We’ve previously discussed the various Mini ITX cases on the market and which ones we deem to be the best. However, if you’re building one of these PCs you’ll most likely also be wondering what the best components are to use in your rig.
Whilst some of the components will be the same regardless of the size of your case (such as the CPU, PSU, storage devices), there are other items which require to be in the small form factor. These include motherboards, graphics cards and also RAM. We’ll be looking at each of these in turn with the focus of this article being our pick of the best mini ITX motherboards. Since these are going to be new builds, we have opted for motherboards that support DDR4 RAM. If you’ve got older DDR3 RAM then you’ll need to upgrade this as well.
Off the bat, the choice of motherboard that you’re going for will depend on the CPU brand you’re using with the choice being between Intel and AMD. The reason for this is that the CPU sockets of each brand are different and sadly not interchangeable so if you build an AMD computer initially and then decide to switch to Intel then you will need to change over the motherboard as well.
The Intel Route
Our first pick comes from MSI. As a brand that is renowned for their gaming peripherals, it’s no surprise that they’ve made a motherboard to accommodate those wanting to build a small form factor PC. The Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC board supports a wide variety of Intel Chipset processors. This includes Celeron and Pentium CPUs as well as the 6th and 7th Generation of Intel Core CPUs. Therefore depending on your build, you’ll be able to pick a chipset that suits your needs.
When it comes to cooling, this is always a concern no matter how big the case is. In a Mini ITX chassis cooling can be a bit trickier, although many manufacturers do include multiple fans in their cases. To help support this, the Gaming Pro Carbon AC has 3 fan headers on the board.This is divided into 1 fan header for your CPU and 3 for the case fans. Linked to this is the heatsink built onto the board itself to help aid in heat dissipation which can otherwise limit the lifespan of the board. Built into the BIOS is the option to set up 4 different temperature thresholds. When the system reaches these pre-defined temperatures, the fans will alter their speeds automatically. This means that the fan speed will increase on its own when it gets too warm in the case, and slow down again when the system is cooler and not under load.
As the name suggests, this is a gaming motherboard although even if you’re not a hardcore gamer it doesn’t mean you can’t use this board. The fact that it’s a gaming motherboard will not hinder the normal day to day performance. It’s also a handy option to have should you decide to go down the gaming route later on.
In addition to supporting DDR4 RAM, the MSI also has 1 M.2 SSD slot. This supports speeds greater than that over SATA3, meaning that loading times for your Windows installation (and any programs on the M.2 drive) will be lightning fast. In addition to this there are four SATAIII ports which will provide you with more than enough storage. The Pro Carbon AC is available from Amazon.
In terms of ports, there is one USB 3.1 Type C connector on the board itself, along with 3 type A 3.1 ports. There are also 2 USB 2.0 ports at the back of the board. In terms of headers, there is support for 2 Type A 3.1 ports and 2 2.0 ports to connect up to the front of your case of choice. There are also 2 display connectors. 1 is for HDMI and 1 is for DisplayPort. There is also an Intel Gaming LAN port present, which means that you’ll always get a consistently high speed across your wired network. In terms of GPU options, as with other Mini ITX motherboards there is only support for one graphics card. This is supported by a third generation PCI-Express 16 slot.
The MSI Gaming Pro Carbon has even more features than described here, and is an amazing motherboard. It is costlier than others on the market, but if you can afford it, it’s highly recommended.
- Gaming Heatsinks with CARBON: Leading heatsink design, for maximum cooling
- Mystic Light RGB: Change up to 16.8 million colours & 17 LED effects
- DDR4 Boost with Steel Armor: Optimized traces and isolated memory circuitry
The AMD Route
In the last year, AMD has really taken the tech world by storm with the release of its Ryzen and Threadripper lineup of CPUs. Whilst many would like to opt for Threadripper, unless you’re going to be using all of its features, the better alternative is to opt for the Ryzen CPU line instead. In terms of the socket type, it’s defined as AM4. As it is new architecture, supports the latest standard in RAM, DDR4.
As you’d expect, there are a variety of manufacturers that you can choose from. One shining example of how to make an excellent mini ITX motherboard comes from Gigabyte. Like the MSI board listed above, the Gigabyte GA is also marketed as a gaming motherboard. However, it is not solely for this purpose.
Since it is in the small form factor variety, you are limited to two DIMM slots for your RAM, but it supports DDR4. The maximum amount of RAM that it can utilise is 32GB which should be more than enough for your gaming and media centre needs. Any more than this would be overkill and frankly a waste of money.
It’s been mentioned a few times now between this article and the case article, but cooling is a crucial factor for any PC build. The cooler the computer is, the better it will run since it won’t thermal throttle. It can also aide to increase the lifespan of your PC. This is due to the fact that prolonged, elevated temperatures can, over time, accelerate the degradation of electrical components. One the GA motherboard, there are two fan headers included, allowing you to maximise the potential for cooling in your system.
Tied to this is the addition of five temperature sensors scattered across the board. These will allow you to come up with custom fan profiles that will increase or decrease the speed of the fans when the sensors reach a certain temperature. It’s little touches like this make the extra investment in a gaming motherboard worth it.
Likewise, with the gaming moniker attached to this unit, Gigabit Ethernet LAN is included with it. Whilst you might not be using it solely for gaming, it will mean that you’re getting the best possible speeds from your Ethernet connection. This means if you have any media content on a NAS and connecting this via the LAN port to your HTPC, then you should have seamless media playback.
Much like any other mini ITX motherboard, there is only support for one GPU by way of the single PCI-e x 16 slot. However, you should never be stuck for storage due to there being 1 M.2 slot for SSD’s, as well as 4 SATA 6Gb/s ports, giving you a maximum of 5 storage devices on your computer. Should it take your fancy, you can use RAID 10, RAID 1 or RAID 0 configurations.
If you need even more storage such as that of an external drive, or you want to watch Blu Ray and DVDs, then you can do this by attaching USB devices to the board. Directly on the back panel connectors are 4 USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2 USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (type A variety), along with there being 2 USB 2.0 ports. Further, there are also USB headers available on the board itself, one for USB 3.1 and the other for USB 2.0. In addition to this, there is also the onboard connector for DisplayPort and also HDMI. As you’d expect, you also get Wi-Fi built in should it be the situation that you are a bit of a distance from your router.
Of course, since it’s also targeted towards gamers, it has an abundance of lighting options built right in. With the option to have over 16 million colour combinations across to different zones on the board, you can customise it to your own specific needs. There’s a variety of lighting modes that you can choose from, including a static (always on) mode, or a pulsing on and off mode. There are LEDs built directly onto the board, with you also having the ability to add aftermarket light strips to the case. One of the interesting features though is the ability to control the lighting via your smartphone.
This might not seem like such a big deal, but consider this option. If it’s the case that you’re a few hours into a gaming session online (with no sign of stopping anytime soon) and the lighting setup you currently have is annoying you, then you would normally need to switch out of the game to change the config. Even in 2017, some games don’t like having this done and it can cause glitches in game. However, by changing the lighting profile from your smartphone with just a few taps, it means that you’re spending less time away from the game. Aside from that, it’s another cool feature that you can wow your friends and family with.
The Gigabyte GA Mini ITX motherboard is the ultimate option for those that want to build a small form factor PC.
- Supports AMD Ryzen & 7th Generation A-series / Athlon
- Dual Channel ECC/ Non-ECC Unbuffered DDR4 / Fast 2 USB 3.1 Gen 2
- Intel 802.11ac Dual Band WIFI and Bluetooth 4.2 card / Ultra-Fast PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2
Last update on 2018-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API