Articles: Mainboards

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Take a look inside your computer case. You most likely have a mainboard with a processor and memory, one graphics card, one or two storage drives and no additional expansion cards. And it means that it doesn’t really need a large system case. You can easily put together a system with almost the same performance and functionality inside a compact MINI-ITX form-factor, which will also offer you a number of unique advantages. For example, Mini-ITX systems will not only take very little space and collect less dust, because they will be sitting on the desk and not on the floor, but they are often more energy-efficient and fit more seamlessly into contemporary design.

Just recently Mini-ITX platforms were associated with lower performance and lack of any overclocking. However, progress keeps going on. Today we have highly energy-efficient processors and single-chip core logic sets, which encouraged the arrival of miniature systems with full functionality even from the computer enthusiasts’ point of view. So, today’s Mini-ITX systems are not just nettops, micro-servers and media centers, but also high-performance gaming computers, even though it may sound somewhat paradoxical. A great illustration of this evolutionary development is the Falcon Northwest Tiki gaming PC, which is built inside a Mini-ITX case with a quad-core Core i7 CPU and a flagship GeForce GTX graphics accelerator. And if professional system builders have already started putting together systems like that, why cannot we, regular users, do the same?

The release of the Intel Z77 chipset that combines all the LGA 1155 functionality in a single chip stimulated the development of numerous Mini-ITX mainboards, which could easily compete against their full-size counterparts in terms of functionality and features. Today products designed in Mini-ITX format even offer a complete range of overclocking-friendly functions, not to mention the previous accomplishments such as support of top processors and high-performance graphics accelerators. And I am not talking about a few unique mainboards, but about the overall growth of the market of Mini-ITX solutions like that. All major players in the mainboard market are currently offering products like that.

This is one of the reasons we put together this roundup in the first place. Here we will compare the existing LGA 1155 Mini-ITX mainboards that could be used to build an advanced gaming computer that will also allow overclocking the processor. And I have to admit that we uncovered quite a few mainboards like that. Of course, if you choose to build a compact high-performance gaming computer like that, you will need to find a suitable Mini-ITX system case with a PSU powerful enough and the internal cooling organization efficient enough to handle a high-performance system. But, frankly, this isn’t a problem these days. The key element of a system like that is still the mainboard and we are going to find the best possible choice among the existing products from ASRock, Asus, EVGA, Gigabyte, MSI and Zotac.

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