One of the builds that generates the most interest among all of the ITX builds we feature in our Small Form Factor Buyer's Guides is the Mini-ITX Home Office Build, which is based on the smallest ITX chassis on the market, the Antec ISK110-VESA. Because it’s so small, a lot of our readers are curious what it’s actually like to build in. Well, we don’t like to keep you all guessing, so we went ahead and built it up to show you, in pictures and words, exactly how easy it is to put together this awesome little build. It's truly small enough to fit on a bookshelf, and powerful enough to meet just about any PC user's needs.
Here are the parts we used, which totaled just over $300, not including the operating system:
- Antec ISK110-VESA Case ($69 at time of publication)
- Intel Pentium G3258 Dual-Core Processor ($70 at time of publication)
- MSI H81I ITX Motherboard ($65 at time of publication)
- Crucial MX 100 128GB Solid-State Drive ($70 at time of publication)
- Crucial Ballistix 4GB DDR3-1600 RAM ($39 at time of publication)
That’s it – just about the simplest and least expensive build you could possibly imagine. In fact, even building the palm-sized Intel NUC wouldn’t be much easier, and it's quite a bit more expensive, despite having only about half the processing power. Below you can see all the parts we used, set out prior to assembly:
We've numbered the parts above to make everything clear. The components are as follows:
- External power supply and internal cabling (included with the case)
- Antec ISK110-VESA case
- MSI H81I motherboard
- Screws used for mounting the motherboard and SSD (included with the case)
- SATA cable (included with the motherboard)
- Intel CPU cooler (included with the CPU)
- Crucial MX100 128GB SSD
- Intel Pentium G3258 CPU
- Crucial 4GB DDR3-1600 module
Now, we should point out a few things here. First, we went with a Pentium processor rather than a higher-end procssor like Intel's Core i3-4160, in part because we knew we didn’t need the power of a Core i3, which adds Hyperthreading, for our intended purposes (browsing, listening to music, streaming video). But we also wanted to try our hand at overclocking this tiny build. The Pentium G3258 is the only overclockable processor outside of Intel’s quad-core line (which wouldn't be compatible with this system's 90W power supply). In addition to losing Hyperthreading, the Pentium line drops the maximum supported RAM speed down to DDR3-1333, so if you go with this setup, you might want to manually adjust the timings of the RAM to compensate. The Crucial RAM we used is rated at DDR3-1600 with 9-9-9-24 timings. We ran it at DDR3-1333 with 7-7-7-21 timings.
Second, we used an H81-based motherboard that we’ve never before recommended pairing with Intel's newest processors, such as the Core i3-4150, Core i5-4590S, and the Pentium G3258. That’s because the H81 chipset was released prior to these processors arriving on the market, and if the motherboard’s BIOS doesn't come updated from the factory, the system will not boot with these CPUs installed. In July of 2014, MSI released the necessary BIOS update for the H81I motherboard used in this build, so it now supports all of these processors. A motherboard package that had been warehoused for a while, though, could leave users out of luck. In October of 2014, we received this updated model from Amazon.com, and we assume that going forward, any MSI H81I boards shipped from Amazon will be up-to-date.
That’s great news, because the H81I is the perfect match for this system. It has a well-designed UEFI BIOS that allows for easy overclocking of the G3258, and it includes two USB 2.0 headers, allowing the use of the four USB 2.0 ports on the front of the Antec ISK110 case. It even has a USB 3.0 header, so it will also work great if you use an Antec case with front-mounted USB 3.0 ports, such as the Antec ISK310-150. It's also hard to overlook the incredible price - the H81I is a true bargain. Now, keep in mind that the Intel H81 chipset does have some limitations, including a limit of two RAM slots, as well as fewer lanes for a PCIe 2.0 slot, but because an ITX system would never have more than two RAM slots nor a PCIe 2.0 slot, these limitations are only relevant in larger systems.
One other thing we'll mention - before we started installing any components, we had to get past the very hardest part of this build - figuring out how to open the case! There are two screws at the back of each side panel that need to be unscrewed, which would suggest that once they are removed, you simply pull back on the panels. In fact, the panels are held on by more than just the visible screws – plastic tabs affix them to the chassis as well. Thus, the only way to remove the panels is to pull them sideways away from the case, rather than backwards like a typical case. Once that unusual step was out of the way, it was all smooth sailing (well, until the last step, but we’ll get there eventually!).
OK, on with the build!