I’d like to touch on something I ranted about a bit in the April 19 Improbable Insights podcast. The full-tower case is a dinosaur.
Look, I know some of you out there love your triple-GPU, overclocked, liquid-cooled monster PCs. I love htat you love building and using these lumbering beasts, and more power to you. However, most people don’t game on triple-4K displays, and the headaches of managing SLI and CrossFire to get a good gaming experience gives me heartburn thinking about it. I know, because I’ve run SLI rigs, only to be disappointed with lackluster game support, awful image artifacts, and all that heat. I suppose it’s a good thing that DX12 offers improved support for multiple GPUs, but game publishers still see multi-GPU setups as fringe cases. (Haha, see what I did there?)
Unless you’re dead set on running three GPUs, you don’t need a full-size ATX motherboard. Most higher-end micro-ATX boards implement SLI and CrossFireX support, so you can run your twin graphics cards if you so desire. Micro-ATX mobos typically have four expansion slots; with the right slot setup, you could have your dual GPUs plus another card, be it a PCIe SSD or sound card. You can find a rich selection of micro-ATX motherboards offering serious overclocking support, amenities for liquid cooling, and other high-end features. Only a few years ago, only a few paltry micro ATX boards existed, mainly serving price-conscious buyers. Not so today.
Mini-ITX motherboards allow you to build even smaller systems, as I did with my itty-bitty gaming rig. As with micro-ATX boards, the selection of mini-ITX boards expanded substantially over the past few years, and even include boards aimed at high end gaming — though you’re still limited to one graphics card.
I jumped on the small system bandwagon after moving some big towers systems around the office and straining my back in the process. That injury cost me a week off my bicycle, and I’m not gonna let that happen again. In truth, most of my LAN party rigs are mid-towers or smaller, but I still have one or two full towers. Well, I had one or two full towers. Those are gone now.
Valid needs exist for full-tower systems that aren’t overclocked, water-breathing monsters. Professional graphics systems which may require multiple CPUs, room for big RAID arrays, and lots of expansion cards for handling video would be one example. (Even those now tend to offload RAID subsystems to exernal boxes these days, however). But those are pretty rare, and most of us don’t need those.
I see that thoughtful expression on your face, and I hear you ask, “But what do you use.”
Okay, I’m a miserable hypocrite, but only for this last system, damnit.
Right now, I’m running a full-size ATX board in a mid-tower case. I only have one graphics card and a Creative Labs ZXR sound card, so I don’t need a full-size board. I became hooked on Corsair’s Obsidian 550D quiet case several years ago, and can barely hear my PC when it’s running.
I’m building a gaming rig for my daughter to cart off to graduate school, and it’s going to be built using a Gigabyte Z170MX Gaming 5 micro-ATX motherboard into a micro-ATX chassis. She’ll be able to more easily move it around, and placement in small apartments should be easier, too.
I’m also categorically stating that my next production system will be smaller. I may need to give up on Corsair cases, because they don’t seem to build a micro-ATX quiet case — though the Carbide 400Q is a mid-tower that’s several inches shorter. Fractal Design makes several quiet micro-ATX cases, and I’ll take a hard look at those for my next production system. I still need more than one slot, though, so a mini-ITX system is out.
Build small or don’t build. That’s my new motto. It should be yours, too.