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

Mini-ITX Gaming: Small, Fast, And Inexpensive

We’ve seen how AMD’s Llano-based APUs stack up against Intel’s Sandy Bridge-based Pentiums in Better with Time? The A8-3870 And Pentium G630, One Year Later. That story generated quite a big of feedback, much of it asking how Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture might fare. Today, we’re putting together a new build with an Ivy Bridge-based Pentium at its core.

Of course, simply building an entry-level gaming PC on a budget is a pretty tired topic, so we chose to tackle a more formidable challenge. Could we fit a budget-oriented configuration inside a mini-ITX chassis? Would it still accommodate an optical drive for us to install all of our favorite titles? Might there be room for the hard drive needed to house those games? Perhaps most important, is there room in a cheap mini-ITX case for a discrete graphics card able to deliver smooth, stutter-free frame rates? Surely, we couldn't expect something so specific to also look good, right?

Falcon Northwest showed us what a boutique builder can do with months of R&D and aspirations of supporting high-end hardware in Meet The Tiki: Core i7-3770K And GeForce GTX 680 In A Mini-ITX Box? This isn't the same thing though, our goal here is to tackle small, attractive, and inexpensive. Although that seems almost impossible, we promise you it's doable. You just need to track down the right parts. A high degree of manual dexterity helps, too.

Finding A Good Deal On A Mini-ITX Case And Power Supply

I lost a lot of hair trying to find the right mini-ITX chassis and power supply. There simply isn't much out there to choose from, much less with a bundled PSU around the $60 price range. Our power supply choices were between the TFX form factor and a picoPSU, so we had to choose between output and size. We calculated that we'd need no less than 120 W, which is actually quite a lot for a picoPSU, especially given the limited selection in that product segment. If we went that route, our choices would have cost about $140 for a case, the picoPSU, and a notebook power brick. Too expensive, we decided.

What remained were cases with bundled PSUs. Generally, they lack the level of quality we're willing to accept, they're larger than what we want, or they come with older, much less efficient power supplies. After a mission of online shopping and calling around to various vendors, we finally discovered a gem of an enclosure featuring an integrated TFX power supply and selling for about $60. Could it be the chassis we were looking for all along?

  • 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.