Fractal

Now updated with Intel's brand-new Kaby Lake platform!

This system is for builders who don't want to compromise on gaming capability even in a small system. It will easily fit an ultra-high-end video card and a standard ATX power supply. In fact, this system is just as fast as our full-size High-End Gaming PC Build, yet takes up barely 1/3 the space. That's perfect for gaming on the go, whether it's winning at the local LAN party or showing off the latest virtual reality title to your friends!

For January 2017, we are now able to recommend the brand-new Core i7-7700K, which is 10% faster than its predecessor the 6700K despite lower power use. We pair it with one of the very few Z270 ITX motherboards launched at this early stage. This guarantees compatibility with the new processor right out of the box. We are also recommend the EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 8GB, which is both amazingly fast and impressively efficient. The fact that it's dropped in price about 10% over the past few months makes it even more appealing! Due to its compact size, it's a perfect match for the Fractal Design Core 500 case we recommend, while also being the minimum card we recommend to support the HTC Vive VR system. In other news, we're now recommending Crucial's MX300 525GB solid-state drive paired with Seagate's 1TB hybrid hard drive, which together provide a great combination of speed and capacity. Finally, to make use of the ample space for high-end air coolers offered by the Core 500 case, we're going with a 120mm tower cooler, which provides far better performance than you could typically achieve in a compact build.

For help building this system, check out our step-by-step assembly guide, which provides plenty of tips and tricks regarding setting up the Core 500 case. We update this build every month, so feel free to flip over to The Archive to see how this build has changed over time. If you have questions about this build, post them to our Reader Forum - we'll be sure to answer.

The $1,500 VR-Ready Mini-ITX PC - January 2017

    CPU:

    Intel Core i7-7700K

    For this build, we're going straight to the top: Intel's brand-new Core i7-7700K processor. Running at a base clock of 4.2GHz, it boosts to 4.4GHz under a quad-core load, making it a solid 10% faster than its predecessor the Core i7-6700K, despite a similar price. It also has serious overclocking headroom - every 7700K processor should be able to hit 4.8GHz!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Please take note: the 7700K does not come with a CPU cooler. You must buy an aftermarket model, and we suggest a great cooler for this build later in this guide.

    Motherboard:

    MSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC

    The Pro Carbon is the only high-end ITX board available as of our publication date, and it has all the best features you'll find in any announced board. That includes the brand-new premium ALC1220 audio with Nahimic 2 processing, Intel Ethernet, as well as dual-stream 802.11ac wireless networking. In addition, it offers DisplayPort and HDMI outputs, optical digital out, and six USB ports, including a USB 3.1 Type-C connector!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that only Z270-based ITX boards are guaranteed to support the 7700K processor. While Z170 boards can in theory do so, they need the latest firmware, and there's no way to know if they do until you try to boot them!

    Video Card:

    EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC

    Whether you're a VR gamer or a 1440p gamer, there's only one card to consider: the GeForce GTX 1070. While we typically do not suggest using open-air coolers in ITX cases, the Core 500 case is so well designed that it will have no trouble dealing with the exhaust heat put out by the 1070. But take note: you can't use just any GTX 1070 in this build, as some custom-cooled models are either too long or too tall. The model we recommend, however, will fit comfortably in the case and provide exceptional performance.

    The Guru's Tip:

    To learn more about how the GTX 1070 performs, check out our hands-on review! To run the HTC Vive (which is currently the best VR system to consider, based on our testing and industry interviews) you need a ton of pixel-crunching power, and the GTX 1070 can deliver that power, making VR a great experience.

    Memory:

    Corsair 2x8GB Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000 Black

    With the Skylake platform, you need to use DDR4 memory, and to get the most out of it, you want high frequency DDR4. Skylake responds more favorably to high-speed RAM than any previous platform, as we found in our recent DDR4 benchmark analysis. So we go with this awesome 2x8GB DDR4-3000 kit. Keep in mind that ITX motherboards only have two slots, so you'll be maxed out with two sticks. Luckily 16GB is the sweet spot for a high-end gaming rig!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Believe it or not, prices on technology sometimes go up, and this is unfortunately the case with RAM, which has gone up in price about 15% since mid-2016, due to supply shortages that are likely to continue for many months.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX300 525GB

    The new MX300 is absolutely the SSD to beat in the mid-priced market. It offers higher performance and higher capacity than anything even close to its price, and is backed by Crucial's spotless track record when it comes to SSD reliability.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Crucial had been quiet for a while after releasing some of the highest-rated SSDs over the past few years, but it's making waves again with its new MX300 drive.

    Hard Drive:

    Seagate 1TB 2.5" SSHD

    To provide sufficient capacity for all your games, we're adding a 1TB hard drive. But this is no ordinary hard drive - it's upgraded with 8GB of SLC cache, providing SSD-like performance in often-used applications.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that Seagate has released a new version of this drive dubbed the FireCuda 1TB, and while it may tempt you with a lower price, we've benched it and found it to be significantly slower than the original. It's been cost-reduced, not performance-enhanced.

    Case:

    Fractal Design Core 500

    The Fractal Design Core 500 surpasses every other ITX case in a number of ways, becoming our top pick for this build. First, it offers a more attractive design and higher build quality. Second, and more importantly, Fractal Design realized what no other ITX case manufacturer had yet realized: you need to maximize airflow in compact gaming cases! To achieve this grand feat, it punched out the entire top panel of the case, allowing for tremendous exhaust potential, and equipped the Core 500 with one of its premium 140mm case fans. It's also one of the very few ITX cases on the market that has room for high-end 140mm CPU coolers, which are far more effective than 120mm models.

    The Guru's Tip:

    To learn more about what makes this case great, check out our full review.

    Power Supply:

    EVGA Supernova 550 GS

    Just because we're using a slightly larger ITX case for this build doesn't mean we want to fill it full of cables. So we go with a Gold-rated fully-modular model, the perfect match for a mini-ITX system. It offers all the quality of higher-wattage units, but with a size and power rating matching the needs of this machine. Given that you'll never be using a second video card in this system, you simply cannot utilize more than about 400W with this build, even overclocked to the max. In our testing, the combination of a 6700K and GTX 1070 uses less than 250W at stock settings!

    The Guru's Tip:

    One of the huge advantages of the Supernova GS Series over other similarly-rated PSUs is its ultra-short 150mm length. Due to the very tight confines of the Fractal Design Core 500, we strongly suggest that you do not choose a PSU larger than this model. You're almost guaranteed to run into clearance problems.

    CPU Cooler:

    Cryorig H7

    The Fractal case can fit large tower-style coolers, but you have to be careful when it comes to PCIe slot clearance as well as RAM slot clearance. This 120mm-based model maximizes cooling potential while optimizing size. With its unique rearward offset, it keeps clear of the RAM slots that most tower coolers would otherwise cover.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that the H7 is only available at Amazon's US storefront. For our Canadian and European readers, we're linking to the Noctua NH-U12S, which will also easily fit, but comes at a premium price.

    Optical Drive:

    LG 24x DVD Burner GH24NSC0B

    Having a DVD burner is a nice convenience, and given that we can easily fit an inexpensive full-size burner in this case, we're going to go ahead and do it. This LG drive is nothing fancy, but it's up-to-date and we've used it in some of our builds, so we're confident it will work for you too.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you're not a big user of optical discs, we'd suggest simply buying a Samsung External DVD Burner, and skipping the internal DVD burner. It will free up a lot of space for cabling and airflow inside your case. 

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10

    Windows 10 wipes away all the bad memories left behind by Windows 8, improving enormously on the user interface, and bringing with it some important performance tweaks under the hood.

    The Guru's Tip:

    At this point, we do not recommend that anyone choose the older Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 over Windows 10.