And The Winner Is?
While ITX motherboards represent the most compact derivative of ATX, our “one step bigger” two-slot case roundup was supposed to reveal the ultimate in high-end gaming portability. With portability our primary concern, SilverStone’s SG06B appears to be a true winner. One of only two cases that support the cooling design of our factory-overclocked dual-fan graphics card, mere adequacy is a strong selling point when a case this small is able to support this caliber of hardware. SilverStone even offers a version of this case with the 450 W power supply from today’s test included.
Its not surprising, however, that the smallest case in today’s comparison didn’t take any performance wins, or that its virtually-open side panel let out most of the noise from our graphics card. We also fear what might happen when a case this thin gets “excessively handled” on its way to and from LAN parties, and some builders might even find its 9.8” maximum card length too restrictive.
The next step up in quality, durability, and card space is SilverStone’s SG07B-W. Supporting cards up to 12” long (including the 10.5” GeForce GTX 580), its built-in standard power supply provides the extra amperage needed for such excess. The case, unfortunately, requires a blower-style graphics card cooler that exhaust out the rear panel (again including the mighty GeForce GTX 580) to work properly, severely limiting our choices in the more-typical $200-300 “enthusiast” market.
As a side-note, we've heard from system builders like Falcon Northwest who've "failed" GeForce GTX 550 and 560 Ti combos in SLI because of the problems with mid-card fans that blow air back into small cases. AMD and Nvidia could make life much easier on everyone by engineering products with cooling solutions that more effectively cope with heat generated by their GPUs.
Lian-Li’s PC-Q08 takes quality even higher, while supporting even larger power supplies, and has the card support advantages of both the SG06 (supporting dual-fan cards) plus the SG07 (supporting 12” cards). Lian-Li also adds USB 3.0 front-panel support, though its rear-panel cables orphaned the internal USB 3.0 header on our motherboard. The PC-Q08 even has the space to support 120 mm miniature liquid CPU coolers. Yet, all of that extra size somewhat defeats the purpose of ITX. The PC-Q08 competes against several microATX cases of similar size in the portable gaming market, facing a strong argument against the limitations of ITX motherboards.
Though its still light enough to be portable, Cubitek’s Mini-Tank goes further than any other case we’ve seen towards defeating the size advantages of ITX with dimensions similar to some compact full-ATX mini-towers. Of course, it has far more room for big CPU coolers than any other case its size, and that could be a big advantage to overclockers if anyone ever develops an ITX motherboard that supports high-end overclocking. Cubitek even adds ingress and egress holes for external water cooling lines. Two inches wider and shorter (in depth) than a "standard" microATX mini-tower, the Mini-Tank appears to be designed primarily for stationary systems where storage is more important than slot space. A visually-stunning design has made the Cubitek Mini-Tank the most coveted case in this lab, in spite of its disregard for ITX's space-saving intentions.