Small form factor builds appeal to people for many reasons. For some, the balance between portability and power inherent to small desktops offers the best of both worlds: customizable power of desktops and portability of laptops. While SFF builds never reach the heights of either, they fit some people’s lifestyles well.
That being said, their smaller scale comes with some of its own problems, like room to actually build and the compounded need for adequate cooling. Don’t worry though, that’s why this list, and the short guide that follows it, exists.
While we always say it’s nearly impossible to pick the best of a given item because defining what’s the best is up to you and your needs, this tired trope is particularly true when it comes to finding the best ITX case. This is thanks to things like cooling and compatibility, which can have much more of an impact thanks to the extra small scale.
To help you make sure you’re getting the right case for your needs, we’re going to look at three major factors to consider when in the market for a new mITX case.
Size & Compatibility
It seems obvious that size would be a consideration when choosing a case for a small form factor build, but there are several things to look at when it comes to size. Not only do you want to look at the overall dimensions of the case to ensure it will be the size you want, but the graphics card and CPU cooler clearance should also be taken into consideration.
Many people will choose a shorter cooler or even water cooling by default when planning a small form factor PC, but if you want to get the most out of your hardware, a bigger cooler is always better. Some of the largest coolers on the market get up to– or even over– 160 mm in height. For coolers like this, the H200i is your best bet. This case can fit CPU heatsinks that are up to 165mm in height.
The GPU is the second thing to check in smaller cases. Many cases can only fit graphics cards that are under a certain length. In this regard, a case like the Cooler Master Elite 110 is a poor choice, as it can only fit cards up to 200mm cards. If you plan to use a larger top of the line GPU either the H200i or even InWin A1 are great choices, as either of these can fit up to 320mm graphics cards.
Cooling is arguably more important in small cases than in mid-towers since the air in the case can heat up much more quickly and to much higher temperatures since there is a much smaller volume within the case. If you’re going to use high end or notoriously hot running hardware, then make sure your case can fit plenty of fans, has good airflow, and even consider water cooling.
For optimal cooling, we suggest the Corsair Crystal 280X. This tiny case has incredible cooling potential and can fit up to six 140mm fans. This many fans can easily replenish the entire internal volume of this case many times per second when under load, which will ensure more manageable temperatures that will let you get the most out of your hardware. Alternatively, you can fit up to three huge 240mm radiators for water cooling.
If you have a large library of games, movies, or music, then you know the feeling of running out of space and having to uninstall or delete things in order to free up space. The best way around this is to simply add more drives to your system. However, in small form factor cases space is at a premium, so drive bays can be hard to come by.
Generally, there are two kinds of drive bays to look for. 3.5” bays are for standard hard drives which, while slower, usually offer terabytes of space at a good price. 2.5” bays, on the other hand, are for solid state drives, which are much faster and can drastically reduce loading times in games, but cost much more and offer less storage.
If you’re looking for the most storage possible in your mini ITX case, then take a look at the Cooler Master Elite 110. While this is the smallest case on our list, it can fit up to three 3.5” drives or four 2.5” drives, or a combination of the two. This translates to 6Tb or more of storage with all 3.5” drives.