Hands-On With Five Mini-ITX Cases

Conclusion

This hands-on test clearly shows that Mini-ITX cases cannot be generalized, and that their individual strengths should be matched to your individual applications for best results. Thus, consumers looking for a gaming system might not be too happy with the Luxa2 LM100 Mini, which was designed with HTPC use in mind. On the other hand, SilverStone's SG05, with its 300 W PSU and dual-slot graphics card support, might be simply too large for simple desktop use and tight space constraints.

Users generally looking for a general-purpose Mini-ITX case should consider the Lian Li PC-Q08. Sure, it's the largest Mini-ITX case in this test, but it has the most flexible configuration options. It is also good for anyone who wants to use standard-size components instead of specialized hardware, such as slim-line optical drives or low-profile graphics cards.

For budget-minded customers, the Chieftec BT-02B is the best choice. You have to accept some compromises when it comes to looks and configuration flexibility. There is not much space for large (high) CPU coolers, and graphics cards have to stay within a maximum length of 19 cm.

Users looking for the smallest possible Mini-ITX case should take a look at the Antec ISK 310-150. The size inevitably means that there are some restrictions when it comes to flexibility, but it is suitable for office desktop use. Despite its compact dimensions, the enclosure accommodates low-profile graphics cards, though you should invest in proper ventilation if you go down this road.

The SilverStone SG05 is an excellent Mini-ITX gaming case with dual-slot graphics card support and a powerful 300 W PSU.

Multimedia enthusiasts who can see themselves investing a little more money in a smart HTPC system and who want to control the device with a remote control should consider the Luxa2 LM100 Mini. However, it is not a fully-fledged HTPC, given the small display and limited expansion possibilities.

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  • rohitbaran
    Q08 supports expansion cards of length upto 300mm. It is mentioned on the Lian Li website and prople have built systems with cards like Radeon 5870 in it.
  • doomtomb
    Lian Li PC-Q08 is my pick everytime but why did you guys not look at the SG07?
  • jeraldjunkmail
    I (custom) build an element Q with an H50 water cooler. I had to (custom) move the PSU to the front of the machine under the 5.25" drive bay. This involved drilling out the rivets and reriveting them in order to hammer the pieces into shape. It also can fit a large video card in there (but this is not a gaming rig). There is a 6 2.5" hard drive software raid array in it and it is running Debian 6.0... Smallest water cooled rig in the world? Maybee.... Sorry if double post... Not sure...
  • gti88
    Please, do something with picture gallery.
  • Matask
    Perhaps its worth mentioning that you can get the SG05 with silverstone 450watt SFF psu instead allowing a bit more power. My current setup consists of the same Motherboard as used in this test Zotacs gtx460 AMP edition, an 0verclocked I7 860 at 3,5ghz with the H50 cooler and 4 gigabytes of 1333mhz 8-8-8-21 memory. Runs like a dream. And temps are actually quite good as the gfx card blows the heat directly out the side, and the push-pull airflow works very satifactory. Only thing to beware of is cable clutter as it can really mess up the airflow in these small cases.
  • Sharro
    I've been buying Shuttles for the last 10 years and I feel sad for not seeing any model included in this review.

    They are reliable little boxes :-)

    All the best,

    Sharro
  • gti88
    MataskI7 860 at 3,5ghz with the H50 cooler

    i5 2500@3.5GHz can be really cool with Big Shuriken@800rpm.
  • I love the Chenbro ES34169. You can find it for under $100 and quality is great. The only thing I would change is the stock fans, which are too loud on full speed.

    http://www.chenbro.com/corporatesite/products_detail.php?sku=167
  • Matask
    gti88i5 2500@3.5GHz can be really cool with Big Shuriken@800rpm.


    Yeah prob would have gone another direction than the H50 should i buy something now since performance pr dollar isnt that high. However the new SB cpu's do overclock better than my 860..so its really no suprise you get good temps at 3,5 ghz with your I5..you prob would with stock cooler as well..at least from what i have read around the interwebs..
  • dogman-x
    The Silverstone SG05 only accepts a slim optical drive, which really limits you for BluRay burners.

    I ended up buying the Shuttle SH55-J2. This is a Mini-ITX case plus an ITX motherboard for an Intel LGA1156 processor. The case accepts a double-slot graphics card and a standard optical drive. And unlike past Shuttle products, you can upgrade the system with any standard ITX motherboard. It's also very quiet, which is a big plus for home theater.
  • blibba
    Some kind of noise, temperature and PSU testing would have been very welcome here. As would more and better installation pictures. Other than that, nice comparison.
  • fozzie76
    That SGO5 case was one of the best I've owned. They now come with a 450w power supply for around the same price. I did a nice window/UV mod to mine: http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1558905
  • Onus
    The 300W PSU that comes in the SG05 case was tested by HardwareSecrets, and found to be good: http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/FSP300-60GHS-Power-Supply-Review/757/10
    I built a small gamer in a PC-Q08R using a GTX460 and an i5/650. It runs a little warmer compared to when it had a HD5770 in it, but not too bad. It has gone back to being my secondary, so I need to switch the cards again (or I may put a HD6670 in it if they're decent). I'm using a semi-modular 550W Truepower New in it.
  • The HFX Micro M2 case would be a valueable addition to this article, since it it one of the few fanless mini itx cases available.
    http://www.hfx.at/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=140:hfxr-micro-m2-&catid=51:heatsink-cases&Itemid=1
    I'm planning to combine it with an i5-2400S to replace my crapple mac mini.
  • tsnorquist
    gti88Please, do something with picture gallery.


    Couldn't agree more with you.

    Tom's please take a look at Lightbox or something equivalent to it: http://www.huddletogether.com/projects/lightbox2/#overview

    Thanks!
  • waethorn
    The ISK-100 looks like a good option for those looking for a Fusion APU nettop, sans ODD (the ISK-310 makes it work with an ODD).

    Dual 2.5" hard drive spaces make it work for an Atom-powered file server too. Use a Supermicro server-grade mini-ITX Atom motherboard and you're laughing.

    FYI: Can we get information about the Radeon HD 6450? Does it do Hybrid Crossfire? Does the Fusion APU? Does the PCIe-x4 slot on the Fusion boards slow down the 6450 considerably, or does this make for a good, cheap upgrade for increasing the performance of the E-350's integrated graphics? This might be a good option for the lo-pro mini-ITX cases like the Antec without getting into one of those larger desktop-wannabe sized monstrosities. Plus, the whole idea of using a desktop-class PSU in a mini-ITX case defeats the purpose of using such a case IMO. Mini-ITX isn't just about size, but energy efficiency too.
  • rwpritchett
    I liked the article, though it would have been nice to discuss what kinds of low-profile graphics cards could the ISK-310 handle with its 150W PSU. An HD5550 maybe? Could it manage an HD5570? Surely you have some cards laying around you could try.
  • twinclouds
    I like the Apex Mi-100 and similar cases. They are relatively small and cheap but can accommodate 5.25" DVD, 3.5' HD and stock fans.
  • waethorn
    rwpritchettI liked the article, though it would have been nice to discuss what kinds of low-profile graphics cards could the ISK-310 handle with its 150W PSU. An HD5550 maybe? Could it manage an HD5570? Surely you have some cards laying around you could try.


    A 5450 lo-pro would work, but it depends on the CPU. Anything above that and you're gonna blow the PSU. Remember that some CPU's are rated up to 135W. If you use something like a 65W, and you consider the drives, the motherboard requirements, RAM, USB devices, etc., and the life-span/efficiency of the PSU, you can't just allow for 150W.

    Just FYI though: AMD recommends a MINIMUM 400W PSU for even a 5450. That's for a complete desktop system mind you, but 150W is a huge step down for that.

    If you look at Antec's PSU calculator, without putting any system specs in beyond a baseline mobo config, it sits at 34W. With a 5450 added, it jumps to 96W. So according to Antec, a 5450 uses about 63W by itself. That doesn't leave much headway for the rest of the system. If you used a 45W CPU, you might have enough for a 5450 with a bit of headroom left, but that's assuming the PSU is going to put out 150W of clean power, all the time, which is extremely unlikely. You should include at least a 10-15% low-point buffer in the wattage as a best practise, to allow for capacitor aging. 10% less of 150W is only ~136W. Keep that in mind.

    Word of advice: if you want to use a video card, get a case with a bigger power supply (250W+ depending on the card). Check Antec's PSU calculator for more precise requirements of each video card too. Remember that by using a PSU that's less than spec for the card, you're taking some risks with reliability. Mini-ITX components often (but not always) take less power than a comparable desktop. Most of this is attributed to using notebook parts due to the small size of the case though (2.5" hard drives vs. 3.5", slimline ODD's vs. half-height desktop ODD's, LV CPU's, sometimes SODIMM's, etc.)

    Also FYI: I built a system with the ASUS 880G Mini-ITX mobo in the ISK-310 with an Athlon II X4 605e and slot-load DVDRW and it's pretty nice as an HTPC. Gaming is okay, considering it's just a Radeon HD 4250 integrated - far better than anything Intel has for integrated video in mini-ITX. I'm curious to know how the new Stars GPU cores are going to perform in the upcoming Llano APU's though. Stars is what they use in the 56x0-series GPU's, so I think that's going to make for an awesome integrated PC if it keeps the same performance as the 5650/5670. Llano is set to replace the current Athlon II X2 and X4 CPU's, so the price will be very reasonable (Athlon II quad cores sell for
  • waethorn
    twincloudsI like the Apex Mi-100 and similar cases. They are relatively small and cheap but can accommodate 5.25" DVD, 3.5' HD and stock fans.


    I liked them too, but they are hard to find. Apex has major issues with providing a decent amount of stock to suppliers. Also, the MI-100 is extremely scratch-prone. It's a piano-black finish, but I've never seen any other material get scratches that easily. Cable management isn't exactly easy either, but overall, the outer design is esthetically pleasing with the flat mirror silver front.
  • rwpritchett
    @Waethorn

    I still would like to see what that lil' 150W ITX case is capable of from a gaming perspective. For example, in this article: link, Tom's built an i5 based micro-ATX build that during Prime95 load pulls <80W with a 2.5" HDD using integrated graphics. According to guru3d, the TDP of a HD5570 is 43W. So, it's close but could work.

    There's some folks on [H]ard|Forum that are running graphic cards in the ISK: link, not completely reassuring since any idiot can attempt whatever and blow the thing up months later. I wonder if any have had any power issues. Anyways, I would love to see Tom's attempt it, and use a kill-a-watt to show what's actually being pulled by the system.

    About the HD5450, according to Anadtech it has a TDP of 19.1W so it would definitely work (but gaming would suck) as long as the rest of the system is low power. No one in their right mind would put a 135W CPU in a small case like the ISK, right? AMD saying the HD5450 needs a 400W PSU is just the C.Y.A. factor. They actually say 400W minimum PSU all the way up to the HD5670 so you know it's just an arbitrary bar they set. Again... C.Y.A. :lol:
  • waethorn
    rwpritchett@WaethornI still would like to see what that lil' 150W ITX case is capable of from a gaming perspective....There's some folks on [H]ard|Forum that are running graphic cards in the ISK: link, not completely reassuring since any idiot can attempt whatever and blow the thing up months later.


    I think you just answered that yourself: ie. Don't be an idiot.

    AMD saying the HD5450 needs a 400W PSU is just the C.Y.A. factor. They actually say 400W minimum PSU all the way up to the HD5670 so you know it's just an arbitrary bar they set. Again... C.Y.A.


    It's not arbitrary - it's just a median. If you have an average processor that takes 80-100W in a desktop, plus you have 2 or 4 desktop DIMM's, motherboard, 1 or 2 desktop drives (talking about gamers here, so this is pretty standard), an optical drive or two, and you're trying to guage the rating based on a huge cross-section of both decent and shitbox power supplies on the market, that's what they come up with. If you have some shit 450W power supply, it could last you no longer than the 60 days that warranty covers it for, in that equally shitty $30 case that it came in, and it'll perform like Antec's 150W supply (maybe worse, but you get the idea). "400W" != 400W. AMD is playing it safe here, and I agree with that decision. NVIDIA does the same FWIW.

    Similarly, look at Antec's figures. Antec knows more about power supplies than you (no offense - it's just the truth), and most of the idiots on forums that are pushing supplies as they do are just asking for a bitch slap when it comes to unreliable builds that blow up in their face. It's just like overclocking (and core unlocking) - you're taking a chance by going out of spec. Sure you can push benchmarks by unlocking extra performance from a CPU, but should you build a machine designed for standard production use (home or business) like this? Recommend others do it? Build a business around selling them like this? The answer is no.

    If your business is hardware benchmarks, stress tests, or QA testing, then go right ahead, but don't come crying back to me when that 150W power supply fails 3 months down the road and fries something along with it. In other words: CYA!
  • twinclouds
    WaethornI liked them too, but they are hard to find. Apex has major issues with providing a decent amount of stock to suppliers. Also, the MI-100 is extremely scratch-prone. It's a piano-black finish, but I've never seen any other material get scratches that easily. Cable management isn't exactly easy either, but overall, the outer design is esthetically pleasing with the flat mirror silver front.

    Why? I thought NewEgg have them all the time. Right now, it is $54+$10 shipping but sometimes you can get a better price or shipping charge.
    They are not really scratching resistant but I don't feel they are worse than others. The only complaint I have is that they only have ventilation holes on one side. It will be much better if they have the holes on two side as the Rosewill clone, which does not have as good build quality, though.