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Three Sub-$100 LGA1150 Mini-ITX Motherboards

Conclusion

I didn't believe the H81M-ITX merited an award because of its lower-priced competition. Tiny, pre-built PCs are available from companies like Dell and HP offering similar features, plus an operating system. They also include a warranty, and cost what you'd spend building the machine yourself. Your only advantage would be that you'd likely use a more robust PSU that could power a decent graphics card later. The H81M-ITX isn't a bad board by any stretch, but there's nothing about it that makes it better.

The H97M-ITX/ac is a different story. Even if you can find a small pre-built box that has all of the features this board offers, checking off all of those add-in boxes will quickly run up its price. You'll build a better PC yourself, likely for the same or less money, and you won't need the warranty. In fact, I'll probably build a machine using this board very soon. There is simply nothing missing, so our Recommended Award is inescapable.

The B85N Phoenix-WiFi is not easy to rate. A lack of RAID support will undoubtedly affect certain power users. But everything else is there. This platform handles more drives than go into a typical tower-based PC, and its wireless subsystem offers amazing performance. It does use a little more power, but not enough to be a significant concern. For an intended audience that includes HTPC builders, we can't help but recognize the B85N Phoenix-WiFi.

I started out hoping to establish whether one of these mainstream mini-ITX boards would be sufficiently complete for a typical builder, and the answer has to be "Yes." From the sparse, business-oriented H81M-ITX to the feature-rich H97M-ITX/ac, there aren't too many scenarios in which one of these boards won't work. Unless you need specific expansion options that cannot be met by such a compact form factor (like multiple graphics cards or more than 16GB of DDR3), mini-ITX is certainly an attractive option. As much as some people enjoy tweaking, these boards' limited overclocking, at least in my opinion, should not be a deal-breaker.

I expect to hear about it in the comments if I've left out anything vital, and I'd also like to know if there are specific angles you'd like covered in the future. Some readers may have wanted a little more overclocking detail. However, I suspect I lost the silicon lottery on my Pentium. I could hit 4.2GHz in some tests, but never got Prime95  stable, even if I tried settings bracketed around those a colleague used on his sample. In any event, these aren't Z boards and cannot overclock the K-series chips favored by tweakers. If you're building a small system on a budget, though, one of these boards is very likely to have all of the features you need, and that's what I wanted to show.


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Joe Trott is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Motherboards.

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  • PaulBags
    Fix ya damn website tom's, why take up 60% of the screen with a "recommended article" while I'm trying to read this one, with a close button that doesn't work? Android 4.4.2, default browser, desktop mode.
    Reply
  • Firion87
    Dear Tom's. I own the Gigabyte B85N Phoenix for 2 months. Never measured the power draw but I'm using an Intel m-sata 530 SSD and that thing gets hot! I build some sort of duct above it with a 40mm fan to try cooling that thing from 56 degree Celsius to at least 48 which still seems a lot to me. The duct extends and covers also the chipset which stays nicely around 28 degrees. There's nothing else negative to report from this board. Everything works.
    Reply
  • DonkeyOatie
    Thanks for the validation.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-2625445/build-log-consolidated-middle-school-builds.html
    My students have been building successfully with the ASRock H97 ITX/ac and it does everything you say. What challenges there are, like getting those tiny connectors on the WiFi card to fit into the sockets on the antenna wires, add texture, and frustration, to the building experience.

    All customers are satisfies at the moment and we are trying a Z97E ITX/ac build now.

    The i5 4460/GTX970 configuration is being updated to a GTX 980 and 4k monitor.
    Reply
  • akula2
    Interesting article.

    Some folks may consider to pay a bit more for AsRock Rack boards if they are looking for personal or enterprise-grade storage (NAS server/box) based on ZFS. E.g., a typical home box config:

    1) Core i3 4360T (35W) + C226M WS uATX board + 8GB ECC RAM
    Reply
  • Onus
    It looks like prices have changed again since I tested these boards.
    The more I think about it, the more I like the H97 chipset; the only thing you really give up is overclocking "K" CPUs. In the old days, you almost had to overclock to get good performance, but CPUs are so much faster today it seems less of a requirement unless you're down in Pentium territory; but that one can be overclocked on H97.
    Reply
  • dvanburen
    15857592 said:
    Thanks for the validation.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-2625445/build-log-consolidated-middle-school-builds.html
    My students have been building successfully with the ASRock H97 ITX/ac and it does everything you say. What challenges there are, like getting those tiny connectors on the WiFi card to fit into the sockets on the antenna wires, add texture, and frustration, to the building experience.

    All customers are satisfies at the moment and we are trying a Z97E ITX/ac build now.

    If you can justify the additional cost you should like the Z97E ITX/ac. I have both of these boards in different builds. While the H97M ITX/ac is a nice board, the Z97E ITX/ac is nicer all around. For me it is about a $30 USD premium.
    Reply
  • Onus
    I built a rig on the Z77E-ITX, and it was my primary for months (its name was Gypsy, and true to form, it eventually wandered off to join the Circus; I sent it to some friends who have six minions). It was a nice board, and I could see buying another one for the i5-3570K from a different build that is now idle. It had a mSATA slot on its underside for a SSD. One gotcha: The mSATA screw was not included, and if whatever you used was long enough to short to the case, the board would not boot; a piece of electrical tape fixed that.
    Reply
  • dvanburen
    It's interesting that their use in an HTPC was mentioned in the article. I'm using an H97M ITX/ac for just this purpose. However, I don't think most will use the onboard audio as I believe HDMI will be used in the majority of HTPC builds. To be honest, the only reason I went this route is because I already have a very nice case with a VFD, a decent PS, and drives. If I was to start from scratch I would probably use something like the MSI Cubi. That is, if I could live without the VFD...
    Reply
  • Karsten75
    Could you only get boards from ASRock and Gigabyte? I'm not too sure I understand testing two much older chipsets against a more modern chipset. The price points are also way off. Why pay as much for a B85 chipset motherboard as for a H97??
    Reply
  • Onus
    All the "big boys" were invited to send boards. Only ASRock sent any; two. Some specifically expressed disinterest. Tom's bought the Gigabyte board.
    I'm working on more boards now. Once again, ASRock has sent two. I bought one, and I believe Tom's is buying others.
    As to the prices, they've jumped around in the last month or so.
    One thing I think the article showed is that the price jump from H81 to another chipset buys quite a bit.
    As to B85 vs. H97, it depends on your uses. In this case, Gigabyte's superior network adapters are worthwhile if you don't care about specific H97 features like RAID.
    Reply