The Mini-ITX Market Is Small, But Growing...
Every time we hear about the death of the desktop PC, that conclusion seems to be based on slowing sales from big tier-ones like Dell and HP. But we know from talking to boutique builders that the demand for high-end gaming PCs and workstations continues to increase. It's a good time to be an enthusiast, and games like Battlefield 4 help illustrate why.
At least some of the excitement comes from high-performance, high efficiency hardware, which is allowing the community to construct faster machines in smaller enclosures. It's no longer necessary to drop a big case next to your desk with two or three 250 W graphics cards for playable frame rates in the latest titles. Now we can get plenty of speed in small machines that look more like living room appliances, but are every bit PCs.
Up until recently, the mini-ITX form factor was all about compromise. You'd give up most of your motherboard's slots and room for integrated extras to fit into tighter spaces. But as this segment grows, more and more companies are recognizing a desire for premium-class platforms with all of the on-board features expected from a larger ATX board. Drop in a high-end, overclockable processor, one dual-slot graphics card with multiple display outputs, and some solid-state storage. Sounds about as sexy as any monolithic gaming box we've ever seen.
So, which motherboard would we choose to serve as the foundation for a build like that? There are certainly many options on the market, and five of the industry’s top performance-oriented brands sent us a sample to compare.
|LGA 1150-Based Mini-ITX Motherboard Features|
|Row 0 - Cell 0||ASRock Z87E-ITX||Asus Z87I-Deluxe||EVGA Z87 Stinger||Gigabyte Z87N-WiFi||MSI Z87I|
|Chipset||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express|
|Voltage Regulator||Six Phases||12 Phases||Four Phases||Four Phases||Four Phases|
|BIOS||P2.10 (10/04/2013)||0702 (08/30/2013)||102 (08/07/2013)||F4 (08/03/2013)||V1.4 (09/30/2013)|
|100.0 MHz BCLK||100.10 (+0.10%)||99.94 (-0.06%)||100.12 (+0.12%)||99.77 (-0.23%)||100.01 (+0.01%)|
|I/O Panel Connectors|
|Digital Audio Out||Optical||Optical||Optical||Optical||Optical|
|Digital Audio In||None||None||None||None||None|
|Video Out||DVI-I, DisplayPort, HDMI||DVI-I, HDMI, DisplayPort||DisplayPort, HDMI||Dual HDMI, DVI-I||HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI-I|
|Other Devices||eSATA, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Module||USB BIOS Flashback, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Module||Bluetooth Transceiver||Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Module||Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Module GO2BIOS button|
|PCIe 3.0 x16||1||1||1||1||1|
|PCIe 2.0 x16||None||None||None||None||None|
|PCIe 2.0 x1||Mini-PCIe (filled)||None||Mini-PCIe||Mini-PCIe (filled)||Mini-PCIe (filled)|
|USB 3.0||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)|
|USB 2.0||2 (4-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)|
|SATA 6.0 Gb/s||6 x (shared with eSATA, mSATA)||6||4||4||4|
|S/PDIF I/O||None||Output Only||None||Output Only||None|
|Internal Buttons||None||MemOK||Power, Reset||None||None|
|Other Devices||None||None||None||Serial COM port||Serial COM port|
|Mass Storage Controllers|
|Chipset SATA||6 x SATA 6Gb/s (Total) Shared w/eSATA, mSATA||6 x SATA 6Gb/s||4 x SATA 6Gb/s||4 x SATA 6Gb/s||4 x SATA 6Gb/s|
|Chipset RAID Modes||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10|
|Primary LAN||WGI217V PHY||WGI217V PHY||WGI217V PHY||WGI217V PHY||8111G PCIe|
|Secondary LAN||None||None||None||AR8161 PCIe||8111G PCIe|
|Wi-Fi||BCM4352 PCIe 802.11ac Dual-Band||BCM4352 PCIe 802.11ac Dual-Band||None||Intel 2230 PCIe 802.11n Single-Band||Intel 2230 PCIe 802.11n Single-Band|
|Bluetooth||By 802.11ac Combo||By 802.11ac Combo||AR3011 USB||By 802.11n Combo||By 802.11n Combo|
|HD Audio Codec||ALC1150||ALC1150||CA0132 (Core3D) PCIe||ALC892||ALC892|
|DDL/DTS Connect||DTS Connect||DTS Connect||None||None||None|
|Warranty||Three Years||Three Years||Three Years||Three Years||Three Years|