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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?