Today, we’re going to go over our top picks for the best mini ITX case. We’ll also be going over everything you need to know about buying one, in detail, so that you can make an informed choice based on your specific needs as an individual.
Let’s hop into it.
Best Mini ITX Cases of 2019
Fractal Design Node 202
- Dimensions: 5.7 x 18.2 x 13 inches
- CPU Cooler Height: Up to 56 mm
- GPU Length: Up to 310 mm
- PSU: SFX
- Dimensions: 14.6 x 7.4 x 14.3 inches
- CPU Cooler Height: Up to 160 mm
- GPU Length: Up to 330 mm
- PSU: ATX
- Dimensions: 14.65 x 8.27 x 13.74 inches
- CPU Cooler Height: Up to 165 mm
- GPU Length: Up to 325 mm
- PSU: ATX
All You Need To Know About Buying A Mini ITX Case
What is a Mini ITX case?
First and foremost, let’s go ahead and define “Mini ITX case”. A Mini ITX case is any case designed around the mini ITX motherboard form factor, which is the smallest of the mainstream motherboard form factors on the market. Many cases built for larger motherboards will also have mini ITX compatibility, but by and large, we want to stick to smaller cases built specifically for this form factor in this article.
How does Mini ITX differ from other motherboard sizes?
So Mini ITX is obviously smaller than the other mainstream form factors, but how is it actually different?
How it differs from Standard ATX
- Size – 133 mm shorter and 74 mm thinner than ATX
- PCI Express Slots – 6 less PCIe Slots (usually only one, but sometimes with an M.2 slot above
- RAM Slots – Only 2 supported compared to ATX’s 4
- SATA Ports – Usually 4 compared to ATX’s 6
- 2 Slots – Usually 1-2 compared to ATX’s 3-4 (on higher-end models)
- Fan/RGB Connectors – Usually 1-2 compared to ATX’s 3-4 (on higher-end models)
How it differs from Micro ATX
- Size – Usually 74 mm shorter and thinner than Micro ATX
- PCI Express Slots – 3 less PCIe slots compared to Micro ATX’s 4
- RAM Slots – Only 2 compared to Micro ATX’s 4
- SATA Ports – Usually 4 compared to MATX’s 6
- 2 Slots – Usually 1-2 compared to MATX’s 2-3
- Fan/RGB Connectors – Usually 1-2 compared to MATX’s 2-3
While these may all sound like severe downsides, they really aren’t. Dual-Channel and Quad-Channel RAM don’t have a major performance difference in most applications, multi-GPU setups have greatly faltered in support over the years, and unless you’re trying to do a RAID setup, the likelihood of you needing much more than 2 or 3 internal storage drives is fairly unlikely.
Like Micro ATX, Mini ITX cuts down to the bare essentials for average users, especially gamers. Unless you explicitly need a multi-drive or multi-GPU setup, chances are that the move to Mini ITX poses nothing but positives for you. Higher-end models will also offer built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, just in case you were relying on PCI Express slots for those forms of expansion prior.
The main issue to worry about when buying a Mini ITX case is compatibility. Specifically, compatibility with the following components: your graphics card, your CPU cooler, your power supply, your drives, and sometimes even your fans.
We’re going to address each of these in detail below.
The average length of a standard graphics card is roughly 10 inches or 254 millimeters. Many high-end graphics cards will exceed this length and flirt with 300 mm (almost 12 inches!), and some Mini ITX cases may not even support the standard 254 mm.
It’s important to make sure that your GPU can fit inside your case.
Fortunately, even dual or triple-slot GPUs can have great compatibility with Mini ITX boards, since only the coolers need the extra space. The card itself only needs a single slot to plug into. Many GPUs will compensate with a shorter length by offering a thicker cooler design in this way, which is ideal for Mini ITX PCs.
CPU Cooler Height
The larger a heatsink is, the more effectively a cooler will be able to disperse heat. This is true of both CPUs and GPUs, but is especially noticeable with CPU coolers. The best high-end CPU coolers will often be fairly tall and dense in order to provide the best cooling performance, which can cause clearance issues with Mini ITX builds, both with the case itself and RAM mounting.
For this reason, many prefer to go for either low-profile air coolers or all-in-one liquid coolers, where the radiator takes up a fan slot or two instead.
If you decide to go air, make sure that your cooler isn’t too tall for your chassis, and the fan won’t block your RAM slots.
If you decide to go liquid, make sure that you have the prerequisite fan slots available on your chassis to mount your radiator too.
This one usually isn’t a problem with mainstream ITX cases, but does pop up occasionally. Your average PSU length will match the ATX standard, which is 150 mm. If your motherboard doesn’t support this, opt for a smaller SFX PSU instead- these perform exactly the same, but will cost a bit more.
Fan Capacity and Liquid Cooling Radiators
The ideal air cooling setup in a Mini ITX case will offer at least 3 fan slots- two for intake, one for exhaust. These fans will most commonly come in the size of 120 mm, but 140 mm is available on occasion, too. For particularly niche cases, you may even see massive 200 mm intake fans- but where the case supports this size, one of these fans will likely come pre-installed.
We recommend sticking to cases that have at least 2 intake fan slots and 1 exhaust fan slot available. You may want more if you plan on liquid cooling your CPU, though. Liquid cooling radiators can take up anywhere from 1 to 3 120 mm fan slots- for practicality, we recommend sticking to 120 mm or 240 mm radiators.
Moving from a standard ATX Mid/Full Tower down to a Mini ITX build, the biggest downgrade is definitely in drive capacity. Most Mini ITX cases won’t have much more than 4 drive bays available, and often only 1 or no 5.25 drive bays. (So DVD/Blu-Ray drives are typically a no-go.)
If you want a multi-drive storage solution with a Mini ITX build, your best bet will be to use SSDs, especially M.2 SSDs that mount directly onto your motherboard. Larger RAID arrays or server setups usually aren’t viable with Mini ITX cases- standard ATX and Micro ATX builds are much better for those purposes.
How is airflow in a Mini ITX case?
While you can get good-to-great airflow in a mini ITX case, it’s very important to invest in a case with plenty of fan mounts and good airflow. Since you’re generally using the same desktop-grade components that you would be using in a standard ATX case, you’re effectively generating the same amount of heat…in a smaller space.
That makes a proper airflow setup– with dual intake fans and at least one exhaust fan- vital. If you don’t have a proper airflow configuration in your chassis, or your chassis can’t support it, you’ll have difficulty keeping temperatures as low as you want them to be.
This is another reason why all-in-one liquid coolers are so popular in Mini ITX cases. With an AIO liquid cooler, all the heat generated by your CPU is immediately sent to the radiator. If you mount your radiator as an intake, this will ensure the coolest CPU temps and only minimally impact your GPU temps. Radiators mounted as an exhaust may also work, but more than likely will result in hotter temps on your CPU (since the radiator will have to work with hot air from the GPU inside the chassis.)
Will a Mini ITX case or motherboard reduce performance?
Simple answer: no.
Longer answer: only if you make the wrong decisions.
For instance, if you don’t have a good airflow setup in your case, or you buy a case where you can’t configure it for good airflow, you’ll deal with worse performance. Your components won’t be able to reach their turbo frequencies as often due to higher temperatures, and in particularly severe cases will degrade faster over time than they otherwise would.
As long as you make sure your airflow is properly taken care of, you shouldn’t have any performance concerns when opting for a Mini ITX case and motherboard over larger form factors. As long as your case has good intakes and the required number of fan mounts, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.
The Best Mini ITX Cases
And now, for our selections.
Smallest Mini ITX Case – Fractal Design Node 202
- Dimensions – 5.7 x 18.2 x 13 inches
- CPU Cooler Height – Up to 56 mm
- GPU Length – Up to 310 mm (only 2-slot supported)
- PSU Length – SFX (up to 130 mm)
- Drive Capacity – 2 2.5 inch drives
First up is our pick for smallest Mini ITX case, the Fractal Design Node 202. Technically there are smaller Mini ITX cases, but none which have any kind of reasonable clearance for GPUs or CPU cooling. If you want the most compact case that you can still fit a formidable gaming PC into, then the Fractal Design Node 202 would be our first pick.
The key to what makes the Node 202 work is its innovative “chamber” design, which separates the CPU and GPU into separate chambers of their own inside the chassis. This, combined with plenty of built-in ventilation, allows for fairly reasonable heat exhaust, even without extra case fans. There are two 120 mm fan mounts in the GPU chamber, though, just in case you need that extra mmph for your GPU temps.
The limited clearance for CPU air coolers means you aren’t likely to overclock with this one, but a solid low-profile air cooler should go a long way here, especially since there’s an exhaust vent right above where the CPU is mounted.
The GPU clearance is pretty stellar for such a small case- 310 mm is more than enough for the vast majority of graphics cards out there. Just make sure you get a dual-slot card, though.
Unfortunately for hard drive users, there aren’t any 3.5 inch drive mounts in this one. And due to the awful performance of 2.5 inch hard drives, we’d recommend that you stick to 2.5 inch or M.2 SSDs.
Want something even smaller and don’t intend to use a GPU? Try the InWin BQ656T
Best Budget Mini ITX Case – InWin 301
- Dimensions – 14.6 x 7.4 x 14.3 inches
- CPU Cooler Height – Up to 160 mm
- GPU Length – Up to 330 mm
- PSU Length – ATX (up to 160 mm)
- Drive Capacity – 1 3.5 or 2.5 bay, 2 dedicated 2.5 bays
Next up, our budget pick: the gorgeous InWin 301.
This is one of our favorite cases released in the past few years, and it’s pretty easy to see why. It has a sleek, minimalistic, premium aesthetic that is perfectly suited for any build in any environment. (It technically supports Micro ATX, but trust us: the best experience here will be with a Mini ITX motherboard.)
Boasting a tempered glass side panel and spacious internals, the InWin 301 offers clearance for GPUs up to 330 mm long, CPU coolers as tall as 160 mm, and standard ATX PSU support. Despite the smaller footprint, you aren’t really sacrificing very much in terms of compatibility here: everything you want to put inside this PC should fit.
While there is only one 3.5-inch bay, this isn’t out of the ordinary for SFF PCs. With the additional 2.5-inch drive bays, as well as the ability to have M.2 SSDs on modern motherboards without taking up extra space in the chassis, we think that your storage needs should be met here, especially if you stick to SSDs.
The only real downside of this one is the building experience, which can be a little rough since you don’t have much in the way of cable management space. You’ll want to make intelligent use of a fully-modular SFX PSU with shorter cables and zip-ties in order to accomplish any reasonable level of cable management.
Everything else is as it should be, including the prerequisite 3 120 mm fan slots. Two intakes and one exhaust should result in great airflow in this chassis.
Best High-End Mini ITX Case – NZXT H210i
- Dimensions – 14.65 x 8.27 x 13.74 inches
- CPU Cooler Height – Up to 165 mm
- GPU Length – Up to 325 mm
- PSU Length – ATX (up to 311 mm)
- Drive Capacity – 1 3.5 inch bay, 4 2.5 inch bays
Last but certainly not least is the NZXT H210i, which is our pick for best high-end Mini ITX case. The H210i is the successor to the last-gen H200i from NZXT, and shares most of the same excellent design decisions. A huge basement for your PSU and cable management, built-in RGB lighting, four 120 mm fan slots, and up-to-date USB 3.1 connectors on the top panel of the case. Also, tempered glass to show off everything inside!
You have great aesthetics, a ton of room inside for any ITX build, a dedicated compartment for your PSU and cable management…all the premium features you could need are here. You can even get the case cheaper if you’re willing to opt out of the RGB LED strips in the i-version, though it’ll only save you about $20-$30 bucks.
We really don’t have much negative to say about this one…except the peculiar decision to mount one of the two included fans up top instead of up front. This chassis has open slots for intake fans, but these slots are unused by default.
Unless you’re putting a liquid cooling radiator upfront, we highly recommend that you move one of the two included fans to the front in order to provide better airflow to your system. For a complete airflow solution, we also recommend buying at least one extra intake fan.
Aside from that, though…this is a truly premium option, and any ITX gaming build should look stunning inside this case.
Want a cheaper mid-range option? Just get the non-i version of this case!