Build It Yourself: A Mini-ITX Gaming System For Just Over $500

Small Package, Reasonable Price, And Good Performance

It was fun building this svelte system worth around $500, and it performs really well given our space and cost restrictions. Chieftec's FI-01W proved to be a great little enclosure priced Europe. Here in the U.S., Winsis' WI-02 does the job just as nicely. Around $45 for a respectable-looking case and a decent power supply should spark some interest.

Looks like a little game console, right?

We really like the quick-release mechanism for the drives, and appreciate the ease of working with a removable drive cage. Six liters of internal volume aren’t a lot compared to the ATX enclosures most of us are accustomed to. But that's all we needed to attach cables, connectors, and drives securely (and without skinning any of our fingers). Heavy-duty build quality is also nice; there’s no bending the Chieftec chassis out of shape. Really, the only low point for us is the front-panel audio connector, which should have been a couple of inches longer. Any other critique is simply endemic of the mini-ITX form factor, or the result of paring-back that needs to be done on a product in this price range.

Compared to some of the quad-core chips from AMD, Intel's Ivy Bridge-based dual-core Pentium seems a bit expensive. But it combines low power consumption with consistently fast performance, and we needed both of those. MSI's B75IA-E33 motherboard similarly lends modest power use and an incredibly efficient layout.

If this story has you thinking about building a similar system, we can’t blame you. The finished product performs really well.

Want to go for it? Really? Well, here's a list of the components we used in today's project. For a few bucks more, you could even swap out the 1 TB hard drive for a fast 128 GB SSD, upgrade the cooling, or incorporate Blu-ray playback.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CPUIntel Pentium G 2120$100Row 0 - Cell 3 Row 0 - Cell 4
CoolerIncluded Cooler-Xigmatek Praeton$33
Memory8 GB DDR3-1333 1.5 V$40Row 2 - Cell 3 Row 2 - Cell 4
MotherboardMSI B75IA-E33$110Row 3 - Cell 3 Row 3 - Cell 4
Slim DVD BurnerSamsung SN-208BB + Slimline-to-SATA Adapter$30Upgrade to Blu-ray$30
Hard DriveHitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C 1 TB$90Row 5 - Cell 3 Row 5 - Cell 4
SSDRow 6 - Cell 1 -Crucial m4 128 GB$120
Graphics CardSapphire HD 7750 Low Profile$115Row 7 - Cell 3 Row 7 - Cell 4
Case + PSUChieftec FI-01W (Winsis WI-02)$45Row 8 - Cell 3 Row 8 - Cell 4
Total Cost$530$623
  • xkm1948
    What about putting in an APU instead?
    That case almost looks like a Wii.
  • zooted
    Would be nice if they included benchmarks, but overall a nice review.
  • A Bad Day
    We have Mini-ITX gaming mobos that support OCing and 120mm closed loop water cooling...

    I demand a proper Mini-ITX case from the manufacturers!
  • FormatC
    I have a "Zero dB PC" as one of the next projects, complete based on a AMD APU (A10 5700). We should stay a little parity, all last Mini-PCs were AMDs ;)

    The performance of a HD 7750 is wellknown and this little card is in the most cases the slower part. This is from the other project:
  • sempifi99
    If I did not already have more desktops than I am currently using I would definitely consider building something like this...
  • Hando567
    Wish you would have done a bitfenix Prodigy build with an i7 and GTX690, mini ITX machine that can play anything? Yes please!

    I would like to know why there is no real SFF love in the AMD camp for non APU's, I really want a new mATX mobo with 3 PCI-e slots, so I can do a tri-fire setup with LC in my mini P180, 2x7970's just are not enough. I also want to replace my aging 890gxm-g65 so I can OC my FX8350, this board has known issues with its power circuitry beyond stock (I would know, I have cooked 3 of them, 2 from trying to OC, and one from a long gaming session)
  • itzsnypah
    It always seems like Toms put's out recommendation builds right after new hardware comes out. Also I think you failed to research enough, mITX H77 boards have been cheaper than mITX B75 boards for months while having better features.
  • photonboy
    Laptop instead?

    At the $500 price range, I've seen many laptops that perform similarly to builds like this.

    The laptops also have the advantage of:
    - screen (don't have to use)
    - battery (for power outage)
    - size

    One disadvantage with gaming laptops is that under load the little fan tends to be annoying. It would be really cool if you could easily plug in an external cooling unit that bypasses that fan.

    INTERESTING BUILD, though I would strongly disagree with the "good enough for an HDTV" comment about the graphics card. It's a gaming PC. Just because it's hooked up to an HDTV instead of a monitor doesn't make it "good enough"; Far Cry 3 still won't run great.

    I'd like to see a little more CPU and GPU processing power while keeping noise in check. Let's see what can be done with $700?
  • bak0n
    That was my basic setup until recently when I upgraded the cpu from a i3 2100 to an i5 3570k. The GPU from the 7750 to a 7870 and the case to a prodigy which supports larger cooling fans and dual slot GPU's. The lower frame rates or settings turned down wasn't cutting it for games like borderlands 2. But if you are into games like LoL the recommend build will be more than enough.