Compact system cases tend to be undeservedly ignored. Most reviews are dedicated to full-size PC enclosures whereas compact ones are left beyond the scope. Consequently, many users do not even think of them as of an option when they go shopping for a new computer case. It is only when talking about an Internet-enabled digital typewriter or a home-made NAS that people ever really recall them. So, today we want to break those stereotypes by showing that a compact PC can be something more than a simple typewriter or a home theater box. In fact, it can accommodate an advanced enough gaming configuration. One factor contributing to this is that modern mainboards come with such a vast selection of integrated devices that many users will only have to add a graphics card to satisfy all their needs. So, if you are not planning to fill your computer up with lots of hard disks and add-on cards, a compact system case can make an interesting option as we have already shown in our earlier reviews of the GMC AVC-S7, GMC R4 Bulldozer, Antec NSK1380 and Aerocool M40.
Yet in this review we want to be as minimalistic as we can and talk about system cases designed for mini-ITX rather than micro-ATX mainboards. This form-factor is considerably different. A mini-ITX mainboard is a square with a side of only 170 millimeters as opposed to a micro-ATX mainboard’s 244 millimeters. The assortment of mini-ITX products used to be limited to VIA’s mainboards with integrated processor (VIA C3 and C7) but now it has become much broader. You can buy a mini-ITX mainboard with an integrated Intel Atom or AMD Geode processor or with a socket for installing nearly any modern CPU (Socket 775 or AM2/AM3). Some of them are only compatible with CPUs that have a power consumption of up to 65W, i.e. dual-core or power-efficient quad-core models, but others support CPUs consuming up to 90W. Thus, you should have no problems even with rather advanced quad-core CPUs. Considering that some of these mainboards come with a PCI Express x16 slot for a graphics card, you can assemble a decent gaming computer in them. The resulting performance should be more than satisfactory if you are not into gaming: today’s chipset-integrated graphics cores cope well with hardware decoding of HD video which is another typical load besides 3D games.
In this review we will discuss five mini-ITX system cases, from just small (those that allow installing a serious dual-slot gaming card) to absolutely tiny (for a low-profile graphics card or even not providing any room for a discrete graphics card at all).
Such system cases are bundled with special power supplies (it is hard to find a compact power supply selling apart from a system case just because such power supplies come in various shapes and sizes as opposed to the standardized ATX power supply), so we will also wind up the description of each by testing its power supply.