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The microATX and the mini-ITX are probably the two most popular motherboards for small factor PCs. Small desktop PCs are sleeker and save a lot of space. You don’t need a huge computer to play your favorite new games or have a home theater PC that wows your audience.
So if you want to build a sleek and small PC, which motherboard should you go for? The versatile microATX or the even smaller mini-ITX? In the rest of this post, we’ll highlight the similarities and differences between both the mini-ITX vs microATX so you can make the best decision for your PC build.
We have already talked about expandability a bit already, but we will cover it more in this section.
The first advantage of the microATX over the mini-ITX is its ability to run dual graphics cards. But is this really much of an advantage? Let’s look at the advantages of running two GPUs and the holdbacks.
Having two high-priced GPUs allows the PC to render images better. Games run at a higher frame rate and at a higher resolution. In addition, dual GPU set-up can be used to drive multiple monitors. However, there are some reasons for pause. Graphics cards are expensive unless you go for a lower-priced card. But with these lower priced cards you may end up spending around the same if you had gotten a higher-priced card with equal and usually better performance.
Remember dual GPU doesn’t mean twice the power. Two GPUs close to each other also produce a lot more heat and will make a lot of noise. In all, it is usually better to get a single more expensive GPU than two low-priced graphics cards. The two GPUs connect using NVIDIA SLI or AMD Crossfire.
As already mentioned there are fewer RAM slots on the mini-ITX. But this shouldn’t be much of a disadvantage as you can max out the RAM capability at 32 GB which is more than adequate.
However, when it comes to installing other hardware such as internal modems, sound cards, and other cards, the mini-ITX fails. However, many of the mini-ITX motherboards such as the ASUS ROG Strix B450-I Gaming Motherboard, and the Gigabyte X570 I AORUS Pro come with a preinstalled Wi-Fi antenna.
Winner (Performance) – microATX
There are more RAM slots and more PCIe expansion slots. There is simply more room for expansion. Whether or not the expansions are necessary is up to you.
Mini-ITX systems are popular choices for home theater PCs since they are lighter, take less space, and are highly portable. Use liquid cooling, and they are silent. MicroATX systems (board size is 9.6 × 9.6 in) are also small but are not as small as mini-ITX systems (board size is 6.7 × 6.7 in).
There are many tiny mini-ITX systems out there that can still fit a regular PSU (power supply unit). A good example of a mini-ITX motherboard that takes a regular power unit is the Elite 130 from Cooler Master.
On this front, the microATX systems are also convenient. MicroATX cases such as the Corsair 450D can take most PSUs. Everything fits into this case perfectly and it works very well.
Winner (Performance) – mini-ITX
Mini-ITX systems are smaller, lighter, takes less space and easier to carry.
Mini-ITX systems may be smaller and have fewer slots but don’t expect to pay less. Both the mini-ITX and the microATX cost about the same. In fact, because of the popularity of the microATX, you would find that cheaper microATX boards are more common.
For a high quality board, however, both boards cost about the same. The store where you buy the board and the brand will influence the price.
The power units for mini-ITX are generally more expensive. Many mini-ITX systems use SFX power supply units. These are less common than the ATX PSUs that the microATX motherboards use. As SFX power supply units are less common, they are generally more expensive for comparable build quality and output.
This is especially true if you are concern about the 80 PLUS Gold rating and modular cables. Similarly, the less common mini-ITX chassis/cases are generally more expensive. While you can easily find a gorgeous quality microATX case for $50 and less, a quality mini-ITX case will usually cost you closer to $100 (not to say, you can’t find good mini-ITX for under $50).
Winner (Performance) – microATX
Because microATX motherboards are more common, they can be acquired for lower prices more often. Additionally, parts for a microATX system are usually less expensive. Once again, this is due to the microATX being more common.
Performance is important to any gamer. There a few things to consider. Can you overclock the motherboard? And, how many GPU (graphics processing unit) can you have on the motherboard?
There are several premium mini-ITX boards out there nowadays that can overclock just as well as an ATX board. This is an impressive feat and is obtained by adding voltage regulator modules (simply known as VRM) on a riser card. The VRM’s job is to ensure that the power supply is usable to the CPU.
Also when it comes to installing RAMs the microATX has double the number of DIMM slots, which is four slots. The mini-ITX has only two slots. However, this shouldn’t be a problem. A Mini-ITX motherboard can support 16 GB RAM cards. That means you can have 32 GB of RAM. Since even the most modern games require just 16 GB RAM, 32 GB of RAM is more than enough.
Between the two boards, only the microATX supports multiple video cards (GPU). This is because only the microATX board is big enough. However, if you are thinking of getting a small motherboard then you want to build a small system. An additional graphics card requires more room which means a larger case.
I recommend the Corsair 450D. Also, a fanless cooling set-up is the way to go with these small factor PCs. This is because they usually end up packed. This restricts airflow and makes the job of the fan harder. Similarly, since most HTPCs use small motherboards, even the slightest noise from a spinning fan can mess up the ambience during a movie.
Winner (Performance) – microATX
The ability to add more than a single GPUs makes the microATX the clear winner.
Mini-ITX vs MicroATX – Which to Get?
As you may have noticed, it seems like the microATX surges ahead most of the time when compared with the mini-ITX. While this is true, it doesn’t mean everyone is better off with the microATX motherboard.
With a good build, all the extra slots that the microATX has won’t be required. As many motherboards already have an integrated Wi-Fi antenna, you won’t need an additional adapter.
Similarly, a good GPU is usually better and more convenient than having a dual-GPU set-up. Also, there is numerous hardware for the mini-ITX system. Mini-ITX chassis are now more common and popular. Let’s get into the different systems, you would likely use the microATX and the mini-ITX motherboards for.
Mini-ITX vs MicroATX For a Gaming PC
When it comes to gaming, the microATX is an all-round better option especially since it offers more affordable hardware upgrades. Generally, four 4 GB RAM cards are more affordable than two 8 GB RAM cards. While both options add up 16 GB of RAM, the microATX usually allows you to save money.
Similarly, on a microATX system, instead of upgrading an outdated GPU, you can get a second cheap GPU and pair them up. This can save you money. With the mini-ITX since there is a single slot, once your graphics card is outdated, you need to change it.
Overall, the microATX gives you more value for money if you wish to build a gaming PC.
Mini-ITX vs MicroATX For a Home Theater PC
If you wish to build a home theater PC, you don’t need fancy a GPU (a CPU with integrated graphics is usually adequate) and you do you need a lot of RAM. With an HTPC, the most important factors include size and noise. The mini-ITX is smaller and allows you to build the most compact desktop. Coupled with a fanless heat dissipation system, you get a sleek and extremely powerful HTPC.
The microATX system also works very well as an HTPC, but the mini-ITX is the clear winner here. It makes a better HTPC.
Mini-ITX vs MicroATX For a General Purpose PC
Maybe you are looking for a PC to browse on, watch movies, and do occasional office work on. Well, if that’s your needs, then the microATX is generally better. For starters, it gives you more options and leeway.
The several PCIe slots allow you to add an internal HDTV tuner and video capture card, a GPU, and even a Wi-Fi card. You get a lot more functionalities. Also since the microATX motherboard is backward compatible with the ATX motherboard (probably the most popular motherboard types out there), there are a lot of options available when it comes to PSUs and chassis.
Also, most budget desktops are already microATX systems. They are just a more practical choice for a general-purpose PC.
There are several differences between the two and one big similarity – they are both very small. The mini-ITX is smaller. However, the slightly bigger microATX has more slots and is easier to upgrade. Here are the overviews of both systems.
Mini-ITX is a 17 x 17 cm (6.7 × 6.7 in) motherboard developed in 2001. Originally, this tiny motherboard was designed for desktops with fanless cooling systems and low power consumption. These characteristics are ideal when building a home theater PC system. The mini-ITX has a single PCI-Express expansion slot and two DIMM (or SO-DIMM) slots.
This means you can install a single GPU and just 2 RAM cards. Since the mini-ITX is smaller, it allows you to build even smaller gaming desktop PCs. Also, a fanless mini-ITX system is the way to go if you wish to build a home theater PC system.
The microATX is the more popular of the two and for good reason. It was developed in 1997 and as such is much older than the mini-ITX. Measuring 24.4 × 24.4 cm (9.6 × 9.6 in), the microATX is reasonably bigger. Designed to be backward compatible with the ATX, the microATX is a great option to the full-size ATX.
They can be used in ATX cases, and the i/o panels of both systems are identical. MicroATX boards also use the same chipsets as ATX boards. MicroATX boards have four PCI-Express expansion slots and four DIMM slots.
This means you can install dual-GPUs, and other cards such as a wireless adapter, a SATA Express, a sound card, and even more USB 3.0 ports. And this is why we think the microATX is better for building for gaming PCs.
I hope you enjoyed this comparison of Mini-ITX vs MicroATX! Check out our video game gear archives next for more content!
Last update on 2020-08-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API