Mini-ITX, Done Three Ways
System Builder Marathon, Q2 2013: The Articles
Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.
To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!
When it comes to compact PCs, the boutique companies that can afford to commission their own designs are often the ones pushing the performance envelope hardest. And yet, enthusiasts still believe that adopting a form factor like mini-ITX necessarily means making severe compromises. But we showed in Meet The Tiki: Core i7-3770K And GeForce GTX 680 In A Mini-ITX Box? why this doesn't have to be true.
Of course, the only way to get Falcon Northwest's enclosure is buying the company's PC. So, for this quarter's System Builder Marathon, we wanted to give fans of speed in small spaces a handful of do-it-yourself options. Although none of the boxes we built are as small as the Tiki, they represent a healthy cross-section of what can be constructed using today's most efficient components.
Formerly a love-it or hate-it form factor reserved for boring little office PCs, mini-ITX gained gaming cred thanks in part to AMD’s DTX efforts, perhaps almost ironically given the power consumption figures of modern components. All three of our builds employ ITX motherboards, yet all three cases have the DTX-mandated second slot required for double-wide graphics cards. Similarly, all three builds use full-sized power supplies to feed those hungry cards.
Having thoroughly deviated from VIA’s ITX specification, we’ve now moved into an era of semi-compact, open-architecture, full-performance computing.
We already proved that our smaller builds can perform like their full-sized predecessors, and now we’re ready to see how they compare to each other in terms of performance and value.
|Q2 2013 System Builder Marathon|
|Row 0 - Cell 0||$650 Gaming PC||$1300 Enthusiast PC||$2500 Performance PC|
|Processor||Intel Core i3-3220: 3.3 GHz, Dual-Core, 3 MB Shared L3 Cache||Intel Core i5-3570K: 3.4 GHz Base, 3.8 GHz Max. Turbo Boost, Quad-Core, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache||Intel Core i7-3770K: 3.5 GHz Base, 3.9 GHz Max. Turbo Boost, Quad-Core, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache|
|Graphics||PowerColor PCS+ AX7870 2 GB 256-bit GDDR5||Sparkle GeForce GTX 680 2 GB 256-bit GDDR5||Asus GTX690-4GD5 GTX 690 4 GB|
|Motherboard||ASRock B75M-ITX: LGA 1155, Intel B75 Express||MSI Z77IA-E53: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express||Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix Tactical Tracer BLT2KIT2G3D1608DT2TXRG: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB (2x 2GB)||G.Skill Ripjaws X F3-14900CL8D-8GBXM: DDR3-1866 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)||Crucial Ballistix Tactical BLT2K8G3D1608ET3LX0: DDR3-1600 C8, 16 GB (2 x 8 GB)|
|System Drive||Western Digital WD5000AAKX: 500 GB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive||Adata XPG ASX900S3-64GM-C: 64 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD||Mushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD|
|Storage Drive||Uses System Drive||Western Digital WD1002FAEX: 1 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive||Western Digital WD2002FAEX: 2 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive|
|Optical||None||Lite-On iHAS124-04: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R||Asus DRW-24B1ST: 14x BD-R, 16x DVD±R|
|Case||Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced||Lian Li PC-Q08B||BitFenix Prodigy BFC-PRO-300-RRXKR-RP|
|Prodigy Mesh Front Panel C-PRO-300-KRFXA-RP|
|BitFenix 140 mm Fan BFF-SCF-14025WW-RP|
|SilverStone FF143B 140 mm Dust Filter|
|Power||Corsair CX500: 500 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Bronze||Corsair CX750M: 750 W Modular, ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS Bronze||Seasonic SS-660XP2: 660 W Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Platinum|
|CPU Cooler||Intel boxed heatsink/fan||Antec Kuhler H2O 620 Liquid Cooling System||NZXT Kraken X40 RL-KRX40-01|
The comment I made about paying $50 bucks extra for $50 fewer features to enable a mini-ITX configuration still stands. Paul's $650 gaming PC had to give up its optical drive to approach its now-theoretical budget limit. That’s alright for many people who have second machines to rip images that they can then drop onto USB thumb drives. But it's something you'll need to keep in mind before committing to such an approach.
At the opposite end of the pricing scale, a somewhat-costly Blu-ray burner gets my $2500 closer to its budget while adding convenience and expanding its capabilities. I simply couldn’t find a compelling performance upgrade on which to spend my left-over loot, and instead decided to focus on features.
In the middle, Don’s enthusiast build breaks the bank to add a 60 GB SSD to its 1 TB hard drive. He gets an artificially-inflated storage score, since the boot drive really can't hold all of the applications he's benchmarking. Even still, on a budget, we'd rather see a small SSD than no solid-state storage at all.
With Paul dropping his optical drive to stay within budget and Don almost ignoring his budget to keep his SSD, the fact that I was adding features to my machine simply to burn through the budget is going to come back and bite me on the rear, I just know it.