In spite of the confusing names, enthusiasts know that mini-ITX is much smaller than microATX, but it’s still not tiny when compared to platforms like ECS’ Liva, Intel’s NUC and Gigabyte’s Brix. The main reason this larger-than-tiny form factor gets so much attention is that it still supports a single graphics card, and that’s handy for building small gaming PCs or adding Cable Card tuners in an HTPC. That is to say, there’s still plenty of demand from those who want something small, powerful and flexible.
Today’s battle is tiny for a different reason, in that only two manufacturers chose to participate. We invited everyone, and most turned us down even though newer Z97 models are readily available. We would like readers to understand that a company’s choice not to participate is theirs alone, and though we occasionally “just buy something” to fill the gap, this month’s “fill the gap” budget has already been spent on other articles. We’ll continue to work with all motherboard manufacturers, inviting them to participate in these reviews, and listening to their feedback and yours.
Fortunately, the products that were submitted are strong offerings. We have two similarly-priced value-oriented boards competing to cover the entire mini-ITX spectrum, from low-energy silent PCs to highly-overclocked gaming fire-breathers. That latter crowd is a discerning bunch. It's hard for any compact component to compete, let alone a Z97 motherboard priced under $130. Here’s how today’s competitors compare:
Each of today’s contenders is stuck with nothing more than a four-phase voltage regulator, so perhaps we should have said “how they fare” rather than “compare”. We’ll put through these boards through the same battery of tests that any high-end system would face to see if they can survive, before turning our attention to whether either of them deserves an award.