The Mini-ITX form factor has long been a viable platform for low-power desktops and home-theater PCs, but it's never been particularly friendly to high-performance gaming rigs. Today, however, we've proven that you can build one heck of a midget gaming system with Gigabyte's GA-H55N-USB3 motherboard and Silverstone's SG07 chassis. In fact, the case and mobo have enough headroom to accommodate an even more powerful system than the one we cobbled together.
Much of the credit for our system's gaming chops goes to Silverstone for fashioning a Mini-ITX chassis that can accept longer double-wide graphics cards and pairing it with a power supply meaty enough to feed them. That's a tall order for something the size of a shoebox, especially when you add multiple drive bays to the mix. But the SG07 swallows desktop components with ease, and thanks massive fans and compatibility with standard motherboards and desktop PSUs, it addresses many of the issues that drove enthusiasts away from proprietary small-form-factor systems of old.
The SG07 looks badass, too—that matters for a system small enough to sit on your desk or show off at a LAN party.
Of course, the SG07 isn't without its flaws. The absence of thumbscrews is maddening, and I'd move the reset and fan switches up front. I don't see much value in the space saved by the slim optical drive, either. The SG07 wouldn't have to grow too much to incorporate a 5.25" drive bay, and the extra volume would be well spent.
Much like the SG07, Gigabyte's GA-H55N-USB3 is good but not perfect. A $105 street price makes the H55N one of the cheapest Mini-ITX boards with an LGA1156 socket, yet it's loaded with overclocking potential and offers a pair of USB 3.0 ports. Performance is solid, too, and it's nice to see Gigabyte incorporating the same Ultra Durable goodness you get with its full-sized ATX boards.
Integrated Wi-Fi would've been nice, but that can easily be added with a USB adapter. It's much harder to get around the board's lack of support for real-time Dolby Digital Live or DTS encoding, which would've been a real plus here. The drop in SuperSpeed USB performance when graphics cards are used is a more serious flaw, although one that's only likely to affect users with extremely fast external drives. I'm more frustrated by Gigabyte's indefensible failure to address its prehistoric BIOS-level fan speed controls.
As it turns out, one must still compromise to squeeze a high-performance gaming rig into an enclosure the size of a shoebox. Those concessions are relatively modest considering the dearth of alternatives to these two products, though. Want a different LGA1156 Mini-ITX board with USB 3.0 functionality? There's only one: a Zotac model that costs $35 more than the Gigabyte board. And good luck finding an enclosure that can match the SG07's capacity for high-end graphics cards. The case's $200 asking price might look expensive in a vacuum, but taken in context, and with a 600W PSU, it's not unreasonable. Niches are rarely home to the best values.
If I were going to build a small-form-factor rig for desktop use or gaming, the GA-H55N-USB3 and SG07 would be at the top of an admittedly very short list of options. Both are TR Recommended, although they're not quite a match made in heaven. This is, however, a relationship worth working on.
39 comments — Last by miahallen at 6:18 AM on 09/25/10
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