Hands-On With Five Mini-ITX Cases

Antec ISK 310-150

At first glance, the Antec ISK 310-150 looks like an external 5.25” drive clad in black metal. The white front panel and compact height that ducks under 10 cm underscores this impression. You can either operate the case laying flat or stand it up on its side, oriented vertically.

The Antec case fits anywhere thanks to its compact shape, but there are some compromises you have to make. For example, you can only fit a slim optical drive in the case. Furthermore, the Antec ISK 310-150 is the only enclosure in our roundup that will only accept 2.5” hard drives, although you can accomodate two of them. The two USB ports and one eSATA port on the front panel are practical for connecting external drives.

Little Room for Graphics Cards

Antec primarily offers the ISK 310-150 as an HTPC or desktop system case, which is a choice we agree with. The integrated 150 W PSU provides enough power for both tasks, especially when you're using integrated graphics. The 80 mm ventilation fan can be adjusted to spin at three speeds, depending on your acoustic tolerances and cooling needs.

If you want to install an additional graphics card and use the Antec case as a gaming system, things become more complicated. The low-profile expansion slot is a nice touch, but when you use it, the compact case becomes extremely crowded. An additional fan would help handle the extra heat from the graphics card, but Antec only includes one, and so you're going to be prone to overheating.

Tricky Motherboard Installation

Because of the very compact dimensions of the Antec case, we ran into issues when installing the small Mini-ITX board from Gigabyte. The ATX connector on the motherboard interfered with the mount for the second fan, and only after removing the cover did we manage to mount the motherboard. It is possible to remove the mounting frame for the hard drive and the optical drive to free up a little more work room.

Conclusion: The Optimal Frugal Desktop

Fortunately, Antec's ISK 310-150 doesn't promise more than it can deliver. The case works acceptably well in an HTPC environment, so long as you're leveraging integrated graphics and not hoping for too much on the gaming side. Arm it with an SSD and you're looking at a small, quiet desktop workstation. The cramped innards and weak 150 W PSU preclude gaming for the most part. Also, the design can make hardware installation somewhat tricky. Then again, that's the price you pay for smallest dimensions.

Antec ISK 310-150
TypeMini-ITX case
Form factor
Mini-ITX
Dimensions (W x H x D)328 x 96 x 328 mm 
MaterialSteel
ColorBlack case, white front panel
Connections2 x USB 2.0, 1 x eSATA, Audio in/out
PSU150 W
Support for expansion cards
Yes (Low-Profile)
Drives2 x 2.5" hard drives, 1 x 5.25" Slim-line optical drive
Ventilation1 x 80 mm (side), second fan optional
Weight3.8 kg
PriceAround $80


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  • rohitbaran
    Q08 supports expansion cards of length upto 300mm. It is mentioned on the Lian Li website and prople have built systems with cards like Radeon 5870 in it.
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  • doomtomb
    Lian Li PC-Q08 is my pick everytime but why did you guys not look at the SG07?
    0
  • jeraldjunkmail
    I (custom) build an element Q with an H50 water cooler. I had to (custom) move the PSU to the front of the machine under the 5.25" drive bay. This involved drilling out the rivets and reriveting them in order to hammer the pieces into shape. It also can fit a large video card in there (but this is not a gaming rig). There is a 6 2.5" hard drive software raid array in it and it is running Debian 6.0... Smallest water cooled rig in the world? Maybee.... Sorry if double post... Not sure...
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  • gti88
    Please, do something with picture gallery.
    0
  • Matask
    Perhaps its worth mentioning that you can get the SG05 with silverstone 450watt SFF psu instead allowing a bit more power. My current setup consists of the same Motherboard as used in this test Zotacs gtx460 AMP edition, an 0verclocked I7 860 at 3,5ghz with the H50 cooler and 4 gigabytes of 1333mhz 8-8-8-21 memory. Runs like a dream. And temps are actually quite good as the gfx card blows the heat directly out the side, and the push-pull airflow works very satifactory. Only thing to beware of is cable clutter as it can really mess up the airflow in these small cases.
    1
  • Sharro
    I've been buying Shuttles for the last 10 years and I feel sad for not seeing any model included in this review.

    They are reliable little boxes :-)

    All the best,

    Sharro
    -2
  • gti88
    MataskI7 860 at 3,5ghz with the H50 cooler

    i5 2500@3.5GHz can be really cool with Big Shuriken@800rpm.
    0
  • Anonymous
    I love the Chenbro ES34169. You can find it for under $100 and quality is great. The only thing I would change is the stock fans, which are too loud on full speed.

    http://www.chenbro.com/corporatesite/products_detail.php?sku=167
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  • Matask
    gti88i5 2500@3.5GHz can be really cool with Big Shuriken@800rpm.


    Yeah prob would have gone another direction than the H50 should i buy something now since performance pr dollar isnt that high. However the new SB cpu's do overclock better than my 860..so its really no suprise you get good temps at 3,5 ghz with your I5..you prob would with stock cooler as well..at least from what i have read around the interwebs..
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  • dogman-x
    The Silverstone SG05 only accepts a slim optical drive, which really limits you for BluRay burners.

    I ended up buying the Shuttle SH55-J2. This is a Mini-ITX case plus an ITX motherboard for an Intel LGA1156 processor. The case accepts a double-slot graphics card and a standard optical drive. And unlike past Shuttle products, you can upgrade the system with any standard ITX motherboard. It's also very quiet, which is a big plus for home theater.
    -1
  • blibba
    Some kind of noise, temperature and PSU testing would have been very welcome here. As would more and better installation pictures. Other than that, nice comparison.
    2
  • fozzie76
    That SGO5 case was one of the best I've owned. They now come with a 450w power supply for around the same price. I did a nice window/UV mod to mine: http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1558905
    1
  • Onus
    The 300W PSU that comes in the SG05 case was tested by HardwareSecrets, and found to be good: http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/FSP300-60GHS-Power-Supply-Review/757/10
    I built a small gamer in a PC-Q08R using a GTX460 and an i5/650. It runs a little warmer compared to when it had a HD5770 in it, but not too bad. It has gone back to being my secondary, so I need to switch the cards again (or I may put a HD6670 in it if they're decent). I'm using a semi-modular 550W Truepower New in it.
    0
  • Anonymous
    The HFX Micro M2 case would be a valueable addition to this article, since it it one of the few fanless mini itx cases available.
    http://www.hfx.at/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=140:hfxr-micro-m2-&catid=51:heatsink-cases&Itemid=1
    I'm planning to combine it with an i5-2400S to replace my crapple mac mini.
    0
  • tsnorquist
    gti88Please, do something with picture gallery.


    Couldn't agree more with you.

    Tom's please take a look at Lightbox or something equivalent to it: http://www.huddletogether.com/projects/lightbox2/#overview

    Thanks!
    1
  • waethorn
    The ISK-100 looks like a good option for those looking for a Fusion APU nettop, sans ODD (the ISK-310 makes it work with an ODD).

    Dual 2.5" hard drive spaces make it work for an Atom-powered file server too. Use a Supermicro server-grade mini-ITX Atom motherboard and you're laughing.

    FYI: Can we get information about the Radeon HD 6450? Does it do Hybrid Crossfire? Does the Fusion APU? Does the PCIe-x4 slot on the Fusion boards slow down the 6450 considerably, or does this make for a good, cheap upgrade for increasing the performance of the E-350's integrated graphics? This might be a good option for the lo-pro mini-ITX cases like the Antec without getting into one of those larger desktop-wannabe sized monstrosities. Plus, the whole idea of using a desktop-class PSU in a mini-ITX case defeats the purpose of using such a case IMO. Mini-ITX isn't just about size, but energy efficiency too.
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  • rwpritchett
    I liked the article, though it would have been nice to discuss what kinds of low-profile graphics cards could the ISK-310 handle with its 150W PSU. An HD5550 maybe? Could it manage an HD5570? Surely you have some cards laying around you could try.
    0
  • twinclouds
    I like the Apex Mi-100 and similar cases. They are relatively small and cheap but can accommodate 5.25" DVD, 3.5' HD and stock fans.
    0
  • waethorn
    rwpritchettI liked the article, though it would have been nice to discuss what kinds of low-profile graphics cards could the ISK-310 handle with its 150W PSU. An HD5550 maybe? Could it manage an HD5570? Surely you have some cards laying around you could try.


    A 5450 lo-pro would work, but it depends on the CPU. Anything above that and you're gonna blow the PSU. Remember that some CPU's are rated up to 135W. If you use something like a 65W, and you consider the drives, the motherboard requirements, RAM, USB devices, etc., and the life-span/efficiency of the PSU, you can't just allow for 150W.

    Just FYI though: AMD recommends a MINIMUM 400W PSU for even a 5450. That's for a complete desktop system mind you, but 150W is a huge step down for that.

    If you look at Antec's PSU calculator, without putting any system specs in beyond a baseline mobo config, it sits at 34W. With a 5450 added, it jumps to 96W. So according to Antec, a 5450 uses about 63W by itself. That doesn't leave much headway for the rest of the system. If you used a 45W CPU, you might have enough for a 5450 with a bit of headroom left, but that's assuming the PSU is going to put out 150W of clean power, all the time, which is extremely unlikely. You should include at least a 10-15% low-point buffer in the wattage as a best practise, to allow for capacitor aging. 10% less of 150W is only ~136W. Keep that in mind.

    Word of advice: if you want to use a video card, get a case with a bigger power supply (250W+ depending on the card). Check Antec's PSU calculator for more precise requirements of each video card too. Remember that by using a PSU that's less than spec for the card, you're taking some risks with reliability. Mini-ITX components often (but not always) take less power than a comparable desktop. Most of this is attributed to using notebook parts due to the small size of the case though (2.5" hard drives vs. 3.5", slimline ODD's vs. half-height desktop ODD's, LV CPU's, sometimes SODIMM's, etc.)

    Also FYI: I built a system with the ASUS 880G Mini-ITX mobo in the ISK-310 with an Athlon II X4 605e and slot-load DVDRW and it's pretty nice as an HTPC. Gaming is okay, considering it's just a Radeon HD 4250 integrated - far better than anything Intel has for integrated video in mini-ITX. I'm curious to know how the new Stars GPU cores are going to perform in the upcoming Llano APU's though. Stars is what they use in the 56x0-series GPU's, so I think that's going to make for an awesome integrated PC if it keeps the same performance as the 5650/5670. Llano is set to replace the current Athlon II X2 and X4 CPU's, so the price will be very reasonable (Athlon II quad cores sell for
    -1