Testing Hardware (Mini-ITX), Revised

As I mentioned before, we're also changing the way we split the test platforms. As Micro-ATX systems can be competitive with full ATX systems in terms of performance, it makes more sense to lump those two together than to lump Micro-ATX enclosures with Mini-ITX enclosures as we've done in the past. The result is a Mini-ITX testbed that's a little bit more geared towards what one would expect to find in a Mini-ITX system proper.

Mini-ITX Test Configuration
CPU Intel Core i3-2120
(65W TDP)
Motherboard Zotac Z68ITX-A-E
Graphics Card Intel HD 2000 IGP

Zotac GeForce GTS 450 Eco (dedicated)
Memory 2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600
Drives Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
Accessories Corsair Link
CPU Cooler SilverStone NT07-1156 with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400
Power Supply SilverStone Strider Plus 750W 80 Plus Silver

The impetus behind the changes for the Mini-ITX testbed can seem a bit more nebulous compared to the ATX, but let's discuss our thoughts.

On the motherboard/CPU/HSF front, we wanted a motherboard that had a native USB 3.0 header, something still rarefied in the Mini-ITX market. Of all the Mini-ITX boards on the market, Zotac's was the one best equipped for our purposes and realistically is probably one of the most feature rich Mini-ITX boards available in general. The CPU is also fairly representative of how much power someone might try to cram into an enclosure, as Sandy Bridge continues to strike an excellent balance between performance and thermals. Finally, our old heatsink/fan just didn't really spin up or down in testing; this is a limitation of not only Zalman's implementation but also the old motherboard's fan control. Either way, the low profile heatsink from SilverStone should resolve the problem just fine.

Where graphics are concerned, the GeForce GTX 580 in our old testbed was simply too much card for a Mini-ITX review. Oftentimes it was too big for the enclosures we wanted to test in, and even if it could fit there are very few Mini-ITX users likely to use such a powerful and power hungry card. While a single-slot AMD Radeon HD 7750 would probably have been ideal for our revision, it was more difficult to obtain in the wild. Zotac offers a model of GeForce GTS 450 that does the trick, though: the 450 Eco uses DDR3 instead of GDDR5 and has reduced clocks, but it also employs a single-slot cooler, is a short card in general, and requires no external power lead.

The remainder of our testbed carries over from the previous page.

Update: We originally included an i5-2300 in the Mini-ITX testbed. However, before testing with it we opted to swap to an i3-2120 to allow for testing cases with dedicated power supplies that wouldn't be able to handle a 95W CPU but could handle a 65W CPU.

Before continuing on, we'd like to thank the following vendors for furnishing us with the hardware to revise our  testbeds.

  • Thank you to Puget Systems for providing us with the Intel Core i7-2700K and i3-2120.
  • Thank you to Gigabyte for providing us with the GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 motherboard.
  • Thank you to Zotac for providing us with the Z68ITX-A-E motherboard and GeForce GTS 450 Eco.
  • Thank you to Crucial for providing us with the Ballistix Smart Tracer memory.
  • Thank you to Corsair for providing us with the Corsair Link kit.
  • Thank you to Cooler Master for providing us with the Hyper 212 Evo heatsink and fan unit.
  • Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
  • Thank you to CyberPower for providing us with the Samsung BD-ROM/DVD+/-RW drive.
  • And thank you to SilverStone for providing us with the power supply and NT07-1156 heatsink/fan combo.
Testing Hardware, Revised Testing Methodology, Revised
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  • irow - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Why not forget about motherboard/cpu/gpu etc and just put a sound source (speaker) and a heat source (eg light bulbs) inside the middle of a case and measure outside volume and internal/external fan vent temperatures ?? Although you may have to change a few bulbs, you could use that system for years while different components come and go.
  • dac7nco - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Article: "I've actually moved since I started doing case reviews, and my new apartment is much quieter than the old one, resulting in an ambient noise floor well below 30dB."

    Isn't Anandtech in North Carolina, in an office complex? I have always thought you guys had your own (professional) facilities. I wouldn't bench hardware that could potentially cost a company millions (in lost sales) in a spare bedroom. Enthusiast hardware I understand; overclocking GPUs and CPUs is meant to be at home... but sound testing?

  • LeftSide - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Lightbulbs are a bad idea because they transfer heat via radiation. It would heat the metal on the side of the case and not be an accurate representation of computer hardware. Cases are very different placing components and fans in different locations. The only accurate way to test is to use actual hardware. That way you can test and measure hard drive temperature, video card temperature, and cpu temperature separately.
    I'm afraid the speaker idea would not work as well. Having 4 fans in one case and 2 in another would have different sound properties than a speaker in the center of the case.
  • mariush - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    It might be a better idea to use a 500-600w gold power supply for the mini-itx systems, perhaps even one semi-passive one (as in one that turns off fan at lower power consumption).

    Gold efficiency power supplies at that wattage are cheap enough these days and lots of people build such small systems to watch tv so they don't want lots of noise.

    At the same time, the reduced air circulation inside (if the power supply won't spin its fan) would introduce some interesting effects and provide some good data about how well the air circulates inside the case and how well the case will work in time (people don't clean their cases often so they can get dusted, blocking vents)
  • Death666Angel - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    "instead of stratifying between ATX and Micro-ATX/Mini-ITX, it makes more sense now to stratify ITX as a separate platform"
    Been waiting for that for a while! My last 2 enclosures were mATX (one cube and the TJ08-E) and both are pretty powerful. There is no difference between mATX and ATX as long as 2 graphics cards or 1 graphics card and 2 other pci(e) cards are used and not more.
  • hpzSZo95 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Almost all builds will include a physical hard drive, not just an SSD. I think it is important to include a 3.5" 7200 RPM hard drive in the test bed as a physical drive: 1) generates heat (small amount), 2) can block airflow (many cases mount these in front of the front intake fans), 3) generate noise, especially vibrations if mounting is insufficient.

    Also, when reviewing a case the ease of assembling the system should be considered. I recently added an SSD to an existing system, which should be fairly simple from an assembly point of view. Unfortunately my 3 year old case has only 3 internal 3.5 bays in a single drive cage, which are occupied by a 3 disk RAID, and no 2.5" drive. It also has 2 3.5 external bays. I had to use an adapter to mount the 2.5 drive in the external bay behind a face plate. This required removing the GPU and memory as the tall heat spreaders blocked the installation.

    My point is that while I doubt adding a single 3.5" drive to any modern case will cause issue, each additional component does increase the risk of complicating the assembly, so typical components should be included.
  • shin0bi272 - Monday, April 2, 2012 - link

    I agree. My friend just built a system and he planned on using his old 7200rpm drive but his other friend that he had put it together said the drive was bad... he didnt splurge on an ssd he went out and bought another hard drive. Plus with gaming you wont see any FPS increase with an ssd so the only benefit you'll get is load times.
  • Shinobisan - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I notice you're using a Corsair Link in the new test bed... Where exactly did you get one?
    I can't find them anywhere for sale (at least online... I'm in the middle of no-where).
    I've asked Corsair themselves a gob of times, and only received abject silence.

    I was really starting to think they were vapor-wear. !

    What is the source? ? ?
  • Shinobisan - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Ah... page 2 says you got it directly from Corsair... so... still vapor wear. :( :(
    (shinobisan = pouting)
  • Luay - Sunday, April 1, 2012 - link

    Sticking with the small CM 212 Hyper Evo for all case reviews will mislead you and the readers whne it comes to CPU thermals.

    The cooler is great for narrow cases such as the Antec 300, Rosewill Blackhawk and such, but for the wide full towers it is less effective and a much larger cooler is required to suck in cool air from the top, so that might be unfair to the larger cases when you review their CPU thermals.

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