WCIGAWW? Mini-ITX?

By | March 2, 2016

You can save money and space by buying Mini-ITX form factor. But should you? Mini-ITX is often discounted because it’s unpopular. The question is, is it unpopular for reasons that should dissuade you from buying it?

On March 29th, 2013 I bought the following:

  • Mini-ITX Motherboard
  • Intel Pentium G860 Sandy Bridge Dual-Core 3.0 GHz LGA 1155 Processor
  • CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600

All for just $246.68, shipping incld., no tax. What makes this good deal the deal of a lifetime is that I bought two of each for that $246.68. That’s right, sans case, HDs, and PSUs, most of which I already had, I got two new, decently spec’d computers for $123.34 a piece.

How did such a thing happen? I assume the deal was some sort of mistake on Newegg’s part. Also, the manufacturer saved costs by cutting corners on the drivers. 3 years hence when I finally need USB 3.0, I find that it is unusable.  More generally however, Mini-ITX is not very popular and so it is often priced to move. But is it unpopular for reasons that should concern you?

Pros:

  • Often cheap
  • “Portable,” space-saving
  • Interesting and creative mod potential

Cons:

  • Short support cycles means it’s difficult/impossible to upgrade 3 years down the road
  • Limited space means limited performance
  • Cases are hard to find, limited selection, often proprietary
  • Oft-cramped cases are a nightmare to work on

When I was living overseas for extended periods of time I often used Shuttle computers similar to the latest model seen here. It was the only option for fitting a graphics card into a computer that fit in a suitcase. But if you have other options available, are the low cost and space-saving features worth the iffy-upgradeability, limited performance, and cramped cases?

In the worst case scenario, you could get a computer so space saving, you can’t even use it! I once purchased a Lian-Li Mini-ITX case so rare that I can no longer find reference to it on the ‘net! It was a great looking case, but it’s unique layout accommodated only one make of one model of a very obscure, very odd, very oblong PSU. The PSU was seemingly discontinued at the same time Lian-Li’s case made it to market. This rendered the case and the computer entirely useless.

As a side note, Lian-Li has since gone bat shit crazy. They’ve discontinued the mother-of-all high quality computer cases, the PC-60, and instead now produce snail and train themed cases. Seriously.

Lian-Li, before meth:

Lian-Li, after meth:

I digress. In the best case scenario Mini-ITX means you’re stuck with a computer that is limited in performance and limited in terms of upgrade potential. Is the low price worth it? At $123, yes, yes it is. At all other price points you should carefully weigh the pros and cons.

I have at times been severely constrained by space (when setting up shop overseas for a year at a time) and budget (when setting up an indie game start-up) and have learned to love Mini-ITX’s quirks. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. For anyone without such constraints, I would recommend against it.


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