It is very rewarding to realize that we were right when we assumed that Mini-ITX platform can easily replace a fully-functional personal computer in standard ATX form-factor. Our today’s test session showed that contemporary LGA 1155 Mini-ITX mainboards has everything the enthusiasts may need. Therefore, they may be used for high-performance machines with discrete gaming graphics accelerators and may even be overclocked. The only real limitation for Mini-ITX platforms is probably their inability to support multi-card graphics configurations as well as the lack of unique and rare onboard controller, but the need for that doesn’t occur often. So all in all, compact systems have every chance to compete with their full-size counterparts.
However at the same time, we should also point out that the market for miniature mainboards for enthusiasts is still somewhat raw. As we have discovered today, there are not that many options available currently for high-performance systems. Moreover, even the very best compact Intel Z77 based mainboards have some issues. When assembling a large computer we have several different mainboard choices without noticeable drawbacks and with very good potential. However, it may be quite a challenge with Mini-ITX platforms. Formally, some of the Mini-ITX mainboards on Z77 reviewed today may seem like a great choice, but once we get to know them a little better from a practical standpoint, we uncover some concerns with settings and configuration, layout, performance or overclocking. So far there is no ideal product out there, so we can only hope that after Haswell and eight series chipsets launch the situation takes a turn for the better.
So what should we do if we really want to build a high-performance LGA 1155 computer on a Mini-ITX platform today? Our recommendation would be to start from the contrary. First of all you need to exclude those mainboards that limit the overclocking. These are Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI, that doesn’t have any functionality to adjust the voltages, and EVGA Z77 Stinger, which doesn’t work with the memory and has several issues in the BIOS. Then we need to eliminate those mainboards, which cannot save power when the CPU is idle and disable all processor power-saving technologies during overclocking. This will take MSI Z77IA-E53 off the list. Finally, we will exclude slower mainboards, which will mean the end of the race for Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi.
As a result, the only two choices remain ASUS P8Z77-I DELUXE and ASRock Z77E-ITX. Asus product boasts very well thought-through design, high performance and a WiFi controller supporting 5 GHz frequency range. However, it suffers from some frustrating issues in the BIOS, heats a lot and is quite expensive. ASRock mainboard, on the contrary, is very affordable, comes with a well-balanced BIOS and an additional mSATA slot, but doesn’t support Bluetooth and has somewhat awkward layout.
Having considered all cons and pros, we will have to give our vote to ASUS P8Z77-I DELUXE, which will be awarded our “Recommended Buy” title. Especially since the locking of the processor clock frequency multiplier will most likely be fixed in the upcoming BIOS updates.
But it is important to keep in mind that other products discussed in this roundup may be a better choice in certain specific situations. For example, if you are not planning to overclock your processor, then Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI or MSI Z77IA-E53 will be great options to consider. Gigabyte board is unique due to two network controllers, while MSI board offers a free mini-PCIe/mSATA combination slot. However, if you are not into overclocking at all, then you should also take into consideration Mini-ITX mainboards on H, B and Q series chipsets, which will cost less and may also offer you the functionality you are looking for.