Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX: What is the difference?

These days everyone’s looking for the smallest and easiest device they can easily transport whether that be cell phones, luggage bags, tablets, laptops, and Desktop PC’s are no exception. Many gamers and enthusiast builders enjoy the portability of a Micro-ATX, or Mini-ITX build but what is the difference between Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX? Are they the same? Does it matter which one you choose? These are just some questions many find themselves asking when looking to build their next epic gaming machine. While the choice can be confusing, we are going to take a look at them in more detail.


Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX Round 1: Price

When it comes to Micro-ATX vs. Mini-ITX conventional wisdom would say since Mini-ITX is the smaller board and there are fewer components into making these boards, that they would be cheaper. In a way they are but not so fast it’s important to note that Mini-ITX builds use a particular power supply form factor SFX. This particular power supply form factor isn’t quite as common there for tend to be more expensive, and if you get the 80 plus gold rating or modular cables, the prices get even higher.

Another thing to consider is that Mini-ITX cases can’t be touched for less than $50.00 with most good ones even worth having are usually $100.00. You can get a decent Micro-ATX case for half that price so while a Mini-ITX motherboard may be cheaper; it cost more in the long run once you buy your power supply and case making the Micro-ATX the winner in this round.


Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX Round 2: Performance

Mini-ITX motherboards have come a long way since their inception with many of them able to overclock just as well as a full-size ATX motherboard. The biggest problem with the Mini-ITX format though is there’s not a lot of room for growth in other areas such as SLI or a Crossfire configuration later down the road. Unfortunately, Micro-ATX will only be able to give you this flexibility for future growth down the line. Another thing that gives Micro-ATX its edge is the ability to add water cooling solutions to your system that most Mini-ITX cases just aren’t able to support allowing for higher overclocks the Mini-ITX format just can’t provide.

With the Micro-ATX formats ability to support SLI, Crossfire, and water cooling for overclocking and better future upgrade paths, the Micro-ATX is the winner for this round as well.


Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX Round 3: Upgradability 

We touched bases on this already, but it’s important to note some other fundamental differences between these two platforms. Many builders and enthusiast alike prefer to build with the option to upgrade in the future. This is where Micro-ATX shines with better upgrade paths than Mini-ITX. You’ll find that Micro-ATX usually comes with four ram slots, two video card slots, and more USB 3.0 slots with the ability to install a wireless adapter or sound card if you so desire. Compared to the Mini-ITX which usually features only two ram slots, one video card slot, and no room for a sound card or wireless adapter you begin to see the limitations Mini-ITX imposes.

With fewer slots in the Mini-ITX motherboards also comes the higher cost of parts as you try to max out every slot. You’ll be buying the highest ram possible to make the two slots you do have as efficient as possible which in turn means higher cost. You only got one video card slot, so you’re most likely going to spend more to get the best from either Nvidia or AMD cause if you don’t, you don’t have any other options available to you to improve performance aside from starting another build from scratch. Last but not least as previously mentioned Micro-ATX cases can support water cooling which Mini-ITX just can’t do giving the Micro-ATX an edge in performance and future overclocking capabilities.

Given the Micro-ATX better future upgrade paths with more ram slots, SLI/Crossfire capability, sound card slot, and more USB 3.0 ports the Micro-ATX comes out as the clear winner in this round as well.


Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX Round 4: Selection/Choice

When it comes to shopping for either a Mini-ITX or Micro-ATX build, you will find there’s a wider variety of boards for Micro-ATX since it has been around longer than it’s Mini-ITX counterpart. Since Micro-ATX has been around longer many of the boards are cheaper and vice versa for Mini-ITX where they tend to be more expensive due to their short time on the market. One thing you will find however is that there isn’t a wide selection of Micro-ATX cases since most Micro-ATX motherboards are built with full ATX in mind, defeating the purpose of Micro-ATX in the first place.

This is where Mini-ITX has been getting more attention in the cases department with optical drives going away like the dinosaur and the small form of SSD drives; case manufacturers can come up with some pretty unique case designs. If you’re looking for a build, you can tinker with a bit Micro-ATX is probably your better option, on the other hand, if you’re not too concerned with tinkering and want a cool looking case Mini-ITX might be a better option.

So who’s the winner? There isn’t one it just depends on your needs. If you want a build you can add to later on or overclock down the road then a Micro-ATX build may be your choice. If overclocking isn’t your thing and you’re looking more for a unique case design then Mini-ITX might be your thing. The answer is it just really depends on your needs.


Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX:  So Who Wins?

In the end, the Micro-ATX format comes in pretty high at first place mainly because of its flexibility for future upgrading and overclocking ability via the capacity to support water cooling radiators. While Mini-ITX has come a long way, it still isn’t quite at the level to justify building given its limited capacity. If you’re not very concerned with performance or future upgrade paths, then Mini-ITX may be for you with a tad easier transportability.

In almost all other situations Micro-ATX is your better option given its flexibility and upgrade paths. Now you no longer have to ask yourself what is the difference between Micro-ATX and Mini-ATX, you can proceed into the future with better knowledge to make the right choice for you. Below is  a Micro-ATX case that comes highly recommended by one of the best in the industry.


Recommended Micro-ATX & mITX Case: Corsair Air 240 

Corsair Air 240 mATX mITX Case

First and foremost Corsair is a name trusted throughout the industry by businesses and PC builders alike. The Corsair Air 240 is jet black, small in its design with a transparent side window to show off your build to many of your friends, yet still, has enough room for all your needs. The Corsair Air 240 is compatible with both platforms Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX, so if you ever decide to upgrade in the future, you have that option to do so.  

You’ll find the case is included with three 120mm fans that provide excellent cooling capability that only Corsair can provide. You will have enough room for two 240mm radiators for water cooling if you decide to build a Mini-ITX system, but it is important to remember you are limited by your motherboard with a Mini-ITX system. If you choose to go the Micro-ATX route, you’ll be able to fit one 240mm radiator in your system with two full sized graphics cards from either Nvidia or AMD.

You will have access to easily accessible USB 3.0 ports located on the front panel and the ability to swap drives without any tools. The Corsair Air 240 is built with the room you need at a size you want. With direct airflow paths, you get the best possible cooling you could expect from a Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX case. If you’re looking to build new or just looking to replace your existing case, you get the best of both worlds with the Corsair Air 240.       

James