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Can Less Equal More?

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2013: The $400 Spirit Of Mini-ITX
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Armed with the most potent graphics card our budget and chassis would allow, all of these builds were designed for PC gaming. It makes sense, then, to evaluate performance weighed most heavily toward the titles we tested and not on productivity.

Of course, based on average performance, the overall ranking is obvious. But the lingering question is which of these machines offers the most performance for what we spent on them?

The $650 machine captures this crown also, its big benchmark numbers outweighing the extra bit its parts ran us. Today’s $400 PC takes second place, but only because we massaged the weighting a bit and based the outcome on one-third application performance. Note also that the losing $500 PC is the only one that incurs the cost of an optical drive, but doesn't enjoy any speed-up from it. In that way, the comparison isn't perfectly fair.

Overall value isn't based just on benchmark results though, and any of these machines can subjectively be crowned a winner or loser once your own needs are taken into account. The mini-ITX form factor might not be a priority for you. After all, there are price premiums and hardware limitations associated with cramming components into such a compact space.

Combining a fairly tame processor with enthusiast-class graphics, this quarter’s $650 mini-ITX gaming box ripped through our highest game settings at 1920x1080, even driving three screens at 4800x900 at reduced settings. It is by far the most potent gaming machine we measured today. However, its size, shape, and noisy overclocked graphics card wouldn't fly in every environment. We anticipated this to some degree, and chalked it up to the price you pay to play with the big boys, while spending as little as possible.

I called today's build the True Spirit of Mini-ITX because I wanted it to be smaller, quieter, and more affordable. Achieving success in those three metrics wouldn't have mattered if this thing flopped in the tests. But as it turns out, we saw great gaming performance in F1 2012 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at 1920x1080 using Ultra details. Battlefield 3‘s single-player campaign was quite a bit more taxing, but lower quality settings got us through it.

Moving forward, processors able to schedule four threads are a safer recommendation, especially in systems with powerful GPUs. But the Pentium G860 continues proving it's a capable value-oriented chip, especially paired to mainstream graphics. Shifting any further to the CPU would have hurt our gaming benchmarks. When our little rig did fall short, its Radeon HD 7750 was to blame and not the Pentium processor.

We’re eager to hear which of these builds best serves your needs. Would you rather have a mini-ITX box that's as small as possible, or just small enough to cram in a GeForce GTX 780 or something like that? Given the number of PCs my family owns, I'm still partial to the little $400 box. Yes, there are several upgrades I'd like to perform with more money. But as it was built, this machine is still a respectable little gaming platform in a kid's room.

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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    envy14tpe , June 26, 2013 10:11 PM
    Enjoy the $400 build. Kinda hoped for an A10-5800k build to compare to.
Other Comments
  • 8 Hide
    ingtar33 , June 26, 2013 9:36 PM
    great article. this type of look at how a low end "budget" build handles modern titles was perfect. Loved it. I think you got about the most you could hope for out of a $400 budget. Frankly i can't find a way to make something better at that price point. spot on really. nicely done.

    I do like how most of those games were "playable" on high settings at 1080p with that tiny rig... very cool.
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , June 26, 2013 9:40 PM
    Nice build, makes me wonder how it would stack up to my old 4.0 GHz overclocked Core 2 Duo office PC. Which gets gamed on occasionally using its HD 6850 graphics card.
  • 7 Hide
    tourist , June 26, 2013 9:57 PM
    This is a great build and worthy of sitting next to any big screen.

    Great job
  • 10 Hide
    envy14tpe , June 26, 2013 10:11 PM
    Enjoy the $400 build. Kinda hoped for an A10-5800k build to compare to.
  • 6 Hide
    rmpumper , June 26, 2013 10:29 PM
    250 bucks makes HUGE difference. Unlike 2500 vs 1300 systems.
  • -7 Hide
    allanitomwesh , June 26, 2013 10:41 PM
    FINALLY! I agree this whole system builder was almost a fail.
    Also, I can't believe you had a SG05 and didn't build with it,it has an awesome power supply. Again,if you weren't getting a disk drive the V3+ was the smaller, higher quality case than CM 120 ( though they're finished on newegg)
    The obsession with ginormous cards in tiny places made your cases not tiny.Clearly,a more sensible build,like with a 670,would fit in a much smaller footprint.
    The lack of the FT03 Mini is a fail. It's a Mac killing case,and should've been the go to case for the $2500 build, because at that price,my case better look it.
    Otherwise I like that you were at least up to the challenge, and I applaud this last build.
  • 8 Hide
    Crashman , June 26, 2013 10:51 PM
    Quote:
    FINALLY! I agree this whole system builder was almost a fail.
    Also, I can't believe you had a SG05 and didn't build with it,it has an awesome power supply. Again,if you weren't getting a disk drive the V3+ was the smaller, higher quality case than CM 120 ( though they're finished on newegg)
    The obsession with ginormous cards in tiny places made your cases not tiny.Clearly,a more sensible build,like with a 670,would fit in a much smaller footprint.
    The lack of the FT03 Mini is a fail. It's a Mac killing case,and should've been the go to case for the $2500 build, because at that price,my case better look it.
    Otherwise I like that you were at least up to the challenge, and I applaud this last build.
    The FT03 Mini would have probably caused the $2500 PC's graphics card to overheat, or caused the graphics card to overheat the CPU. And a 670 might have worked, but then it wouldn't have been a $2500 PC. But please don't let the facts get in the way of your opinion.

    You could say that nobody should even bother spending $2500 on an ITX-based system, or that a system with ITX limitations should never be expected to provide top performance. At least those opinions would make more sense than the stuff you said above.

  • 5 Hide
    brucek2 , June 26, 2013 11:13 PM
    My favorite of the builds. Feels congruent to me in that budget, form factor and system capabilities all align to each other and to my personal sensibilities. I could see making a system like this for a bedroom or den.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , June 26, 2013 11:44 PM
    Quote:
    My favorite of the builds. Feels congruent to me in that budget, form factor and system capabilities all align to each other and to my personal sensibilities. I could see making a system like this for a bedroom or den.
    Or even an office! Really. I might not build one of these for a performance competition, but it looks like a solid alternative to my retired-gaming office PC.

  • 2 Hide
    CommentariesAnd More , June 27, 2013 12:07 AM
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

    CPU: Intel Pentium G860 3.0GHz Dual-Core Processor ($69.99 @ Newegg)
    Motherboard: Foxconn H61S Mini ITX LGA1155 Motherboard ($49.99 @ Amazon)
    Memory: Corsair 4GB (1 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 Memory ($29.99 @ NCIX US)
    Storage: Samsung Spinpoint M8 500GB 2.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive ($54.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 7750 1GB Video Card ($99.99 @ Newegg)
    Wireless Network Adapter: Rosewill RNX-N180UB 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0 Wi-Fi Adapter ($9.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: Rosewill RS-MI-01 BK Mini ITX Tower Case w/250W Power Supply ($49.99 @ Amazon)
    Optical Drive: LG GH24NS95 DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $371.92
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
    (Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-06-27 03:06 EDT-0400)

    Some improvements I would like to suggest , Maybe I am crazy , but felt I should do this.
  • 0 Hide
    silverblue , June 27, 2013 12:41 AM
    Even this diminutive little machine would significantly outpace my old Phenom II X3 710, XFX HD 4830 and 4x1GB DDR2-800 (4-4-4-12) for a pretty decent price.
  • 1 Hide
    army_ant7 , June 27, 2013 1:10 AM
    When I read how it's smaller than the Tiki in every way, I got kinda excited. It is pretty neat how small (and thin) this thing is. How one could wish that more low-profile decent-performing cards were made. That HD 7850 by Afox is interesting.

    Once the Kaveri APU's start rolling out, I wonder if you guys would end up choosing them over Intel CPU's + discrete GPU's for SFF builds like this or for any other budget configuration for that matter.

    BTW, was the Athlon X4 750K/760K not chosen due to its power req. and heat or was it just not available at the time?
  • 0 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 27, 2013 1:36 AM
    This build definitely deserved an APU...
  • 0 Hide
    allanitomwesh , June 27, 2013 3:23 AM
    Quote:
    The FT03 Mini would have probably caused the $2500 PC's graphics card to overheat, or caused the graphics card to overheat the CPU. And a 670 might have worked, but then it wouldn't have been a $2500 PC. But please don't let the facts get in the way of your opinion.

    You could say that nobody should even bother spending $2500 on an ITX-based system, or that a system with ITX limitations should never be expected to provide top performance. At least those opinions would make more sense than the stuff you said above.


    I will say,since my point was lost in the rant

    Nobody should be building an ITX rig for $2500 that's bigger than the Silverstone SG10.

    A system with mini ITX should crunch top numbers and remain small.The two cheapest rigs prove that.


    I hope I make sense now.
  • -7 Hide
    re-play- , June 27, 2013 4:17 AM
    So AMD has APU CPU with integrated videocard that can run any game decently on low-mid setting and u choose for this matter intel? intel is really really paying u off very well to keep people away from good stuff... This build will kick the......butt of your intel build.

    AMD A10-5800K APU: http://goo.gl/XaFFP

    MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 Motherboard: http://goo.gl/DXM3W

    8GB Samsung DDR3 1600Mhz RAM: http://goo.gl/gVqCL - Another great option: http://goo.gl/Jbtye

    500GB Western Digital Caviar Blue Hard Drive: http://goo.gl/bM1Ww

    NZXT Source 210 Case: http://goo.gl/2wlae

    430W Corsair CX430 Power Supply: http://goo.gl/QzWZo

    These parts make up the $350 build however since this is a custom PC feel free to customize it with some of these options!

    OS - Windows 8 System Builder: http://goo.gl/OTZAL

    OS - Windows 7 System Builder: http://goo.gl/7hc9M

    Optical Drive - Lite-On DVD Burner: http://goo.gl/DCVBn

    Wi-Fi Adapter - Asus PCE-N15: http://goo.gl/JQ7Mt

    RAM Upgrade - 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 2133Mhz: http://goo.gl/bTOiK

    Graphics Card - Sapphire Radeon 7770: http://goo.gl/FrSHW

    SSD - 120GB Samsung 840: http://goo.gl/ykuCA

    HDD Upgrade - 1TB WD Caviar Blue: http://goo.gl/MZTnq
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , June 27, 2013 4:28 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    The FT03 Mini would have probably caused the $2500 PC's graphics card to overheat, or caused the graphics card to overheat the CPU. And a 670 might have worked, but then it wouldn't have been a $2500 PC. But please don't let the facts get in the way of your opinion.

    You could say that nobody should even bother spending $2500 on an ITX-based system, or that a system with ITX limitations should never be expected to provide top performance. At least those opinions would make more sense than the stuff you said above.


    I will say,since my point was lost in the rant

    Nobody should be building an ITX rig for $2500 that's bigger than the Silverstone SG10.

    A system with mini ITX should crunch top numbers and remain small.The two cheapest rigs prove that.


    I hope I make sense now.
    What you're saying is that a $2500 ITX rig simply shouldn't exist, and you're contradicting yourself to say that it should remain small and crunch top numbers. The two cheapest rigs prove that.

    What you're really saying is that all the people who loved the $2500 PC were wrong. It's OK to believe that, but the reality is that your opinion on their market doesn't count any more than my opinion on feminine hygiene products. Both of us are ill-equipped to speak with authority on those respective issues.

  • 3 Hide
    allanitomwesh , June 27, 2013 4:32 AM
    Quote:
    So AMD has APU CPU with integrated videocard that can run any game decently on low-mid setting and u choose for this matter intel? intel is really really paying u off very well to keep people away from good stuff... This build will kick the......butt of your intel build.

    AMD A10-5800K APU: http://goo.gl/XaFFP

    MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 Motherboard: http://goo.gl/DXM3W

    8GB Samsung DDR3 1600Mhz RAM: http://goo.gl/gVqCL - Another great option: http://goo.gl/Jbtye

    500GB Western Digital Caviar Blue Hard Drive: http://goo.gl/bM1Ww

    NZXT Source 210 Case: http://goo.gl/2wlae

    430W Corsair CX430 Power Supply: http://goo.gl/QzWZo

    These parts make up the $350 build however since this is a custom PC feel free to customize it with some of these options!

    OS - Windows 8 System Builder: http://goo.gl/OTZAL

    OS - Windows 7 System Builder: http://goo.gl/7hc9M

    Optical Drive - Lite-On DVD Burner: http://goo.gl/DCVBn

    Wi-Fi Adapter - Asus PCE-N15: http://goo.gl/JQ7Mt

    RAM Upgrade - 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 2133Mhz: http://goo.gl/bTOiK

    Graphics Card - Sapphire Radeon 7770: http://goo.gl/FrSHW

    SSD - 120GB Samsung 840: http://goo.gl/ykuCA

    HDD Upgrade - 1TB WD Caviar Blue: http://goo.gl/MZTnq


    Your case is much much bigger.
  • 2 Hide
    slicedtoad , June 27, 2013 4:56 AM
    Quote:
    So AMD has APU CPU with integrated videocard that can run any game decently on low-mid setting and u choose for this matter intel? intel is really really paying u off very well to keep people away from good stuff... This build will kick the......butt of your intel build.

    No. They chose intel for the cpu, not for it's integrated gpu. They used the fastest half height, single slot gpu available to them along with it. Swapping out the intel cpu for the A10-5800K would have been a step down in gaming performance. Don't make stupid accusations.
  • 0 Hide
    jestersage , June 27, 2013 5:10 AM
    This build just resonates positive on me. It's not as beautiful or powerful as the $2500 build but I gravitate toward it just a tad more. This is something I'd build myself. And a year down the road it will have a few upgrades:

    -a core i5 3350P or whatever haswell version is available by then
    -the AFOX 7850 is available in my country :-P
    -a 120 or 240Gb SSD
    -more ram
    -a slim optical drive
  • 1 Hide
    ojas , June 27, 2013 5:41 AM
    Nice, enjoyed reading. What i'm wondering is, could you guys get your hands on a Kabini board and add a 7870 or 7850 to see how it does? Obviously i'm thinking about the new consoles here...The fact that Sony managed to fit all of that into $400...

    Quote:
    Nice build, makes me wonder how it would stack up to my old 4.0 GHz overclocked Core 2 Duo office PC. Which gets gamed on occasionally using its HD 6850 graphics card.

    Well i have a Core 2 Quad and a GTX560, manages fine at 1024x768, but a lot of times i'm intensely CPU bottlenecked. Arma 3's killing my CPU like no other game. Ok, maybe the FreeSpace 2 Open engine, but then that's single threaded.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6670/dragging-core2duo-into-2013-time-for-an-upgrade
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