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Everything you need to know about mini

Jul 26, 2023Jul 26, 2023

The mini-ITX platform is more popular today than ever. Its compact sizing with high-performance potential makes it great for gamers, content creators, and enthusiasts who seek a small yet capable system. In this guide, we will shed some light and explain everything that you need to know about mini-ITX and how you might want to go about building or buying one in the future.

Mini-ITX is a small form factor (SFF) standard for motherboards and computer cases that was developed by VIA Technologies in 2001. Its main purpose was to allow for compact and space-efficient computer systems while retaining the basic functionality of a standard desktop computer.

The mini-ITX platform is smaller than the more common ATX and micro-ATX standards. Most commonly used mini-ITX motherboards measure 170mm x 170mm (6.7 inches x 6.7 inches) and typically feature a single PCIe expansion slot, two RAM slots, and a variety of I/O ports for USB, SATA, audio, and networking. Despite their small size, mini-ITX motherboards are capable of supporting full-sized CPUs, memory, and storage devices, thus making them suitable for a wide range of computing tasks.

Mini-ITX systems are often used for home theater PCs (HTPCs), compact gaming rigs, office computers, and other applications where space is limited or a small footprint is desired. They have also become quite popular in the DIY and custom PC-building communities due to their flexibility and the creative possibilities they offer for building space-efficient yet powerful systems.

It’s important to note that while mini-ITX motherboards offer space savings, they may have some limitations when it comes to expandability and cooling, especially in comparison to larger form factors like ATX. Additionally, the size constraints can sometimes make it challenging to manage cable routing and achieve efficient cooling solutions within compact mini-ITX cases.

Mini-ITX and micro-ATX are both SFF standards for motherboards and computer cases, each with its own advantages and considerations. Here’s a quick comparison between the two:

Mini-ITX motherboards measure 170mm by 170mm (6.7 inches by 6.7 inches), making them the smallest mainstream motherboard style. They are designed for extremely compact systems where space is a premium. On the other hand, micro-ATX motherboards are larger, measuring around 244mm by 244mm (9.6 inches by 9.6 inches). While still compact compared to the standard ATX form factor, micro-ATX boards provide more room for expansion and features compared to mini-ITX, such as a secondary PCI-Express port.

Based on these dimensions, you can pick the right case and other components for your system. While there is no well-defined specification, any PC case that offers an internal space of 25 liters or below is considered a mini-ITX chassis. Micro-ATX cases generally have a size that sits between mini-ITX and full-size ATX tower cases, with a few exceptions.

Mini-ITX boards typically have a single PCIe expansion slot. This limitation can impact your ability to install multiple graphics cards or expansion cards like sound cards or capture cards.

This is not the case with micro-ATX boards, as they usually have more expansion slots, commonly ranging from two to four PCIe slots. This allows for greater flexibility in adding multiple graphics cards, RAID controllers, or other expansion cards.

Mini-ITX boards often have only two RAM slots, limiting the amount of RAM you can install. Similarly, they might have fewer SATA and I/O ports compared to larger form factors. Micro-ATX boards generally offer more RAM slots compared to mini-ITX, allowing for greater memory capacity. They also tend to have more SATA ports, USB ports, and other connectors.

Due to limited space for heat sinks, fans, and airflow, mini-ITX systems are quite challenging to cool. On top of that, cable management can be a daunting task in smaller cases. Micro-ATX systems often have more room for cooling solutions, larger fans, and better airflow. This can result in potentially better thermal performance and quieter operation.

In short, choosing between mini-ITX and micro-ATX completely depends on your specific requirements and preferences. If you prioritize a very small footprint and are willing to sacrifice some expandability, mini-ITX might be suitable. On the other hand, if you want a bit more room for expansion options and better cooling, micro-ATX could be a better fit.

Buying components for a mini-ITX PC is usually more expensive compared to their larger counterparts. The biggest reason is due to a combination of factors related to design, manufacturing complexity, and niche demand. Here are some reasons why mini-ITX is so expensive:

Mini-ITX PCs can potentially experience higher temperatures and overheating issues compared to larger form factor PCs due to their compact size and limited airflow. However, whether a mini-ITX PC overheats or not depends on several factors, including the quality of the components, the design of the case, cooling solutions, and the workload the PC is subjected to. Here are some factors to consider:

Want to go even smaller than min-ITX? Why not check out these unique microcomputer builds?

Size and dimensionsExpansion slotsRAM slots and portsCooling and build considerationsEngineering and design costs: Limited market demand: Higher quality components: Features and innovations: Case design: Cooling solutions: Component selection: Thermal management: Workload: Room temperature: Maintenance: