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Building Smaller Than ATX For Desktop Use

splashsplash Registered User
I'm deciding on two final purchases for a new desktop computer, a motherboard and CPU. When I started buying components for this PC I was considering building it for a micro-ATX tower or even trying to get everything into an HTPC style case.

I need a powerful PC, but I'm also very minimalist. I don't need a lot of devices or ports for the machine. Mid towers are much bigger than I need as well as ones I've built for others. I find a Thermaltake HTPC case like this to be soo sexy and I'd love to be able to use this style of micro-atx case. But the big question is: is a modular ATX power supply compatible with micro-ATX cases, either the HTPC style or the tower style?

I see the downsides of using an HTPC or small tower cases due to smaller fans and more noise and heat etc. Are there really any other concerns? If I buy a micro-ATX motherboard it will need to run a I5-2500K (probably), an SSD, a 7200rpm HDD, and 2x2GB of RAM. Size really is only determined by how many ports and devices are needed on the motherboard and the quality can be the same versus an ATX motherboard correct?

I think it's too hard to find attractive micro-ATX towers. But many HTPC designs look nice. If I can't built my computer the way I want just because of the case, what do you other power but minimalist users do?

splash on

Posts

  • chrishallett83chrishallett83 Hi! Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Is Mini-ITX do-able for you? 'Cos I reckon this case is pretty damn sexy.

    Or there's this for Micro-ATX...

    chrishallett83 on
  • AlectharAlecthar Alan Shore We're not territorial about that sort of thing, are we?Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Before I say anything else I'll exhort you to come by the Computer Build thread stickied up top, sounds like you've got something cool in the works.

    Anyway, you have a decision to make case-wise. Do you want a traditional desktop design (looks a lot like an HTPC style case, motherboard mount is horizontal rather than vertical, the kind of PC you'd rest your monitor atop in days gone by) a more "Shuttle PC" like design (shoebox-ish in shape, often Mini-ITX, some larger mATX ones like that Thermaltake) or a mini-tower (basically a standard mid-tower style design shrunk down to mATX size, many basic OEM machines use towers around this size).

    Aside from smaller fans, and the noise/heat that goes with that, you'll also encounter greater difficulty building your machine. Nothing insurmountable, of course, but the less space you have to work with, the tougher things get, and unless you're rocking a Silverstone fully modular suppl (Silverstone sells an optional set of short cables for SFF applications)y, the cables on your PSU are going to be way longer than you need.

    The easiest cases to work with are, in my opinion, mini-towers. They follow the same design conventions (usually) as a standard tower case, and are (aside from being smaller) just as easy to work in as a standard tower. If you can wait until they're available, I'm looking forward to the Fractal Design Arc Mini. They're supposed to make it to US retailers by the end of June, iirc. I'll be using one to hold the build in my sig when I give it to the parentals.

    Lian Li makes a number of very attractive, very well-built SFF cases in all 3 styles, but you need to be prepared to pay for the privilege of owning one. They even make a full ATX form factor mini-tower. Which I just decided will be the one I use for my former sig rig. No need to change motherboards this way. Plus, aluminum.

    Alecthar on
  • splashsplash Registered User
    edited June 2011
    I've never heard of mini-towers before, or at least ones available for building on your own. I've noticed the severe lack of this market for some time and am glad there's going to be something available.

    I won't be considering mini-ITX, definitely it will be a micro-ATX motherboard.

    Maybe the pictures don't do it justice but I never like the design of Lian Li.

    The old set-top box desktop design of sitting below the monitor is ugly just to think about, but if I used an HTPC it would be off to the side or below my desk. That said, I don't care which way the motherboard is aligned. But mini tower seems to be the greatest solution for sure! I have a mid-tower to use already so I can wait, but I wanted to make sure to decide whether to buy a micro-ATX motherboard for when I do move it into a smaller case.

    Thanks

    Is there perhaps some more mini-tower retailers?

    splash on
  • AlectharAlecthar Alan Shore We're not territorial about that sort of thing, are we?Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    splash wrote: »
    I've never heard of mini-towers before, or at least ones available for building on your own. I've noticed the severe lack of this market for some time and am glad there's going to be something available.

    I won't be considering mini-ITX, definitely it will be a micro-ATX motherboard.

    Maybe the pictures don't do it justice but I never like the design of Lian Li.

    The old set-top box desktop design of sitting below the monitor is ugly just to think about, but if I used an HTPC it would be off to the side or below my desk. That said, I don't care which way the motherboard is aligned. But mini tower seems to be the greatest solution for sure! I have a mid-tower to use already so I can wait, but I wanted to make sure to decide whether to buy a micro-ATX motherboard for when I do move it into a smaller case.

    Thanks

    Is there perhaps some more mini-tower retailers?

    There are a number of manufacturers that make mini-towers. Lian Li makes a couple more (in both ATX and mATX flavors) and Fractal Design makes a different one as well. HEC and Rosewill make some very basic mini-towers (essentially they retail the kind of basic mini-tower case that you might find your OEM PC inside, most, if not all, of their designs are not enthusiast oriented). Cooler Master, Silverstone, In Win, and NZXT all make a few mini-tower designs as well. Generally they're around 15 inches in height, give or take a few inches depending on design.

    I like the Fractal Design mini-towers a lot, as they closely resemble high-end mid-tower designs, but scaled down to match the form factor. Unlike many other small form factor tower designs, they incorporate meaningful cable management features, good aesthetics, both inside and out, as well as a bottom PSU mount and removable drive bays to support longer graphics cards. The Arc Mini got delayed slightly, the new ETA is early/mid July.

    Alecthar on
  • splashsplash Registered User
    edited June 2011
    Yea the Arc Mini seems like it would suit very well, I just am looking for a less open meshy design. The other one is closed but with a front door hinge style I'm not looking for either. But the Arc Mini is pretty fantastic otherwise with the bottom PSU, outward facing hard drive slots, top "front" ports. And removable drive bays is great. I'll check out Silverstone I've like their designs the most but I can go with the Fractal if nothing better.

    splash on
  • Skoal CatSkoal Cat Registered User
    edited June 2011
    I built a Micro-ATX HTPC. My build is called Svengali and its in the build thread.
    http://forums.penny-arcade.com/showpost.php?p=19528633&postcount=3

    Short answer: I wouldn't do it again. It limits you in hardware, makes it harder to cool, and is too damned deep. The thing is though, mine works. It works fucking great. I'm using one fan and have nice cool temps. I have a ton of shit crammed into a tiny box in a way that I find fairly impressive. I just don't see any real advantage at this point when I could have built a full size and just placed the tower in a more hidden location with a nice long HDMI cable.

    edit: Also, my PSU died at one point, and finding a new one to fit the fucking thing was a nightmare. I literally had two choices out of every PSU available on NewEgg, and they took days to find.

    Skoal Cat on
    ceres wrote: »
    Skoal Cat is correct.
  • floobiefloobie Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I've built a few micro-atx systems over the years. I too wouldn't do it again. The initial build is alright. But, I've found you usually need to do things in a pretty specific order to get everything to fit properly. As you can probably imagine, everything is packed in to pretty tight tolerances. Also, video cards could be an issue. They've been getting pretty damn long these days. I mean, I can barely fit my Radeon 5830 in my Antec P180 (it's big), without it rubbing against some of the hard drives I have installed. Getting the same card in the micro-atx cases I used before would be impossible. As far as I know, standard power supplies fit. I never had a problem with that. Though, that probably depends on the case itself. The more cube-ish type cases I worked with could easily accommodate a standard atx power supply. The more htpc-ish ones might not be able to.

    If you can get past the build though, the main annoyance for me was having to open it up again to fix/add/replace something. That usually entailed tearing the entire thing apart just so I could access what I needed.

    Don't get me wrong, though. When everything is put together and working properly, it's a nice way to do a desktop. They really do have a small footprint. You can even put them on your desk... something I definitely couldn't do with my current tower.

    So, if I had to sum things up, I'd say: Do you foresee yourself needing access to your cases innards with any remote frequency? If no, then it might work for you. If yes, think long and hard about it.

    floobie on
  • splashsplash Registered User
    edited June 2011
    Good tips boys. I'll have to get my pics posted in the computer build thread when done.

    splash on
  • Skoal CatSkoal Cat Registered User
    edited June 2011
    For HTPC use, you don't need a video card. My onboard video can handle high def no problem.

    Skoal Cat on
    ceres wrote: »
    Skoal Cat is correct.
  • AlectharAlecthar Alan Shore We're not territorial about that sort of thing, are we?Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I think the goal here was to run a full, for-real PC in a smaller form factor that would look better on/around his desk than a traditional mid-tower. If so, I think the mini-towers will cool best and offer maximum compatibility with standard ATX components and full height expansion cards.

    splash: Silverstone makes a couple mini-towers, and if you're willing you can take another look at Lian Li: here's their "standard" mATX mini-tower.

    Alecthar on
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