In this guide, you will learn about TOP-5 best Mini ITX cases, where they are most commonly used and what important things, such as ventilation, networking, drive and GPU space, you should consider when buying a product. Have a look at a comparison chart of these devices to pick up the item that is right for you. Apart from that, you may read my story about a project I recently did with this stuff, which will help you understand the concerns and challenges you will experience with the form factor.

What You Will Learn From This Guide:

Why You May Need a Mini ITX Case

So, you’re thinking of building a Mini ITX machine. You’re a rare breed these days, interested in a very minimally-expandable board. This means you’re probably working on something a little more unique than just a budget computer – you’ve got a creative idea. It’s fun, designing things like this.

So, first, let’s talk a little bit about what you get from your average Mini-ITX board, and the ramifications this has on your freedom to build a device. As we all know, motherboards mostly follow one of two form factors – ATX or ITX. ITX is a much smaller form factor, though not the smallest there is. This pushes the limit of compact general PC compliant parts.

On your Mini ITX, you may find two or four SATA ports, a couple of small fan interfaces, a power interface, one (maybe two) ram slots that probably need compact ram, a CPU with basic cooling, and a slot for a GPU. Most will have two videos out ports – at least one will be HDMI, though you’ll probably use the ports from your GPU.

You will find at least two USB ports, probably four, and a microphone/speaker audio interface (you may find a multichannel interface if you’re lucky). So, this must not be capable of much power, right?

That’s not entirely true. Yes, you have to have a less intensive CPU than you may in a big ATX machine, due to limited cooling. But it won’t be so slow as to be tedious. You can get any GPU in here, as long as your case will cooperate with it. You can fit at least 16GB of ram in, if you buy a decent stick that’ll do that. You can get at least two, if not four drives linked to it, and you have enough USB (plus possible extra hookups to the case) to get your peripherals all set up.

A lot of these boards will also support Bluetooth right out of the box too.

What are Mini ITX Cases and How Do They Work?

Unsurprisingly, they are for these Mini ITX boards. You might be surprised that there’s actually quite an industry for cases this small, though there’s one here that I especially like, compared to the others.

Like other cases, the board mounts to it, drives go into slots, buttons, and USB get connected to the board, and that’s that. With these cases, towers are commonplace, but some more creative form factors tend to be common due to one of the common uses for these Mini ITX machines.

What is Mini ITX for?

So, you might be wondering, what do people use these types of boards for? Surely most people don’t make PCs out of them, though it’s certainly possible to. And that’s true, these boards are actually really useful for a number of things due to their compact nature while supporting PC operating systems.

  • Emulation Machines – Let’s go ahead and get this one out there. People who build emulation machines, often find these compact boards to be an appealing choice. Most emulation is not beyond the maxed out hardware one of these devices can produce, and they can be a nice console-like set-top box. These are also commonly used in what are called “MAME cabinets”. These are arcade cabinets that run the MAME emulator to emulate various arcade games.
  • Compact Gaming Machine – If you put a powerful enough of a GPU into this, you can get away with the weaker CPU and still play modern games. If you want a set-top box-sized device to put in the living room, and enjoy your games on the big screen with friends, it’s easy to build that with this kind of hardware.
  • Server – This is the sort of use that a lot of professionals have for this form factor, building slim, high-end servers. I’ve built servers with these, though I prefer Micro ATX for those, to be honest.
  • Media Box – Some may find the menus on smart TVs to be less than spectacular, especially their web experience. Building a living room media box gives you the advantages of a PC interface for your living room TV.
  • Kiosks and Installations – Finally, these are growing in popularity for kiosks such as self-checkout, cash registers, ATMs and other such computerized things. Their compact size and low maintenance make for a pretty durable electronics installation.
  • Prototyping Devices – Are you working on some new set-top box or even modern take on gaming console? Basing your hardware off of Mini ITX at high settings is a good platform to consider adopting even into production.

What to Look for When Buying a Mini ITX Case?

Well, with any microprocessing device you want to build, you have to factor some common things into your choice. But, since this is a more specialty type of device, you’ll have a few unique points to check off, depending on your project.

Let’s take a quick look at some of these common and not so common concerns.

  • Common Concern: USB Ports – USB ports are a must, because every peripheral you can name, is going to be USB if it’s wired. It’s also a way to add additional swappable memory via USB/SATA adapters (a very cheap component). You can see a lot of two-port cases, but if you can get more, go for it.
  • Common Concern: Ventilation – Ventilation is important for any device. Granted, tablets and smartphones don’t have any obvious venting, but they’re still designed to shed the heat they produce. The entire case is something of a heat sink with them, and the touchscreen glass is a radiative material as well. With something ITX or bigger, you want air flow. Even if you’re not using fans (which you should), vents for the hot air to leave is important.
  • Common Concern: Drive Space – Your board may have enough hookups, but is there enough room for the drives inside the case? You’ll find yourself opting for 2.5” drives (laptop drives), which are slightly slower, and run a bit hotter. It also helps if there’s a way to put an optical drive in, as these aren’t as obsolete as people think.
  • Unique Concern: GPU Space – Unless you’re building a server, you probably want to install a more powerful GPU. This is true for emulation machines, living room gaming portals, and media boxes all three. Most ITX boards have a GPU slot, but will the case accommodate it at the angle it will have?
  • Unique Concern: Location – Where will this thing be? With compact electronics like this, you can choose a case that fits in a space out of the way. Do you plan on building a living room box/console? Then you’ll probably want a broad, short form factor like most game consoles, DVD/Blu-Ray players, and so on. If it’s a server, a block that can be tucked away is going to suit you better. For kiosks, cube or flat case also works well.
  • Unique Concern: Networking – Finally, there’s a networking issue. If it’s a server, you will want a lot of networking power, meaning multiple LAN plugins and multi-channel wi-fi. If it’s a living room device, you’ll want to focus on wi-fi. Make sure the case has room for all of this access.

TOP-5 Best Mini ITX Cases

Read a review of TOP-5 best products within the price range from $50 to $100. Except for one model, these products are made not only of steel and aluminum but also tempered glass. They are RGB compatible and come with HD stereo and mic ports. Such aspect as ventilation is important as well, with most items in this review having full front and rear ventilation.

Mini ITX Cube Case – Arguably Gaming Case | Thermaltake Core V1 

Mini ITX Cube Case – Thermaltake Core V1: photo

This calls itself a gaming chassis, and okay. It could work for that, though this isn’t what I’d think of when building a compact gaming device. This feels more to me like a house server. It looks like an appliance in the same way a modem, or router does. It could sit in the home office, somewhere out of the way in the family room or living room, or even in a closet if the closet has ventilation.

However, the internals do support air tunnel-style cooling with massive fans, and that does serve a gaming computer well too. Servers do run hot too if they’re actively used.

Features

  • USB: 2x3.0.
  • Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
  • Ventilation: Full front and rear.
  • Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass.
  • Room for GPU: Yes.
  • Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
  • Optical Slot: No.
  • RGB Compatible: Yes.

Performance

This works well enough, though again, while I see how the cube shape does lend to gaming designs, that’s just not the form factor I think of for it. This would make an excellent server case, though. You could actually tax this thing and have good ventilation. You wouldn’t need a powerful GPU for that, just meaty drives for storage.

I am thinking seriously about building a server concept like that in a case like this, actually, to see how the concept works. As a gaming machine? Sure but, it just feels like anathema to me.

Pros Cons
  • Compact.
  • Excellent ventilation.
  • Sturdy build.
  • Thermaltake reputation.
  • Lightweight.
  • Tempered glass.
  • Could use more USB ports.
  • No multichannel out for audio, which if you’re gaming, is kind of limiting.

Conclusion 

This isn’t a bad case, but there are two reasons I can’t completely agree on it for gaming. It has only stereo out, and it’s shaped oddly for it. For a server, this is a no brainer.

Thermaltake Core V1: Check the current price

True Gaming Mini ITX Case | NZXT H200

Gaming Mini ITX Case NZXT H200: photo

Now, while I’ve often made my opinion of tempered glass clear (no pun intended), this is what a modern gaming case looks like. This is literally an overall smaller, squatter, chubbier tower case.

It’s almost cute, and it’d fit on a floor next to a TV comfortably, or on a desk in a room. You could actually build a pretty tough gaming PC in this. It’d be lean and efficient.

Building a living room device particularly, as I did in the story I recounted, I would prefer something “flat”, but that brings the problems I mentioned. This is fine, would be better if you could lie it on its side optionally …

Features

  • USB: 2x3.0.
  • Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
  • Ventilation: Full front and rear.
  • Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass. 
  • Room for GPU: Yes.
  • Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
  • Optical Slot: No.
  • RGB Compatible: Yes.

Performance

Okay, one killer with this is the lack of multichannel audio. It’s just another stereo and mic port, which limits your multimedia sound options. Granted large PC cases do this too often, but if you get the right board, you might still be able to get surround.

This would be a heavy little gaming PC, but not so heavy that moving it would be painful.

Pros Cons
  • Compact.
  • Excellent ventilation.
  • Sturdy build.
  • Lightweight.
  • Tempered glass.
  • Could use more USB ports.
  • No multichannel out for audio, which if you’re gaming, is kind of limiting.

Conclusion 

This is a game case in every way. It looks like a squat tower (I expect to see more of these in the near future), it has room for everything you need with room to breathe. RGB fans get their tempered glass. The lack of advanced audio could be limiting depending on your board, but what can you do?

NZXT H200: Check the current price

Tempered Glass Mini ITX Case | Thermaltake Core P1 

Tempered Glass Mini ITX Case - Thermaltake Core P1: photo

I don’t know what this is trying to be. Obviously, yes, it’s a case. But, every aspect of this design makes me ask the same question: “But why?”.

It has only two solid sides, the metal base, and the tempered glass side. It offers three configurations, vertical where both of these are walls, wall-mount where the metal base is flush to the wall, or with the metal base being the bottom, so it’s like a glass table with a computer inside it.

All four other sides are just exposed, save the metal posts supporting the glass. There’s a structure inside for drive mounting, but it’s otherwise empty space. There’s room to do weighty computer component construction in there, yes.

But, why in the name of all that is sane, would you want the PCBs, drives, and fans of your PC exposed to the environment?

Features

  • USB: 2x3.0.
  • Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
  • Ventilation: Full front and rear.
  • Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass.
  • Room for GPU: Yes.
  • Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
  • Optical Slot: No.
  • RGB Compatible: Yes.

Performance

Well, as I said, this leaves your computer’s guts exposed to your living environment. Shall we count the ways this can go wrong? Exploding soda can sneeze moisture, spilled beverages, cats, dogs or children. This is just to name a few.

The table configuration is cute conceptually. It could be a little table next to a gaming chair, or on a low table or stand. However, the exposed sides are just a bad idea. So, you’d need to wrap the sides in something protective but translucent and that can breathe well. I would put pieces fine metal grate in. It’d darken the side view, but it’d still be visible, especially with RGB.

This isn’t a design I’d want to do, but I at least could get that. But the way they show this being used? Nope.

Pros Cons
  • Compact.
  • Excellent ventilation.
  • Sturdy build.
  • Lightweight.
  • Tempered glass.
  • Could use more USB ports.
  • No multichannel out for audio, which if you’re gaming, is kind of limiting.
  • The design is kind of silly.

Conclusion 

As this thing is, I just don’t get why being an oddball with your case is worth the potential risks this presents.

Thermaltake Core P1: Check the current price

Mini ITX Tower Gaming Case | Riotoro CR280

Mini ITX Tower Gaming Case Riotoro: photo

Alright, this has a lot of the same impressions as the earlier Thermaltake we looked at. It’s kind of cubic, which doesn’t normally scream gaming PC. However, the look of this one and its slightly tower-like nature does work.

I could see this on a desk, or on a tall shelf space under a TV, why not? But, I also think this would make an excellent house server design too. It has that same “chunky electronic appliance feel”, which people would expect that to have.

It does have something of that tired “red and black gaming PC” aesthetic, but it’s very downplayed.

Features

  • USB: 2x3.0.
  • Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
  • Ventilation: Full front and rear.
  • Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass.
  • Room for GPU: Yes.
  • Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
  • Optical Slot: No.
  • RGB Compatible: Yes.

Performance

Okay, this is a relatively diverse case, given I could see this as a compact gaming PC, a living room device, or as a server. It’s just ambiguous enough in design to be seen as a fit for any one of those and more.

The audio ports are limiting, and it has too few USB ports. You can get more ports and maybe better audio with the board’s rear ports though.

It has a tiny tempered glass window, and we know how I love tempered glass. However, it’s inlaid and small, so alright, fine. Have your RGB if it makes you happy.

Pros Cons
  • Compact.
  • Excellent ventilation.
  • Sturdy build.
  • Lightweight.
  • Benign enough to work for any motive or purpose.
  • Tempered glass.
  • Could use more USB ports.

Conclusion 

I don’t mind this. I’d love to make something of this form factor, with better materials. Ideas for rainy days are fun, aren’t they? But, sure, this will suit you unless you’re dead set on something like our final entry (which I like a lot).

Riotoro CR280: Check the current price

Fun Project Mini ITX Case | Fractal Design

Mini ITX Case - Fractal Design: photo

Okay, this is supposed to be a server case. There’s no real room for a GPU without using a PCI riser to angle it, but lots of room for drives, and recommend doing a server board. And it’ll work fine for that. Absolutely, this could also be the form of the house server I was talking about, though I like that cube better for that.

No, this is what I see as the best form factor to use for a living room entertainment device. The two I’ve built use cases very similar to this. Yes, you have to rise the PCI, the cooling is a bit snug.

There’s no RGB to be done with this. It’s shaped like a VCR or a DVD player, or, yes, a game console.

Alas, no optical slot!

Features

  • USB: 2x3.0.
  • Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
  • Ventilation: Sides and rear.
  • Materials: Steel, aluminum.
  • Room for GPU: Yes.
  • Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
  • Optical Slot: No.
  • RGB Compatible: No.

Performance

Angling your video and getting your guts in there could be done, with a little common sense. But, the lack of an optical drive hurts this. This continuing attempt on the part of case designers, to force optical into early and inappropriate obsolescence is starting to annoy me to be quite honest.

So, you’d have to package your optical as a matching little device next to it, which connected to it in the rear via USB.

Pros Cons
  • Compact. 
  • Excellent ventilation.
  • Sturdy build.
  • Light weight.
  • Set top box form factor.
  • No optical slot.

Conclusion 

If you want a server case that’s slim factor, well congratulations you found it. Its potential for living room devices interests me more, but man, the lack of an optical slot on this one hurts more than with any of the others.

Fractal Design: Check the current price

Comparative Chart of Effectiveness of Mini ITX Cases

Product Features

Thermaltake Core V1

USB: 2x3.0.
Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
Ventilation: Full front and rear.
Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass.
Room for GPU: Yes.
Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
Optical Slot: No.
RGB Compatible: Yes.

Effectiveness: 9

NZXT H200

USB: 2x3.0.
Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
Ventilation: Full front and rear.
Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass.
Room for GPU: Yes.
Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
Optical Slot: No.
RGB Compatible: Yes.

Effectiveness: 10

Thermaltake Core P1

USB: 2x3.0.
Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
Ventilation: Full front and rear.
Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass.
Room for GPU: Yes.
Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
Optical Slot: No.
RGB Compatible: Yes.

Effectiveness: 10

Riotoro CR280

USB: 2x3.0.
Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
Ventilation: Full front and rear.
Materials: Steel, aluminum, tempered glass.
Room for GPU: Yes.
Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
Optical Slot: No.
RGB Compatible: Yes.

Effectiveness: 9

Fractal Design

USB: 2x3.0.
Audio: HD stereo and mic ports.
Ventilation: Sides and rear.
Materials: Steel, aluminum.
Room for GPU: Yes.
Room for Drives: Two 2.5” or 3.5”.
Optical Slot: No.
RGB Compatible: No.

Effectiveness: 8

My Personal Experience with Mini ITX Cases

So, this isn’t so much of a cautionary tale, inasmuch as it’s just recounting a project I recently did with Mini ITX stuff, and the concerns and challenges you will experience with the form factor.

I was asked by a friend not long ago, to help her shop for a living room “set top box” that would resemble a game console, but be PC-based. I told her if such a device existed, it was probably going to be very expensive, and she was okay with that.

She wanted a PC-as-a-console to play PC games with her friends when she had them over, and to watch things like YouTube and Netflix on her big flat screen. Surf the web or use video chat on it too. Not actually a bad idea. And I have seen things like it tried in the past. WebTV is a prime example. Most modern flat screens have smart features that try to offer this, but smart TV systems aren’t that amazing.

Game consoles have tried to fill the niche, moving from just things that ran the game you put in, to set top boxes with app systems, and including player apps for all the big stream media sources. But, they’re very expensive, the menus are still kind of obtuse, and you’re very limited to your software and game choices by doing this.

Why not a PC that fit in that space, and brought proper PC functionality with it? Well, I really couldn’t find a device for her that fit this niche properly. So I told her, I’d have to build this if she wanted her vision uncompromised. And it would be somewhat expensive if she wanted it to have power. Again, she was okay with this, she said she’d have shelled out a couple grand for it if it’d been available to buy. What I built, I managed to keep under a grand.

So, I looked to Micro ATX first, having never worked on ITX stuff. The stuff available just felt too big. I wanted to build something the size of a game console or movie player. Micro ATX just doesn’t quite work for that.

Reluctantly, I looked at Mini ITX, discovering first of all, to my relief, that I was still in familiar territory. It had all the standard hookups, just a minimal amount, on a tiny little motherboard. I actually thought it was cute. But I knew the GPU integrated into that was so not going to cut it.

I also knew I’d have to actually spend a bit on a processor, memory, and a hard drive. I installed an Intel Core i5 at 3.2GHz with four cores, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD for quick system boot, and a 500GB standard hard drive. That’s small, but it should suffice. A bigger one could always be put in.

I went with an Nvidia 1080 series GPU, surprised the board could power it. That’s a modern GPU, allowing her to play modern quality stuff.

The power available was more or less a high-end budget gaming PC with an above-budget GPU. Definitely enough for what she wanted. But, then came the case. Once more, I was trying to make this look like it belonged on a shelf where a PS4 or Blu-Ray player might be.

I also wanted to put a Blu-Ray drive in it, just to give her the option of reading all optical media ever should she choose. Why not?

Well, I had hell with the case. I found ones with form factors I liked, and an aesthetic I felt suited it (and she approved), but I couldn’t find one with a damn optical slot on the front. I wound up having to cut the panel for it myself!

Then came the challenge of fitting two hard drives, a laptop Blue-Ray RW drive, and the GPU inside this. It wouldn’t work without some effort. I would up having to cannibalize a PCI GPU slot from the old board and make a 90-degree angle adapter to let the GPU plug in while being flush to the board. This also made the GPU’s output HDMI ports (all four of them) obscured by the backplate. So, I had to cut that too. I had to cut for the 7.1-channel audio out too.

The end result looked something like a late 90s DVD player, with four USB ports on the front. It boots to standard PC Windows 10. There is an RF wireless keyboard and mouse on the coffee table. There are two or three Bluetooth game controllers on the same table. Unique is the mini-keyboard/remote. I didn’t design this thing but would be proud if I had. It had about the heft and dimensions of a remote, but it’s got a mini keyboard, an analog thumb stick, and a few shortcut buttons on it. This makes quick, comfortable control of the Windows instance smooth.

It boots in seconds, thanks to the SSD drive being the master. Shortly thereafter, I built another one, same ordeal, for my own house.

As you see, there are challenges with these cases, due to the space restrictions they can produce. But, it was a fun project, and I’d like to actually design a line of devices like this commercially.

I just wanted to paint the picture of working on this kind of thing, so you have a sense of what you’re going into.

FAQ

What is the best brand of a Mini ITX case?
Thermaltake is usually a safe bet.

Why are they so expensive?
They generally aren’t terribly expensive. If you’re seeing high prices, you’re looking at high-end stuff.

Can a Micro ATX fit in a Mini ITX case?
Yeah, no.

What OS can be installed on Mini ITX?
Any x86/64 OS can. Linux, Mac OSX, Windows, Android …

Are Mini ITX good for gaming?
If you want to build a gaming PC to go where gaming PCs tend to go in your home, no.

Conclusion

There’s lots of room for creative device design with these, and you can even build a capable regular PC with a couple of these. I am sure one of these will work for whatever you’re building.