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Got an itch for ITX? Let us scratch it

With next gen consoles soon to hit living-rooms across the globe, we thought we'd take a look at some smaller builds for those of us who feel a little more inclined towards the PC scene...

There's something quite attractive about a small form factor PC, but it can prove to be more hassle than fun. Unlike Micro-ATX and Full ATX form factors, it can be a much trickier balancing act with ITX builds. Between the compact cases, often loftier pricing for the privilege, and trying to get the performance you want to fit in the space you have, the whole concept of building one from scratch can be a tad overwhelming. What's more, with the added need for attention-to-detail and generally hotter temperatures to consider once the whole thing goes together, it can be all too easy to make a slip when it comes to choosing your components. Plus, on top of this, if you're looking for something you can upgrade further down the line, keeping a small system future-proofed can prove to make the whole process even trickier still; you may have the perfect components now, but a few years later when that new graphics card arrives, or perhaps a big bad CPU with an even bigger and badder cooling solution... well your current case just might not cut it...

So, with all of this in mind, I decided to do some research.

In this post, I'll be outlining 4 potential ITX builds that could be of interest to someone looking to spec one. Most importantly though, and something I quite keenly observed and adhered to, was that each system I spec'd was designed to be perfectly upgradable to the next tier, with as little effort on the builder's end as possible. The idea, in a nutshell, was to give someone the ability to start with tier one, and over time, slowly swap out their parts as necessary, or as they can afford to upgrade. This means anyone on any budget could start anywhere with any of the components in these lists. They could start as simply or as advanced as they might like - from a functional, entry-level ITX build with a barebones foundation and integrated graphics, all the way to a tiny little beast boasting a 3900X and 2080 Super. They could even mix and match from the different tiers (so long as they understand the concept of bottlenecking, and how to appropriately match up their components).

With each build you'll notice there's a couple of components where additional options are listed. These are generally small but significant upgrades to the primary suggested parts (at an additional cost in most cases, of course). So theoretically, you could spend slightly more (or less as we progress to the later builds) than the two amounts at the foot of each component list, which represents the range of potential cost, from a build using only the most conservative of suggestions, up to one using all of the most expensive optional upgrades. I would also point out that, if you are considering most or all of the upgrades in a given build, it could well be worth skipping straight to the following tier, especially if the cost difference is only marginal (~£100), as each build-tier represents a substantial step up from the previous, even with all of its upgrades.

I've also decided not to include OS in these builds as, depending on what your preference is, it will skew the overall pricing - best to let you make your own decision on that front. Equally, if you're upgrading from an existing machine, you may also already have your own copy of an OS, meaning you can simply migrate it to your new PC. On the subject of pricing, all prices listed here are correct and current at the time of posting, but are of course subject to unforeseeable changes (alas, I am no psychic).

So without further ado, let's get into the first build - our foundation build for each tier thereafter.

Tier 1 - The budget ITX, a great foundation for future upgrades

If you're looking to get a basic ITX foundation up and running, then this is the tier for you; a capable little build that'll get you going without a hitch. For this system I've tried to keep things simple. To help keep pricing down, I've chosen to start with a solid entry-level B450 motherboard, and a small initial amount of storage (250 GB), enough to store an OS, a lot of basic everyday files, and a handful of applications. Now, I could have gone for a 2.5" SSD with more storage, but instead I've gone for an M.2 SSD. Granted, it's a little more expensive than a larger standard SSD, or even a significantly larger HDD, but I think the high read/write speeds offered by the M.2 are too good to pass up. Moreover, with many of our various media libraries migrating to cloud services provided by the likes of Google and Microsoft, we're just not storing nearly as much data on our everyday PCs as we once did. Typically, the largest files we see on our home PCs these days are select applications and software which we install ourselves optionally, like large AAA video games for example.

Speaking of which, I'm also using integrated graphics on a great little quad-core CPU, which'll do you just fine for all your day-to-day tasks, as well as allowing you to do some low-spec gaming too. And not just point-and-click or puzzle games either; this little fella has proven itself capable of coping with even AAA titles at arguably quite playable FPS (if not a little sore on the eyes). It's quite impressive for a chip of its price range, and if you later decide to upgrade to dedicated graphics along the line, it's a great entry-level processor too.

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

I've also opted to go with the Fractal Design Define Nano S as our starting case for a few reasons. Firstly, it's a fairly cheap ITX case, but it also looks great, has a good solid build quality, with built-in sound dampening, and has plenty of space to work in. That space won't just be useful for those with larger hands though. It'll also serve to house any future upgrades we may wish to install further down the line, with extensive support for water and air cooling, plus enough room for CPU coolers up to 160mm in height, and dedicated graphics cards up to 315mm long. Equally, for an ITX build featuring sound dampening, the case offers respectable thermals, and with so much room for the addition of various cooling solutions, future, hotter builds won't be struggling with thermal throttling.

Fractal Design Define Nano S

Once again, thinking ahead, I have also opted for a rather overkill 550W power supply, but it's definitely better to be over your required wattage by at least a fair margin (15-20%). In this case we're well exceeding this margin, but it means that if you do decide to upgrade in the future, you won't need to grab a whole new power supply for the privilege (which also means no faffing around with any more cable management than is necessary - always a plus).

CPU:

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G - £143.14
Or
AMD Ryzen 3 3200G - £92.26

Motherboard:

Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £133.27
Or
Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £260.56

RAM:

Crucial 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4 2400MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £39.29
Or
Kingston HyperX Fury 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 2400MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £78.90
Else
Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB DDR4 2400MHz Memory (RAM) Module - £36.10

Storage:

WD Blue 250GB M.2 Solid State Drive/SSD - £44.74

Case:

Fractal Design Define Nano S Window "Silent" Mini ITX Case - £66.59

Total cost: £372.96 - £593.93

In terms of the optional upgrades for this build, there is one option which will have the largest impact on your system when it comes to future upgradability and ironically, is the one component with which you'll see no real performance difference in actual day-to-day use. This is the X570 motherboard. As tempting as it might be to stick with the B450 and save £100 to spend on some additional storage, or even to put it to one side for a future graphics card, if longevity is what you're after, I would highly, highly, recommend investing in your motherboard instead. 

Despite offering no noticeable difference in your initial user experience, I'm recommending this for one very important reason: The X570 series of motherboards will officially support the soon to be released Zen 3 CPUs - something which no other motherboard model (to date) can claim*. This means that if, in a year or so, you decide to upgrade your CPU, you'll have the added benefit of being able to browse and choose from the latest Zen 3 CPUs from AMD, rather than what will then be a year-old Zen 2 architecture. Zen 2 is fantastic, there's no doubt about that - but that would therefore have us believe that Zen 3 is set to be even better. For me at least, looking forward and spending in advance here, is a given.

*Update: As I was about to post this piece, it came to my attention that the B450 boards will now also support future Zen 3 chips. I would, however, stand by my previous comments due to the nature of the method for which the B450 boards will offer said support, which could prove to be extremely risky for anyone without the proper understanding of how to implement it. For more info on this, please see the below video covering the topic:

The only other key thing to note in this build, is that if you can afford to splash a little extra cash on some faster RAM (3200-3600MHz ideally), you'll be helping to improve your future processor's performance in a noticeable way, and in gaming especially, since AMD's latest Zen architectures benefit from these higher RAM speeds. In the long run, it's also worth considering that a capable gaming PC has 16 GB of RAM, rather than only 8 GB. So if you intend to upgrade in the future, be aware that you'll only have two DIMM slots for RAM to be installed. In this case, rather than spending money on the 2X4GB kit which would occupy both slots, if I couldn't afford to go straight for 16 GB, I'd prefer to get by on a single stick of 8 GB, which I could then pair up at a later date - this way, I can make sure to have 8 GB starting at the higher speeds I'll want in the future, and simply add in another module when I can afford it. This would also mean I wouldn't have to waste money on RAM which I'd only be throwing away in the future when it was due to be replaced.

But where do we go from here? Well Tier 2 of course...

Tier 2 - A solid, entry-level ITX gaming PC

Now that most of the exposition is out of the way with our foundation tier, we can start getting into some of the higher tiers a little more quickly, and with less explanation needed.

For Tier 2 I've moved into the realms of dedicated graphics by choosing a GTX 1660 Super which will set you up nicely for some solid 1080p gaming on high-medium (even max settings in some games) at a steady 60FPS. This card pairs nicely with our existing quad-core CPUs, but if you didn't splash on the 3400G originally or are looking to start here with your CPU choice, then I'd highly recommend skipping over the 3100 and going with the 3300X, which, at an incredible price point (and not much more than the 3200G), will drop the integrated graphics in exchange for hyper-threading and higher clock speeds. Both of which will benefit everyday tasks as well as offering great gaming performance.

AMD Ryzen 3 3100 & 3300X

As for RAM, we're upping the 8 GB to 16 GB (if you haven't already), as well as sticking to those higher speeds we mentioned earlier, in this case 3200MHz. Again, if you're budgeting, you can still get away with a single stick of RAM but you'll definitely start to notice it in games and applications, and especially when it comes to multi-tasking. As such, I'd highly recommend going with the 16 GB options if you can, as it's better to drop speeds in favour of capacity, in my opinion.

I'm also doubling the capacity of the M.2 SSD to give us some more breathing room, which, if you're upgrading from tier one and already have an M.2 installed, can simply be supplemented with a standard SSD of whatever capacity you see fit.

If you've got some spare cash to choose some upgraded options, then definitely consider the RTX 2060, which for only an additional £60 will see your gaming performance boosted by up to around 20% at similar and, in certain titles, higher graphical settings.

CPU:

AMD Ryzen 3 3300X - £118.21
Or
AMD Ryzen 3 3100 - £106.55

GPU:

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 Super Gaming OC 6GB - £249.44
Or
Palit GeForce RTX 2060 Storm X 6GB Graphics Card - £309.68

Motherboard:

Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £260.56
Else
Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £133.27

RAM:

Kingston HyperX Fury 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3200MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £97.49
Or
Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB DDR4 3200MHz Memory (RAM) Module - £40.45
Else
Kingston HyperX Fury 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 2400MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £78.90
Or
Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4 3200MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £47.94

Storage:

WD Blue 500GB M.2 Solid State Drive/SSD - £70.86
Or
WD Blue 250GB M.2 Solid State Drive/SSD - £44.74
And optionally
WD Blue 250GB 2.5" 7mm Solid State Drive/SSD - £50.41

Case:

Fractal Design Define Nano S Window "Silent" Mini ITX Case - £66.59

Total cost: £641.04 - £973.80

And moving into the higher-end builds...

Tier 3 - A mid/high-end ITX gaming PC

A bit of a "one way or the other," depending on which parts you go with, this build will still be a very capable gaming machine either way - it's just down to how capable you want to make it; be that 1080p max settings, or mid-high settings (even approaching max settings if you go for the upper-end GPU) at 1440p, both should meet a solid 60FPS or more in the majority of AAA titles. The main points to note here are what you go for in terms of CPU and GPU. Realistically, at this price point you are definitely going to want 16 GB of RAM (at the highest frequency we can afford, up to 3600MHz) and the X570 motherboard. Whether you need an aftermarket CPU cooler will depend more on personal preference, rather than which processor you choose.

Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB RAM

Of an absolute minimum, you'll be wanting the 3300X, though bear in mind that you could find it starting to bottleneck your system in certain titles. In this instance you definitely won't need anything other than the stock cooler, since there aren't enough cores to be generating any troublesome heat. However, if you choose (or upgrade to) the recommended Ryzen 5 2600/3600, you may decide you'd like an aftermarket cooler. These chips are very efficient though (the 3600 in particular) and the stock coolers are ample in most cases. That said, an aftermarket cooler could help keep your processor running significantly cooler when under load, which'll help keep those boost clocks achievable more frequently. For me personally, I would be content to go for stock cooling, so long as I had sufficient airflow in the case.

Speaking of airflow in the case, in this build you'll notice that, for the very reason I just mentioned, we're grabbing a few case fans to help with the added heat from those bigger graphics cards and higher core counts - the fractal comes with two fans as default, so we'll assume we're moving the front panel fan to the top-side of the case, and purchasing an additional 1 or 2 to replace it in the front. I would say 2 extra fans would be ideal, but realistically, you can purchase as many as your case can support, either including or replacing your included case fans. In the same breath, you can spend as much or as little as you'd like on your case fans, but for this build I've just chosen to add two additional Fractal Design Dynamic GP-14 140mm Case Fans, to match what's already included with the case. If you also opt for the AIO aftermarket cooler though, these could be added to the top and bottom of the case for even more cooling, should you want to aim for an ambient (possibly even sub-ambient depending on environmental circumstances) build. But personally, if I was to go with the AIO, I'd drop the fans in favour of a quieter build when under load.

Fractal Design Dynamic GP-14 140mm Case Fans

As a final note, I've upped the additional optional SSD storage to 1TB, to help give an idea of pricing for the larger SSDs. From experience, I'd say 1TB is plenty enough storage for anyone who's willing to uninstall something when they're finished with it (specifically, I'm thinking things like games here). As a frame of reference; I am personally a little bit lazy in this regard, and have just over 2TB in my personal gaming rig, but currently, I've still only used half of that to date, with around 40 games of varying sizes installed simultaneously. So as I'm sure you can tell, it is pretty difficult to use up that kind of storage space.

Western Digital Blue 1TB SSD

CPU:

AMD Ryzen 5 3600 - £178.64
Or
AMD Ryzen 5 2600 - £112.31
Else
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X - £118.21

GPU:

Gigabyte GeForce RTX 2060 Super Wind Force OC 8GB - £406.78
Or
Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 2070 Super Amp 8GB Graphics Card - £539.99

Motherboard:

Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £260.56
Else
Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £133.27

RAM:

Corsair Vengeance LPX Black 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3600MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £110.03
Or
Kingston HyperX Fury 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3200MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £97.49

Storage:

WD Blue 500GB M.2 Solid State Drive/SSD - £70.86
Or
WD Blue 250GB M.2 Solid State Drive/SSD - £44.74
And optionally
WD Blue 1TB 2.5" 7mm Solid State Drive/SSD - £188.96

Additional Cooling:

X2 Fractal Design Dynamic GP-14 White 140mm Case Fan - £32.00
And/Or
Corsair Hydro Series, H115i PRO RGB, 280mm AIO, Liquid CPU Cooler - £124.09

Case:

Fractal Design Define Nano S Window "Silent" Mini ITX Case - £66.59

Total cost: £893.18 - £1,571.72

As you can see, the price does start to climb a bit here, depending on which parts you go with, but you're definitely getting the performance you're paying for; a build capable of a minimum of 1080p max settings, up to that high-max settings in 1440p, across multiple AAA games. That's pretty damn good value.

Which brings us to the final tier...

Tier 4 - The high-end, top-tier ITX gaming PC

This really is the cream of the crop when it comes to performance. We're now boasting a 3700X and an RTX 2080 Super, alongside 16 GB of 3600MHz RAM and plenty of SSD storage. All of which will be keeping nice and cool with the powerful stock cooler for our CPU, the Wraith Prism, and a super fancy 240mm AIO water-cooling solution to help quell the steaming beast which is our GPU! This is the kind of machine that comfortably breezes through max settings at 1440p gaming, and is more than capable of maintaining a steady 60FPS at 4K, even in demanding titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2. Certainly an ITX build to be marvelled at.

The one key thing to note with the optional upgrades here, however, is the three very important asterisks. If you upgrade your CPU to a 3900X, the stock cooler with this CPU (also a Wraith Prism) is not substantial for keeping this processor within acceptable temperatures - in this instance you'll also need to pick up the Corsair H115i Pro in order to keep temperatures at acceptable levels when under load. But it will also mean you'll need to sacrifice the water-cooling on your GPU in order to prevent the case from becoming too cramped. Instead, opt for either of the other two 2080s, as indicated.

Corsair H115i Pro AIO Liquid CPU Cooler

Equally, if you decided to go with the B450 way back in one of the earlier tiers, or even just in tier 3, although this will be sufficient, it will always be more preferable to go with the X570 in a machine of this level, and especially so when considering the 3900X. I would also only recommend the upgrade to the 3900X to those looking to use this system for more workstation type tasks, where your primary concern is with processes such as rendering and high-resolution photo and video editing. If your primary focus is only gaming, then just stick to the 3700X and that sweet water-cooled GPU.

Gigabyte Aorus 2080 Super Waterforce 8GB

On that same wavelength, it's also suffice to say that if you're upgrading from the previous tier and opted to go with the AIO cooler there, it of course, will also prevent you from upgrading to the Waterforce card in the future (unless you remove it in favour of the GPU). So just something else to bear in mind when planning your potential upgrade path.

CPU:

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X - £294.98
Or
*AMD Ryzen 9 3900X - £440.00
Else
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 - £178.64

GPU:

Gigabyte GeForce RTX 2080 Super Waterforce 8GB Graphics Card - £861.47
Or
*Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 2080 Super Amp 8GB Graphics Card - £759.98
Or (at least)
*Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 2070 Super Amp 8GB Graphics Card - £539.99

Motherboard:

Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £260.56
Else
Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro Wifi - £133.27

RAM:

Corsair Vengeance LPX Black 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3600MHz Dual Channel Memory (RAM) Kit - £110.03

Storage:

WD Blue 250GB M.2 Solid State Drive/SSD - £44.74
And
WD Blue 2TB 2.5" 7mm Solid State Drive/SSD - £227.58

Cooling:

*Corsair Hydro Series, H115i PRO RGB, 280mm AIO, Liquid CPU Cooler - £124.09

Case:

Fractal Design Define Nano S Window "Silent" Mini ITX Case - £66.59

Total cost: £1,300.84 - £2033.57

And there you have it: 4 ITX builds for any budget, from the barebones builds to the beefed up and benchmark smashing beasts.

 

Hopefully this has taken out a lot of the hassle when it comes to picking your components, or perhaps at least given you some food for thought. But if you're still not sure on where to go with your own ITX build, don't hesitate to get in touch with one of our Tech Specialists, either through our webmaster here, or over the phone on 02392 322500.

With that, I'll wish you all well and hope everyone is staying safe and alert in these weird, weird times!

 

Thinking of building one of these ITX specs? Would like to share your thoughts on the builds? Perhaps just a quick question? Hit us up in the comments below!

Posted in Tech

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Published on 20 May 2020

Last updated on 20 May 2020

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