ProsAntec provides unmatched fit and finish, while In-Win provides unmatched power and versatility
ConsThe Antec significantly limits the components you can use, while the In-Win suffers from some poor design decisions
Here at The Tech Buyer's Guru, we are really big fans of the small computing movement. While it's not exactly new, advances in the area of ultra-efficient processors and affordable solid-state drives have made building ultra-compact yet still lighting-quick PCs possible. For most PC builders, the mini-ITX format provides the best starting point for putting together a small PC. But mini-ITX cases actually come in a huge range of sizes, and many of the most recent products in this market are actually pushing the limits of what we'd consider small, catering to high-end gamers that simply want an ultra-powerful PC that happens to be a bit smaller than the typical full-size tower.
If that type of case interests you, we definitely understand, but we think the most interesting ITX cases are the ones at the other size of the size spectrum. In this review, we'll be doing a head-to-head comparison of two of the smallest ITX cases on the market, the Antec ISK110-VESA and the In-Win BQS656. While there are smaller cases out there, they do not include power supplies, which the Antec and In-Win do. In fact, what we really like about these two particular cases is that they use external laptop-style power supplies, which in addition to allowing for smaller case dimenions also avoid the use of fans. And that's not an insignificant fact, because the small fans required for compact internal power supplies are notoriously buzzy. We've worked with them in the past, and frankly, we wouldn't use them again for our personal systems.
Description and Features
The Antec ISK110-VESA is technically the smaller of the two cases here, measuring 8.7" x 3.1" x 8.4". The In-Win BQS656 is officially 8.9" x 3.0" x 8.3", but that's not counting its substantial extended vent on the left side panel. Unless you had both cases side by side as we did, though, you'd never know that they differed in size. While the Antec and In-Win cases are therefore incredibly similar, they have two notable differences: the power supply capacity and the data drive options. We'll cover these differences one by one.
The In-Win's power supply is rated at 120W versus the Antec's 90W unit, and the extra 30W of headroom allow you to use a very different class of components. While In-Win takes a conservative stance on this, recommending CPUs at 65W or below, we actually tested a much more powerful configuration and had no issues whatsoever. With the Antec's 90W power supply, on the other hand, we just weren't willing to take a chance. The tested configurations are listed below. Interestingly, the difference in capacity also leads to the only significant difference in size between these two cases: the In-Win's 120W unit is nearly twice as large as the Antec's 90W unit.
The other major distinction between these two cases is the handling of data drives. The Antec allows the use of dual 2.5"-class drives, either hard drives or solid-state drives, while the In-Win allows the use of a single 2.5"-class drive, along with a slim-line optical drive. Which configuration is best really depends on the particular user. Need a media server? Then you'll probably want both a quick SSD for your OS and a big hard drive for data. Want an all-around family PC? Then you'll almost certainly want to include an optical drive.
Because these cases really cater to different users, we tested different hardware configurations in them. For the In-Win BQS656, we used the following components:
- CPU: Intel Core i5-4460 3.2GHz Quad-Core Processor
- Motherboard: ASRock H97M-ITX/ac
- RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport 2x4GB DDR3-1600
- SSD: Samsung 850 Evo 250GB
- Optical Drive: Samsung Slim Internal DVD Writer
And for the Antec ISK110-VESA, we used these components:
- CPU: Intel Pentium G3258 3.2GHZ Dual-Core Processor
- Motherboard: MSI H81I ITX Motherboard
- RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport 2x4GB DDR3-1600
- SSD: Crucial BX 100 120GB Solid-State Drive
Note that the Core i5-4460 CPU is basically twice the processor that the Pentium G3258 is. And while it is rated at 84W by Intel, versus 53W for the Pentium, both actually operate well below their ratings. In the case of the Core i5-4460, this isn't suprising at all, given that it's one of the least potent of the 84W-class processors in Intel's product stack. They may all be rated at 84W, but they certainly don't all use the same amount of power. We found in our testing that the G3258-based Antec system peaked at around 40W under an intense stress test, while the 4460-based In-Win system peaked at 81W. Both were well within the limits of their respective power supplies, and while you could probably squeeze the Core i5 into the Antec's power envelope, we personally wouldn't feel comfortable running it near its limit for extended periods of time.
One more thing we'll note about the the power supplies is that the Antec PSU is a higher-quality model, offering up to 92% efficiency and ultra-low temperatures. That's probably one reason the Antec system came in so much further below the CPU's rated power draw than the In-Win system did. In-Win doesn't list the BQS656 on its website, let alone provide specifications for its power supply.
Both cases can be positioned vertically or horizontally, and while not shown in our photos, they both come with accessories to use with a VESA mount (including on the back of many monitors), or to keep them stable in a vertical configuration. Using the vertical stand accessories aren't entirely necessary, but with the In-Win case at least, it does provide additional airflow through vents that would otherwise be blocked. As we'll discuss on the next page, there's a design problem with the In-Win relating to the mounting of the optical drive that makes horizontal use not quite ideal.
On the topic of venting, overall, Antec does a superior job. It offers a larger side panel vent (covering nearly the entire side panel), as well as a more free-flowing top vent that also happens to offer much more aestheic appeal than the punched-metal vents of the In-Win. While neither of these systems is meant for high-end, power-hungry builds, given the lack of any active cooling besides the CPU fan, passive vent design is important, and Antec wins here.