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Mini-ITX Case Buyers Guide 2021

The small form factor Mini-ITX case is an ultra-portable, space saving, and extremely flexible chassis option. We explore how to choose your Mini-ITX case.

 

Mini-ITX Case - A Buyers Guide

 

As we continue to scale down all things technology, it seemed only logical that PC cases would be the ones to get all the bells and whistles of performance and power shrunk into a tiny box you can fit in a shoe box. The most interesting fact about Mini-ITX cases is that they are often the most unique and striking visually, and small form factor components are often used in PC case mods.

PC systems come on a variety of shapes and sizes, though the most popular form factors of desktop PCs are full ATX, Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX. These make up the majority of the chassis market, and they all have their nuances and a raft of pros and cons depending on your requirements. The most compact of these form factors - and possibly the most diverse - is the small form factor Mini-ITX.

What Is A Mini-ITX PC?

A Mini-ITX or ITX case differs from all other cases in that it is smaller and more compact. Their small footprint allows users with limited space to benefit from today's most powerful components, with very few limitations in terms of component compatibility. The majority of Mini-ITX cases take up no more room than a laptop, which is a great formula for those who are space-conscious.

Most Mini-ITX cases can be plonked on a shelf, on a desk, or hidden in a nook in the corner of the room. I say most, because the form factor & description "Mini-ITX" refers only to the motherboard size; some Mini-ITX cases are actually quite big in comparison, but we can look at that in a moment.

So, generally speaking, what you lack in size doesn't transpose to lacking in performance or capability. You will be able to hold your head up high when strolling into a LAN gaming party, for example, because you know that they know... small doesn't mean less powerful. Another plus point, indeed, for the Mini-ITX case is that they are frequently used in LAN parties, and are just as portable as a small holdall. The Mini-ITX's ability to travel has meant you can take your little battlestation just about anywhere you want.

Are Mini-ITX Cases More Expensive?

 

Streacom DB4 Mini-ITX Case

 

One of the more expensive Mini-ITX cases in stock at CCL is the Streacom DB4 (above), which costs around £279.99, and in comparison to the most expensive Mid-Tower ATX case at CCL - the Cougar Conquer at £203.18 (below), there is a price difference, yes. But at the mid-range, you will see very little difference in pricing, when you consider the cooling, cable management, connectivity and standard features you'd expect regardless of form factor.

 

Cougar Conquer ATX Case

 

Mid-range, around the £75-£100 price mark, you have a choice of excellent cases in Mini-ITX size, and they compare very well to their ATX counterparts. The Fractal Design Node 304, for example, is priced well at £77, and looks incredible. This small case is just as easily suited as a media file server or a full gaming PC, so it is both versatile and functional. In the same price bracket, the NZXT H510 is right there with pedigree, functionality and value for money in the Mid-Tower ATX form factor. The NZXT H510 costs just £70, and is always a case recommended by the PC building experts here at CCL due to the excellent cooling, cable management and style at a very affordable price.

 

Fractal Node 304 Mini-ITX Case
 
NZXT H510 ATX Case

 

So, we can see there are comparisons in the same price brackets, and having a small form factor Mini-ITX case does not mean you are going to be going over budget - even at mid-range.

Unfortunately, below £75 it is going to be tricky - but not impossible - to find a great value Mini-ITX case that is capable of keeping a gaming rig cool and also allow you to get full access in and around the chassis without a few scrapes on your hands. A word of warning, here: There are generic or OEM Mini-ITX cases available, but for longevity of your components, you really should opt for a system build that won't cause you problems within the first couple of years. Poor air circulation, dust build-up and lack of accessibility will be your headaches in this form factor, and worth avoiding.

If you absolutely want to cut some costs here, there are options, and manufacturers with plenty of pedigree at the smaller end of the spectrum. The Cougar QBX is a great looking and functional Mini-ITX case, ticking every box you need. What's more is you can pick one up for under £50. The QBX comes with "the best cooling of any case of its class". You can have up to seven fans (from 80mm to 120mm) and you have full compatibility with up to 240mm radiators, meaning you can take advantage of water cooling solutions. According to Cougar, "QBX's Pro-cooling design (including an independent power supply airflow) provides the best defence against overheating".

 

Cougar QBX Mini-ITX Case Under £50

 

Is Mini-ITX Bad For Gaming?

Regardless of form factor, cooling and dust management is the primary concern of any gamer, because poor thermal dissipation and insufficient cooling will kill a gaming rig faster than anything else. Whether you have a large or small case, the dust filtration and prevention of foreign objects entering the chassis and clogging up fans is paramount.

As far as the components you can fit in a Mini-ITX case, you might be surprised to learn that a full size monster like the RTX 3090 will fit in this small form factor case, but you'll need to select a case and cooling system to suit. YouTuber Optimum Tech built a small form factor RTX 3090 gaming PC last year (November 2020) and had a custom water cooling solution to compliment the excellent (discontinued) NCase M1 V6. Although a hefty gaming rig, this was also used for streaming and editing - so a workhorse in every sense of the word. You can see there's not much room for anything other than the meat and veg with this build. But what else would you need?

 

Optimum Tech RTX 3090 Mini-ITX Gaming PC Build

 

If we fast forward a few months to May 2021, Optimum Tech released another video checking in on the little monster to see if it had lived up to expectations. Naturally, the usual maintenance was required, and after 5 months of usage, the case needed a good dust removal and even a precautionary full coolant swap-out. Although not essential, it is definitely recommended for those users who are relying on the PC staying at optimal temps, and who are using it for important stuff, like, you know... earning a living.

 

NCase M1 V6 Dust Collection (5 Months)

 

In this scenario we can see that small form factor cases will need maintenance (just like larger cases) to stay on top form, and if you are thinking about shoving an RTX graphics card in there - be prepared to keep things nice and clean to avoid overheating.

As we said before, not all Mini-ITX cases are tiny. take the NZXT H210i, for example. This case will allow you to build an full-blown, snorting gaming PC and cool it to the point of shivering. With plenty of space for a full-size GPU, and aesthetic customisations like RGB and a tempered glass window, the H210i is worth a mention when Mini-ITX gaming builds are discussed.

 

NZXT H210i Mini-ITX Case With RGB

Credit: u/BluKir0 (Reddit)

 

Physical dimensions are a little bigger than you'd expect, but footprint is mostly unaffected. This is still a small form factor case that you'd easily fit on the end of a desk.

 

Dimension Detail
Width 210 mm
Depth 372 mm
Height 349 mm
Weight 6 kg

 

When we compare this to the NCase M1 V6, we can see the size difference (and how it can help to have that extra headroom & space):

 

Dimension Detail
Width 160.6 mm
Depth 338 mm
Height 255.5 mm
Weight 2 kg

 

What Are The Limitations Of Mini-ITX?

The one limitation that screams its obviousness is space. Where ATX cases might be cavernous in comparison to these small footprint chassis, you really do have to think about the type of build you want and then match it with a suitable Mini-ITX case.

Some Larger GPUs Will Not Fit All Mini-ITX Cases...

It is true that not all long GPUs will fit all Mini-ITX cases, and you'll need to check the length and space available. All manufacturers provide these details, so be sure to check the dimensions of all the components before you go ahead and purchase.

What About OvErHeaTing?????

Definitely one of the biggest worries of a prospective Mini-ITX PC builder - overheating. Again, with proper thought as to which cooling options are available for your particular case, and a maintenance routine like any other, you will not have any overheating problems other than age and general wear & tear of components.

Expansion May Be Difficult...

You will be limited in terms of RAM slots, for sure. Most Mini-ITX motherboards will only have two slots for 16GB or 32Gb dual channel, and you'll also note that you will usually only get one PCIe slot. That said, there are plenty of high speed, high capacity RAM options available now, and who really uses SLI or Crossfire any more to get a median boost in performance?

Big Hands May Be A Problem...

In this case you might be struggling. With space at a premium, little thought has gone into how the larger handed PC builder will navigate the chassis, and feed those fiddly wires around what is already a challenging build. Mini-ITX cases will start to get pretty tight once you have a few components in, so it might be handy to have a friend with less sausage-like digits available for the difficult bits.

What Are The Best Mini-ITX Cases 2021?

The final word here should go to the Mini-ITX cases our customers told us met their expectations in every respect.

Phanteks Eclipse P200A DRGB Case

 

Phanteks Eclipse P200A DRGB Case

Phanteks Eclipse P200A DRGB

 

Phanteks' design team were on top form with this unit, and the engineers excelled in providing the support one might need for a gaming PC build on a small scale. The P200A supports 2 x 140mm or 120mm fans (2 x 120mm D-RGB fans included), and further cooling is available - Rear: Supports 1 x 120mm fan, Side: Supports 2 x 120mm fans, and Bottom: Supports 2 x 120mm fans. You can fit a water cooling system up to 165 mm in height (240 + 240/280 radiators simultaneously) and the case interior itself is spacious considering the exterior dimensions. There's the usual connectivity, with 1x USB-C, 1x USB 3.0 and headphone/mic ports on the front I/O.

You can see all your RGB lighting through the tempered glass panel, and the front mesh grille also has great aesthetics in terms of style & lighting coming complete with 2 x 120mm D-RGB PWM fans.

Lian Li TU150X Case

 

Lian Li TU150X Case

 

Built with portability in mind, the TU150X has a retractable magnetic handle in the top of the case, so will appeal to gamers on the go. Mostly, the case receives praise for the excellent cable management and air flow, with support for 1 x 120mm fan at the front, 1 x 120mm fan at the rear, and 1 x 120mm fan on the bottom. You can fit a GPU up to 320mm, and a cooler up to 165 mm in the Lian Li TU150X case, so you are going to have great options for thermal control. The design is spartan and functional, but attention has been given to important features like cable management and ventilation/air flow - so don't let the black box look fool you.

NZXT H210i Mini Tower Gaming Case

 

NZXT H210i Mini Tower Gaming Case

 

Definitely deserving the "Gaming Case" moniker, the NZXT 210i offers plenty of space for all the cooling and performance you could need in a small form factor case. As we said earlier, the H210i allows you to fit a full size GPU, but more importantly allows you to cool it and keep it clean. The mesh filters are removable at front and rear, and everywhere else is easily accessible for cleaning and maintenance.

NZXT have ensured support for 2 x 120mm or 140mm fans at the front. 1 x 120mm fan (included) at the top of the case, and 1 x 120mm fan (included) at the rear. The two fans supplied are high quality and great starters.

If you are hoping to customise your rig, the NZXT H210i offers plenty of RGB and tweaking support, so you'll hardly notice the step-down in form factor in terms of aesthetic or custom fan options.

 

CCL Recommends...

Our recommended Mini-ITX case is the Phanteks Eclipse P200A DRGB Case, the flexible and compact powerhouse with pedigree for days. Available at mid-range for under £70, this case is hard to beat in terms of functionality and value for money.

 

Phanteks Eclipse P200A DRGB Case