a 120GB SSD. I will keep my current PowerColor 6870 and probably add another pretty soon which means I will need a CFX capable motherboard.

What I am not sure on is whether to go with an mATX case and mobo, or midi-atx case and ATX mobo......

The motherboard would be either an Asus Maximus IV Gene-Z Z68 mATX or some form of Z68 ATX board from gigabyte / Asus / ASRock / MSI.

The cases I have been looking at are the NZXT Vulcan mATX, Fractal Design Arc Mini and Define Mini mATX cases, or the midi alternatives of the CM Storm Scout or BitFenix Survivor.

mATX upsides:
Ultimate portability compared with midi atx
Vulcan has a decent handle for easily moving my PC between locations.
Saves a lot of space which would be beneficial to me.

mATX Downsides:
Restricts the possibilities of a lot of HDD's / extra expansion cards (just in case I ever needed / wanted any)
Not as good cooling (but definitely not bad either)
Motherboard choice is restricted and more expensive
CPU cooler choice is highly restricted
The quiet cases sacrifice the handle for portability (The Vulcan is noisey apparently).

ATX Upsides:
No restrictions on CPU cooler / upgrades / expansions
Cheaper motherboard + wider range of choice
Best airflow and cooling

ATX Downsides:
Bigger and less portable
The best ATX case with a handle (Storm Scout) has severe graphics card restrictions. My 6870 will fit, but future cards probably wouldn't.

So what would you do in my situation? Portability would be most important as I will be moving its location at least twice a week, and I wouldn't want to do that with my current rig.
A quiet case would be nice, I have had a noisey case for a while and would like a quiet one, but not at the sacrifice of portability! I have no experience of mATX cases so wouldn't know how easy they are to carry with no handle.

I will be adding a second 6870 soon, so the case needs to be big enough to house two, and preferably long enough for future upgrades. The power connectors on my 6870 are on the back of the card not the top, which also adds a few centimeters!

My favourite mATX is the vulcan purely due to portability, and I can fit the 2500k with a fairly decent CPU cooler, as well as two full length gcards, however it is quite noisey! I love the Fractal cases, as they are cool and very quiet, but the handle is too tempting.

I like the scout, but the restriction on graphics card length is a massive letdown, as I am a little unsure on the looks of the bitfenix, as well as the handle looking a little flimsy - would anyone be able to put my mind at rest as to whether it can take the weight?

Finally I would prefer a x8/x8 CFX board, unless anyone can advise on the performance loss by going x16/x4.

I hope this all makes sense, I am open to other suggestions, but please give your advise on what you would do to help me make up my mind!

Cheers,
Stu.
15 answers Last reply
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  1. Don't go for the Vulcan, my friend has it and it's insanely noisy. Also the handle doesn't look strong enough to hold anything, I wouldn't trust it. it's a real dust magnet too.

    EDIT: Just to add to the mATX vs ATX debate, if you definitely want to Crossfire I wouldn't go mATX. Otherwise it should be fine.
  2. Take a look at mATX. What's your budget? Fill out the form at the top of the forum
  3. That;s an ATX board. Fill out the form
  4. The problem you're most likely to run into is that most Micro-ATX SLI/Crossfire capable motherboards have the second PCI-Ex16 slot as the lowest slot. The card you have is a dual-slot card; which means the fan from the second card will over-hang the bottom of the motherboard. Many of the smaller cases do not have room at the bottom of the case for a dual-slot graphics card.

    If portability is the highest priority, scrap any thoughts of Crossfire.

    Just my $0.02

    -Wolf sends
  5. Approximate Purchase Date: (e.g.: this week (the closer the better)) - End of next week

    Budget Range: (e.g.: 600-800) Before / After Rebates - Roughly £600 GBP excluding graphics card

    System Usage from Most to Least Important: (e.g.: Folding@Home, gaming, surfing the internet, watching movies) - Gaming, HD Video Editing, Software Development, Web Browsing, Watching Movies.

    Parts Not Required: (e.g.: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS) **Include Power Supply Make & Model If Re-using** - Graphics card (PowerColor 1GB HD 6870)

    Preferred Website(s) for Parts: (e.g.: newegg.com, ncix.com -- to show us selection & pricing)

    www.ebuyer.com
    www.overclockers.co.uk
    www.aria.co.uk
    www.scan.co.uk


    Country: (e.g.: India) we need to know where these parts are being assembled - England

    Parts Preferences: by brand or type (e.g.: I would like to use an AMD CPU & Biostar mobo with a 24" LCD and full tower case)

    Definitely having:
    Intel Core i5 2500k + aftermarket cooler for OC
    8GB DDR3 1600MHz (probably Corsair / G.Skill / Kingston)
    One of the following Z68 Motherboards depending on Case size -
    Gigabyte GA-Z68P-DS3
    Asus P8Z68 V-LX
    Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3-B3
    Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD4-B3
    Asus P8Z68-M PRO
    Asus Maximus IV Gene-Z

    Or any other Z68 mobo from those websites I guess, whichever hits the sweet spot for price/performance.

    And definitely having a Corsair Force 3 120GB SSD to go with the 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3 that I already have.


    Overclocking: Yes

    SLI or Crossfire: Yes / Maybe (may depend on case size!)

    Monitor Resolution: (e.g.: 1024x768, 1280x1024, 1440x900, 1600x1200, 1680x1050, 1920x1080, 1920x1200) - 1920x1080

    Additional Comments: (e.g.: Need to have a window and lots of bling, I would like a quiet PC)

    Portability is my main priority as like I said before, I move around a lot during the week, I am not 100% set on an mATX case, however anything bigger would definitely need some form of carrying mechanism. mATX possibly wouldn't necessarily need a handle though. A quit chassis would be a massive bonus as I have always had noisey cases, would definitely like some peace!

    I only really need advice on which case, and I am looking for a 600 - 650W (maybe modular) psu that comes highly recommended but doesn't break the bank.
  6. If you want something portable and quiet then you definitely don't want to Crossfire.

    I would be tempted to go for the Storm Scout, it's supposed to be nice and quiet and has a good handle. Well priced too.
  7. Friend of mine had me build a PC for him using this case

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129093

    Its relatively light, solid construction altho its all mesh, easy install for the parts and the handles are solid.
  8. If you don't want to go Crossfire get a Shuttle Cube.

    I run an HD6870 and O/C'd q6600 in my older SP35p2. with it's TINY 400watt power supply.
  9. I think you should consider a m-ITX based pc.

    1) From a size point of view, an ITX motherboard is about the smallest there is.
    Here is an asrock Z68:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157268

    2) It will have room only for a single graphics card. But, unless you are into triple monitor gaming, a single graphics card is all you need.
    A single GTX580 will play anything very well. The new 7970, even better. And, then there is the GTX590 or 6990 if you might want a dual gpu card.

    3) A ITX case can be very small. Look at the lian li PC Q08. It is aluminum, can hold the longest dual slot graphics card and is small.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811112265

    It also comes in red anodized aluminum, as well as natural silver.

    There is a more expensive variation called the TU200 which is designed for portability. I don't think the handle is worth the price premium though:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811112348

    4) The 140mm fan provides sufficient ventilation for a single graphics card.

    5) It uses a standard atx PSU. A 650w-750w psu is all that is needed, and they come small enough to fit. 160mm should be fine.

    6) One limiting factor is the height of the possible cpu cooler. If you want better than the stock intel cooler, you will need a low profile downdraft type cooler.
    Some have fitted a H40 type cooler, but I don't see that as really necessary.

    7) There is room for a dvd, ssd, and several hard drives if you really need them.
  10. Looks nice, however it seems mini ITX components aren't as easy to get hold of in the UK!

    Most sites only have H67 motherboard which cuts out OC'ing :(

    So it seems I have 3 options:

    1) Midi ATX to sacrifice some portability, but allow Crossfire down the line and some major OC'ing.

    2) Micro ATX to sacrifice crossfire but increase portability and still allow OC'ing.

    3) Mini ITX to sacrifice crossfire and probably OC'ing, but allow some serious portability.


    Thoughts? + Ideas for a case + mobo combination for each please?! :D

    Cheers,
    Stu.
  11. 1) Abandon the cf/sli option. You can get the equivalent of GTX570 sli in a single card GTX590 today, ditto for 6990. For portability, I doubt that you would consider lugging around three monitors for gaming that would require dual cards.

    2) For m-ATX, I have been pleased with the Silverstone TJ-08E case. It has superb airflow with a 180mm intake fan, and ehough room for a full sized cpu cooler.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811163182

    I was an early adopter, and bought a Asus P8P67-M pro. In theory, it can do sli, but the graphics cards would be adjacent, causing heat issues for the top card.
    None the less, it is a good motherboard, and has the advantage that it has been out for a while, and the inevitable bios update stage is now well past.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131707

    I really think, though, that any other P67 or Z68 based m-atx motherboard would be fine. Pick the brand you have the most confidence in.

    3) As far as I know, Asrock and zotac are the only two who make z68 or P67 based ITX motherboards.

    ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT
    ZOTAC Z68ITX-A-E
    ZOTAC Z68ITX-B-E
    ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT
    are the only ones I can find.
    I have used other asrock boards
    with good results; they seem like good quality to me.

    The 2500K is such a superb gaming cpu that I would try really hard to find a Z68 based ITX motherboard. We know there are at least two vendors and 4 boards out there.

    On the other hand, a 2500K non overclocked is still a very good cpu for gaming. I would pay the slight premium for that over a base 2500. In time, you may find your Z68 motherboard, or it will be more marketable if you should want to sell it in favor of ivy bridge, later in the year. The graphics card is the real engine for gaming, and I doubt that a 2500K would give you any problem at all, so long as you used a GTX580 class card or better.
  12. Are there any performance restrictions by using mATX / ITX boards? i.e. am I going to see less performance from the same GPU / CPU plugged in to a small board compared to a full size one?

    If not, then the only real limiting factor is how many HDD's / other expansions can fit in the case, and the heat in a smaller chassis?

    As I originally posted, I will be using 3 drives + an external, and the only expansion I can imagine using would be a wireless card of some sorts (could be USB instead).

    So I can narrow my search to mATX / ITX, as I really can't see a benefit of having a full size motherboard, as long as whichever case I use can fit a full size graphics card.
  13. stuuz said:
    Are there any performance restrictions by using mATX / ITX boards? i.e. am I going to see less performance from the same GPU / CPU plugged in to a small board compared to a full size one?

    If not, then the only real limiting factor is how many HDD's / other expansions can fit in the case, and the heat in a smaller chassis?

    As I originally posted, I will be using 3 drives + an external, and the only expansion I can imagine using would be a wireless card of some sorts (could be USB instead).

    So I can narrow my search to mATX / ITX, as I really can't see a benefit of having a full size motherboard, as long as whichever case I use can fit a full size graphics card.


    Some enthusiast full atx motherboards will have some high end voltage capabilities, designed for record level overclock attempts.

    Otherwise, the size of the motherboard is irrelevant, as far as I know.

    You can usially find a place for a SSD somewhere; even duct tape will do.

    For the hard drives, three full sized drives may be an issue in some cases because a hard drive cage may have to be removed to make room for a extra long graphics card.
    It is worth checking on that. Drives are getting larger, so perhaps using 2gb, or even 3 gb drives may be needed.

    For the lian li Q08 case, you can fit 4 hard drives plus a ssd as well as a graphics card up to 300mm(11.8")
    The silverstone tj08-e is at least as capable.

    I see no reason why a small case would not work out well.
    In fact, I think smaller cases will be better for most of us.
  14. Hi,

    I've had several gaming rigs over the years in larger micro atx and atx sizes.

    I just built myself a new gaming box in a Lian Li PC-Q08 Red case.

    It is small, very quick, light (6.1kg vs 22kg plus for a full tower like the haf-x my son has).

    I built it for my day to day computer and something to take to lan parties.

    This is the components i used:-

    “Red Cube” PC – Mini-ITX Gaming Rig
    • Lian Li PC-Q08R Case
    • Zotac Z68-A-E Wifi ITX motherboard
    • Intel i5-2500K CPU
    • EVGA GTX560 Video Card
    • 8 Gigs of Corsair 1600 Meg DDR3 RAM
    • Corsair 120GB Force 3 GT SSD SATA III
    • 2 Gig WD Hard Drive SATA III
    • Corsair H60 Water Cooler with Noctua NF-P12 High pressure fan
    • Thermaltake 700 Watt ATX Power Supply
    • Samsung Blu-Ray Combo Drive
    • Enermax TB Vegas Duo Fan 140mm
    • Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

    Cooling is not an issue with the CPU running at about 32 deg C (about 8 above abmient) and graphics card is about 40.


    When running battlefield 3 on bascally ultra settings the cpu is 40c and graphics card about 68c.

    I am going to try a GTX-570 later but will probably use the MSI twin frozer card instead of the EVGA as it runs quite a bit cooler.

    I have played with some mild overclocking of the cpu and graphics card and cooling is still fine.

    I upgraded the fans from the factory units. The noctura has a high pressure which helps force air through the H60 coolers radiator fins and the whole box is virtually silent.

    The system starts up from power off in about 15 seconds and is ready to use immediatly. No more unresposive time waiting for drivers and crap to load, just click on the game and play.

    I took the lian li case down to a local shop that sells suitcases and picked up a small suitacase the fits the box perfectly for under $50. It holds everything except the 24" samsung monitor. People were really surprised when I arrived at the last LAN party with a rolling suitcase. People asked me if i was going to camp over :)

    One thing to be careful of...the is a lack of clearance between the pwer supply and the drive cage. You will have to check that the power supply you want to buy is either 140mm deep (5.5") or maybe 150mm deep (5.9") as anything longer wont fit.

    Look for power supplies with a 120mm fan as ones with a 130 or 135 will probably not fit.

    The corsair hx-650 is one of the few cable managed p/s that will work. I was stupid and ordered an hx-850 as it was on special and less that $10 more. When it arrived it wouldn't fit. Gave it to my son for his new pc and got a non cable managed thermaltake 700 watt unit.

    Others that are small enough are the seasonic s1211 620 and corsair cx600. Thermaletake TR2 series.

    The lack of cable management isnt really an issue. On the thermaletake i bought i used every cable except for one, so there isnt much hanging around in the case that isnt used. The cable lengths are about right too.

    Hope this helps.
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