Ah, Mini-ITX. I love the form factor.
Nowadays, you can have a small, shoebox-sized console-replacement (or…console-companion) personal computer that you can simply hook up to your living room TV.
While similarly sized to consoles, mini-ITX computers get many times the performance and capabilities relative to normal consoles. Of course, there's nothing wrong with consoles (I love my PS4!).
From what I’ve seen, the trend is slowly moving towards smaller and smaller form factors while the components grow more and more powerful.
It used to be that to have a powerful media-gaming computer, you’d have to get the biggest, baddest computer cases and just cram big components in it. It was understandable, as to be able to game at really high specs even as recent as 5 years ago, you would probably get more bang-for-buck with a two-card graphics processing setup (nVidia’s SLI or ATI/AMD’s Crossfire).
Plus, back then, you need quite a few hard drives. Now, though, streaming media online is getting more and more prevalent with Netflix and Spotify and HBO Go and Hulu and whatever else…including the *cough* ones. Storing media in your hard drive doesn’t really make sense anymore. That, and a single hard drive can now hold terabytes, so the average consumer doesn’t need as many hard drive bays nowadays.
Nowadays even a Zotac 1060 Mini is more than enough to run a lot of today’s popular games in Full HD (1080p) with max settings – and that’s just a mid-range card. I daresay that for the vast majority of people, that’s more than good enough. Get an Asus 1070 Ti and you’re pretty much set for…I’d say 3 years before upgrading. 5 years if you’re willing to turn down some details in future games.
Now, originally, I wanted to start with a much bigger list (about 30+, off the top of my head), then narrow down one-by-one with detailed explanations along the way. However, I feel like that might be too long and boring so instead I’m going to straight away list my top choices with simplified explanations. Hopefully these will resonate with your tastes as well and help you cut down on research time.
I’m going to zero in on just 4 cases and do the bulk of the research for you. The results will be based on these criterias:
Would it fit with, say, a living room like this?
It’s important to note that these are my personal choices. I would understand if you disagree as our tastes may differ. Affiliate disclaimer: I receive commissions if you buy through the Amazon links, however I truly believe these are the best for 2018.
What I really like the most about the Cougar QBX case is that the brand logo sticker is optional. Yup, the optional branding is my favourite thing about this amazing case. It just looks clean and I mean, come on, the word “Cougar” is embarrassing to show in the living room. Well, that and the fact that it is quite a remarkable piece of engineering, this QBX. I used this for about 6 months before migrating my components to a Node 304 (#1 on the list).
Why is it at the bottom, then? Just the little things. For starters, the build quality feels a bit flimsy compared to the others. I can’t really explain it. Then again it is unfair of me as the Cougar QBX is the cheapest on this list. Still good, just not the best. The outer design looks good with its hairline-pattern front panel and you would be surprised at how small it looks in person. However I think others on the list still look better. But, again, still good.
Furthermore, component assembly also isn’t really the most straightforward thing, I can tell you that. My swear-word assembly test recorded quite a good amount. Future maintenance would be a tad confusing. Fortunately there’s a dust filter at the bottom. That should…delay things.
The power supply has to be 140mm (I recommend Seasonic FOCUS Plus 650). It only has space for 1 exhaust fan, a 92mm. However, it can take a full-length graphics card up to 350 mm (I used a Zotac 1070 Mini though, which is about 210mm). That’s amazing considering the size.
There are spaces for 4 2.5-inch drives (solid-state or spinny-spinny hard-drives) and 1 for your normal 3.5-inch hard drive, which is good because 3.5″ hard-drives are still the best bang-for-buck for gaming/media PCs. There is also an optical-drive slot, but I don’t see the point of that anymore.
So. Cougar QBX. For the price, it’s great. However, there are still better ones if you can up your budget…
You might have heard of Thermaltake. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good-looking the Suppressor F1 is, as I am not usually a fan of their design. They are not bad cases per se, but as the brand name suggests, Thermaltake cases normally seems to sacrifice looks for airflow, usually employing unsightly mesh designs which are undeniably effective for heat management. Not this one, though.
It looks similar to the Fractal Design Node 304, but it is a bit shorter (in terms of length). The front panel has a premium look thanks to its brushed pattern, and the placement of the ports on the side helps keep things look clean. Combine the clean unassuming look with the small size (imagine a 10-inch cube), this one undoubtedly goes great with common home decors.
Naturally, it can only take graphics card lengths up to 10 inches. Personally for me this is a non-issue, but I do have some friends who had fell in love with this case but had to get another one because they already had gigantic cards from their old builds. I recommend a Zotac 1070 Mini (it is slightly above 8 inches) for the Suppressor F1. There are two 3.5-inch drive bays, and another two for 2.5-inch drives.
I only assembled components in this case once, but it was definitely a better and easier experience than the #4 Cougar QBX. There is a huge 200mm fan behind the brushed front panel. There are ventilation vents on both side panels that are protected by dust filters, so rapid dust build-up shouldn’t be an issue. There will always be dust settling in, but we want to get the longest time before needing to do cleanup.
I have more to write but unfortunately this is getting too long. The Thermaltake Suppressor F1 is a great small cube case that can easily match your home decor. Personally, I prefer the Node 304 but this is a good alternative.
Silverstone has made quite a name for themselves in the computer case industry. In fact I’ve already read great reviews about them even when they were just starting out about a decade ago. They’ve been making quite a few Mini-ITX cases, but design-wise most don’t really fit well with common home decors.
One of the exceptions is the Silverstone RVZ03. Part of the Raven series, you know that it’s mainly aimed for consumers who want powerful media/gaming PCs in small packages. I usually disliked colour LED’s on computer cases, but Silverstone managed to make it look classy instead of just distracting.
This case is much more improved than older Silverstone Raven cases, so even though there are more subdued designs in the older models (RVZ01 for example), I had to choose this one. For example, RVZ03 now supports normal ATX power supply units up to 150mm (140mm is still recommended) while the older models required SFX. Unfortunately this means that there is no more 3.5-inch bay.
There are four 2.5-inch bays for your solid-state drives and hard drives. The 2.5-inch hard drive thing is not much of a problem anymore in 2018 as prices are quite affordable these days. I recommend the HGST Travelstar.
Component assembly is surprisingly easy, however you do need a riser card for your graphics card, which they provide for you. Speaking of graphics card, the RVZ03 supports up to about 13-inch graphics cards. As a reference point, the Asus 1070 Ti Strix is 11.73 inches.
Magnetic dust filters are included for the 3 fan bays, and the case employs positive-pressure airflow which basically just means air is pushed out (along with heat and dust), not in. Personally I found negative vs positive pressure makes practically no difference. However what I know for sure is for this case, dust-buildup would take a long, long time…mostly thanks to the dust filters.
In a nutshell, the Silverstone RVZ03 is recommended if you want a powerful gaming-media HTPC but still want a console look. After all, consoles have been part of the living room decor for so long. It can be laid down horizontally or put up vertically – both of which would look great beside your TV.
Fractal Design is a Swedish company, so of course their case designs would have that sleek Scandinavian minimalism touch. The Fractal Design Node 304 case has been out for several years already and there are newer models such as the Core 500. However, it tops the list primarily because it has such a timeless, premium-looking design but doesn’t sacrifice internal space too much.
Even from looking at pictures of itself will show that it will fit in very well with most home decors. Fractal Design knows that a lot of people just want clean-looking cases that don’t scream “Look at me!” to put in their homes and I really appreciate that. The front panel is just a brushed pattern with one small LED indicator. Ports are on the right side.
It is a couple of inches longer than the Thermaltake Suppressor F1 but that means it can take a full-length graphics card up to 12.2 inches. The additional case length also allows for a 160mm power supply unit, such as the Seasonic G-Series. There are 6 spaces for 2.5 or 3.5-inch drives via steel brackets, but most people would only use two. Personally installing the motherboard was a bit of a pain, but after that it was smooth sailing.
There is a big fan behind the front panel and a smaller one at the back. There are vents at the top of the front panel for air intake. Both side panels have ventilation vents for airflow. Magnetic dust filters are thankfully present so dust build-up should be a very distant issue.
Overall, it achieves the best balance among all criterias. It is surprisingly quiet too, and heat issues never surfaced. I personally used it for two years and the Fractal Design Node 304 is what I’d whole-heartedly recommend to house your next sleeper gaming-media machine.
All in all, you can’t really go wrong with any of these. Each and every one of them are very good cases, just some better than the other.