The joys and woes of building a Mini-ITX Computer System
The minimalistic and somewhat expensive approach in building a computer.
Desktop computers these days are usually big, bulky, and take a huge footprint on your desk. Some people are fine with these systems, especially if the nature of their work requires it. But there are people who want a simple, compact and minimal system. That’s where a mini-ITX system comes in.
A full-size ATX motherboard is not necessary for most people nowadays, and the smaller mini-ITX systems have almost (if not all) the same features that they have. Today, mini-ITX motherboards are robust, have effective VRM cooling capabilities and have the same quality as their full-sized counterparts.
Why should you build an ITX system?
A mini-ITX system can save space.
Usually, mini-ITX systems are very small. These systems are so compact that they take a very small footprint on your desk. The extra space that you will have could be potentially used to add a wider monitor for better desktop real estate, or add another monitor entirely.
While a full-size tower case with lots of RGB fans is fancy to look at, the minimal look of a mini-ITX system sitting on top of your desk or beside your TV is somewhat aesthetically pleasing to my eyes. A mini-ITX case can be as small as a shoebox, and some cases are thin but taller and built like a PlayStation 5 console. If you want extra space to work on or just love the minimalist aesthetic of it, an ITX system might be worth it.
A mini-ITX system can be portable.
Due to it’s small and compact size, most mini-ITX systems are portable. This makes moving the system to another place a breeze, unlike those big, bulky ATX tower systems. Some people even put an entire computer in a backpack, minus the peripherals. You can bring your computer anywhere and have LAN parties!
Still, a laptop is much more portable. I wouldn’t recommend bringing your mini-ITX computer to a coffee shop and do some work.
It just looks cool.
One of the charms of building an ITX system is the thought of cramming as much hardware that you can in a small, compact computer case. Most ITX systems today can handle powerful hardware due to their excellent cooling and compatibility. It is just satisfying to build a tiny computer that can handle anything you throw at it. An excellently planned ITX system can be compared to a full ATX tower system in performance, but coming in a small package.
Of course, being small has its disadvantages.
Parts can be expensive.
Generally, mini-ITX systems aren’t mainstream and can be expensive, especially the motherboards and computer cases. Although this is somewhat changing in the recent years, mini-ITX motherboards are still expensive due to low production volume. These small motherboards also get crammed in features like built-in WIFI and Bluetooth, thus increasing their prices.
Some niche cases can go up to several hundred dollars, compared to a micro-ATX or ATX case which you can get one for less than a hundred bucks. Smaller power supplies needed in the system called SFX PSUs also tend to be expensive in the same way the mini-ITX motherboards; they aren’t really a mainstream product.
Builds can be limited
Mini-ITX motherboards only have one PCIE x16 slot, and most cases do not like very big graphics cards that are in the market nowadays. RAM slots are also limited to two, so if you need more memory, you have to pay a premium price for those high-capacity memory modules.
While spinning hard drives are cheap for mass storage, most people who build small systems prefer Solid State Drives or SSDs due to their compact size. ITX cases limit the number of hard drives you can use, and some cases do not even allow for a 3.5-inch drive.
Needs a lot of planning and effort to build.
As with any other computer build, careful planning is required in a small form factor computer. Building one can be especially hard, particularly to those who have little to no experience in building computers. Managing PSU cables in a tight space can be a burden sometimes and requires lots of planning.
Building on a large case is easy since you have all the space in the world to hide and route your cables. On small form factor cases on the other hand, the space you work on can be very limited depending on the case that you choose and might not be a pleasant experience to those who have never built a computer before.
All in all, building a small form factor ITX system is satisfying. With careful planning and research, you can have a very small computer that still packs a punch as much as a full tower system.