Mini ITX Test Procedure & Verdict
Five Mini-ITX mainboards have gathered for comparison testing: ASUS ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming, Asus ROG Strix X470-I Gaming, ASRock mini-ITX motherboards X370 Gaming, Gigabyte B360N WiFi, ASRock B365M-ITX. The AMD fraction is formed by the socket AM4 motherboards from Asus and ASRock.
The Asus ROG Strix X470-I Gaming runs with the brand new X470 chipset, while the ASRock runs with the somewhat older B365 chipset, which hasn’t been around for much more than a year.
The Gigabyte B360N WiFi and the ASUS ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming come from the Intel stock. They are each equipped with the B360 chipset and Z390 chipset respectively and rely on the LGA 1151 socket for the current 8th generation of Core i, Celeron and Pentium processors.
Test Procedure Mainboards
We evaluate each Mini-ITX mainboard in the categories performance (50%), equipment (30%), ergonomics (15%) and extras (5%). To analyze the performance, each mainboard runs through the CPU benchmarks 7-zip, Cinebench 15, CPU-Z, Handbrake and y-Cruncher as well as the synthetic benchmarks AS-SSD and PCMark 10. In terms of equipment, we evaluate interfaces like PCIe 3.0 x16, M.2, USB 3.x, WLAN and Bluetooth, but also extras like RGB connectors, A/V signal outputs and the number of LAN connections.
CPUs: AMD Ryzen 7 2700X, Intel Core i7-8700K and up
We equip all Mini-ITX mainboards with powerful hardware to eliminate performance bottlenecks. The Ryzen 7 top model 2700X runs on AMD platforms, on the Intel side the Core i7-8700K, which is about the same speed. In addition, there is 16 GB RAM, the 500 GB M.2 SSD Samsung SSD 970 EVO and Windows 10 in the latest version.
Because Intel is sticking to the 1151 socket for its Coffee Lake processors, buyers have to look carefully at which motherboard fits which CPU. This can go wrong: Socket 1151 is also used by CPUs of the older Kaby Lake and Skylake microarchitectures, but they are electronically incompatible with Coffee Lake. A Coffee Lake CPU like the Intel Core i7-8700K therefore only starts on a mainboard with a 300 chipset, but not with a 200 chipset (Kaby Lake, Skylake). Conversely, Kaby Lake and Skylake processors cannot be used on a mainboard with a 300 chipset. With AMD, things are simple: even new Pinnacle Ridge CPUs such as the Ryzen 7 2700X run on older socket AM4 mainboards.
Mini-ITX format: Extensive features on 7 x 7 inches
Despite the Liliput form factor, the Mini-ITX test candidates are well equipped. It is most comparable to a midrange ATX mainboard: 4x SATA 6 Gb/s, at least one M.2 slot, numerous USB 3.x ports and a 7.1 sound chip are always offered.
Because there is only one PCIe slot on a mini-ITX board, SLI operation with two graphics cards is out of the question. The pixel accelerator should also not be longer than 7 inches if it is to be installed in a Mini-ITX case. Not many high-end graphics cards meet this requirement. But you can still find it, for example in the 7 inch short Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Mini ITX 8G.
In terms of system performance, the Mini-ITX mainboards of both camps met at eye level. There were indeed advantages for AMD in the CPU benchmarks, but the Intel fraction made up for this with higher scores in the synthetic tests. In practice, little or nothing of the slight performance differences should therefore be noticeable.
With the Asus ROG Strix X470-I Gaming users get the best AMD mainboard in the test and at the same time the best overall package of performance, features, ergonomics and extras. Buyers who want to use a second generation Ryzen CPU, because it can only show its full performance on the X470 chipset, should be especially pleased with the 200 Dollar test winner from Asus, as well as the 80 Dollar cheaper ASRock Mini-ITX Motherboards X370 Gaming.
Gamers are at least as well served with the third AMD mainboard in the test, the ASRock Mini-ITX Motherboards X370 Gaming, though. Equipped with the latest BIOS, it ran as performant as the two X470 mainboards from Asus and Biostar, and scored on top of that with numerous overclocking settings.
The Mini-ITX mainboards with Intel substructure are generally a bit cheaper than their AMD colleagues. Consequently, the cheapest Mini-ITX text candidate, Gigabyte B360N WiFi, also comes from the Intel universe with 115 Dollar. However, the Gigabyte and the price-performance winner, ASRock B365M-ITX, aren’t suitable for overclocking due to their B365 chipset. Intel CPUs with an open multiplier, recognizable by the K placed behind, can only be overclocked on the expensive Z370 mainboards, just like the RAM. On the following pages you will find the individual reviews.
In Detail: Test Results
Ranking First: ASUS ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming
- Overclocking potential
- Numerous connections
- VRM cooling
- CPU power supply
- Bios not yet fully developed
Noe we take a closer look at the ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I gaming motherboard. As the “I” in the model name already suggests, this is a mainboard in Mini-ITX format. With the Z390 chipset on the ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I Gaming Intel replaces the Z370 chipset. In addition to the Intel core processors of the eighth generation, the processors of the ninth generation are also supported.
Despite its compact design, the ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING has many internal and external connections. In the general view you find the connector for the 24-pin ATX power connector on the right side. Directly underneath is the MEM-OK switch and the modern USB3.1 Gen1 header. This is followed by two SATA connectors and the USB3.0 header. Next to these connectors are the two slots for the main memory. At the bottom the usual PCIe x16 of the 3rd Gen is located. Above it, the first M.2 slot is located under the cover. Here M.2 SSDs with a length of up to 80 mm can be mounted. The cover is not only for design purposes, but also for cooling the SSD. The RGB headers and fan connectors are located behind the upper heat sink.
The external connections are also abundant for this form factor. A display port and an HDMI port are found on the left, followed by 2× USB 3.1 (2× type A), 3x USB 2.0 (2x type and 1x type C) and 2x USB 2.0 as well as the network connection. On the right are the audio connections in the form of five 3.5 mm jacks and an optical output. Since the motherboard has WLAN, there are also two connectors for the WLAN antenna.
For the ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming ASUS relies on an ASP1401CTB PWM controller from Digi VRM+. In total the mainboard has six phases for the CPU power supply and two phases are responsible for the SOC.
ASUS uses eight NCP302045s from On Semiconductor for the CPU and SOC power supply. Each of these MOSFETs can supply 45 amps on average, which should be more than sufficient for a Coffee Lake CPU.
The M.2 SSD we have installed achieves the performance values specified by the manufacturer. Since the M.2 port is connected to PCI-Express-x4, which achieves a theoretical bandwidth of 3938 MB/s, it is very rare for this to limit a built-in M.2. On the SSD is our operating system and some programs – the tool shows us that about 5% of the Corsair MP300’s memory is occupied. Here, the SSD manages the 1600 MB/s specified by the manufacturer in sequential reading. In the best run, the factory specification is even exceeded by 2 MB/s, but we consider this to be a measuring tolerance. It looks quite similar here in sequential writing.
The built-in M.2 SSD gets a maximum of 41 °Celsius with the M.2 cooler. We tested with a file size of 8 gigabytes. The temperature was 6 °Celsius higher without the M.2 cooler. As soon as a faster M.2 SSD is used, such as a Samsung 970 EVO, the cooler could provide for a significantly higher temperature difference in comparison with and without an M.2 cooler.
We installed an Intel Core i7-9700K in our test system. A total of 16 GB of RAM from KLEVV is on its side. They clock with 3200 MHz with the help of the loaded profile.
After the first Windows start, before we dare to overclock, we use the software AIDA64 and CPU-Z to read out the above mentioned information, which corresponds to the manufacturer’s specifications.
The benchmarks can be carried out at the next stage, 3,600 MHz, where both the read performance and the write performance increase significantly. Thus, we now measure 50,784 MB/s read and 52,510 MB/s write.
The ASUS ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming is currently listed starting at a price of 200$. In return we receive a high-quality motherboard, which is also visually convincing. But it’s not only the exterior that convinces us, but also the numerous connectors, which are located internally and on the I/O panel. Nevertheless, we are missing an internal USB 3.1 Gen2 port, which however only a few cases have built into the front panel and are therefore hardly needed. Very positive we find, despite the small size of the mainboard, the good power supply, which remained very cool in our test. We give the ASUS ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming 9.8 out of 10 points and our recommendation.
Second: ASUS ROG Strix X470-I Gaming
- Optimized for AMD Ryzen 2000 CPUs
- Offers good possibilities for overclocking
- Aura Sync RGB lighting
- Strongly equipped
- Rather expensive
With the ROG Strix X470-I Gaming, Asus offers one of the first mini-ITX mainboards that uses the new X470 chipset just like the Biostar X470GTN. This replaces the X370 as the previous top chipset for the AM4 socket. AMD has tailored the X470 for Ryzen CPUs of the second generation (Zen+), which like our reference CPU Ryzen 7 2700X are manufactured in 12 nanometer structure width.
This helps them achieve higher energy efficiency compared to the 14-nm design of their Zen colleagues and gives tuning enthusiasts more thermal leeway when overclocking. The X470 chipset also supports first generation Ryzen CPUs.
However, the X470 can only reach its full potential with a Ryzen 2000 series CPU, because the features, such as Precision Boost 2 and Extended Frequency Range (XFR) 2, can only be used with them. These features allows to raise the clock rates of the cores more dynamically and effectively above the base clock than the predecessors. Like the X470 mainboards, this makes them the first choice for overclockers and optimizers.
The Asus was the second most expensive of the 5 Mini-ITX mainboards with a price of around 200 Dollar, but made up for this with its good equipment. Matching the X470 chipset, the intuitively usable overclocking tool Asus AI Suite 3 for setting individual overclocking and cooling profiles belongs to it.
There are similarly many tuning possibilities in the MSI mainboards. Further plus points for Asus: WLAN 802.11ac including 2×2 MIMO support, LED lighting compatible with Aura Sync and virtual surround sound for VR headsets via the audio tool Sonic Studio III.
Furthermore, the ROG Strix X470-I Gaming was the only AMD mainboard in the test that had two M.2 slots (2x PCIe 3.0 x4), whereby the slot on top of the board was additionally equipped with a heat sink. On the Intel side there was only a comparable one on the MSI B360I Gaming Pro AC.
Third: ASRock X370 Gaming
- VRM Temperatures
- Power supply
- Fan connections
- PCI Express Steel Slotequipped
- Integrated WLAN
- Problems with UEFI version 4.4
The Fatal1ty X370 Gaming-ITX a/c is delivered in red-black packaging. In the middle we find the product name. It is clearly visible that an AMD X370 chipset is built in. On the back, ASRock advertises some features, such as the PCI-E Steel Slot.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Gaming-ITX/ac relies on the X370 chipset from AMD, as can already be seen in the product name. We can currently use an AMD Ryzen7 1800X on the motherboard at most. The maximum memory clock supported by the motherboard depends on the CPU used. Currently Raven Ridge APUs support the highest memory clock with 2933MHz.
The ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming-ITX a/c is ASRock typical black-red design. Unfortunately this is not an advantage for systems which should be color neutral. The color scheme looks very harmonious and gives the motherboard a racing look. Altogether we find three 4-pin PWM fan connectors, which should be more than sufficient for an ITX system.
In the lower area we find the only existing PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot on the mainboard. This is a reinforced slot, which is particularly suitable for heavy graphics cards. Above this is the chipset, which should be kept passively at low temperatures by a cooler. To the left of the chipset is the UEFI chip, which we can even exchange if a BIOS update should fail.
On the X370 Gaming-ITX a/c, we naturally also find connections for the front panel and hard disks. In total we can connect four hard disks via SATA. Furthermore, we have a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port and a HD audio port on the board.
Also with the ASRock Fatal1ty Gaming-ITX a/c we take a closer look at the power supply of the processor. Therefore we have to remove the red VRM cooler first.
Above the AM4 socket is the power supply responsible for the iGPU and SOC, which consists of two phases. For each phase ASRock uses two MOSFETs with the designation 7431EH from Sinopower. For the VRM controller, ASRock uses an ISL95712, which can drive a maximum of four phases for the CPU and three phases for the SOC/iGPU. Thus the power supply is not a real 8-phase design. ASRock uses here like many manufacturers Doppler.
The ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming-ITX/ac could convince us despite initial start problems. Despite the small size we find three 4-pin PWM fan connectors, which is not a problem ,of course, for such a small motherboard. At the I/O panel we find enough connectors for our peripherals, but here we would have wished for a USB 3.1 Gen2 connector. Visually we like the Mini-ITX motherboard, the Asrock typical red elements on a black PCB are used. However, the red-black design doesn’t fit into every system. The existing PCI-Express Steel Slot completes the look. The temperatures of the power supply surprised us a bit, since we measured low temperatures despite the small cooler, and that with a CPU voltage of 1.4 Volt. We can definitely recomend the ASRock Fatal1ty X370 Gaming-ITX/ac.
Fourth: Gigabyte B360N Wifi
- Strong price-performance ratio
- Two LAN ports for link aggregation
- WLAN and Bluetooth integrated
- PCI Express slots not reinforced
- Without USB-C
- No RAM and CPU overclocking possible
Together with the MSI B360I Gaming Pro AC, the Gigabyte B360N WiFi represents the ranks of the mini-ITX mainboards with Intel chipset. Both use the well-known socket LGA 1151, but only Intel CPUs based on the Coffee Lake microarchitecture can take place in it. If you already own a Skylake or Kaby Lake processor, you can’t use it in both mainboards.
Gigabyte and MSI solve another problem: The Coffee Lake CPUs, which are equal in price and performance to the AMD Ryzen processors, have so far only run on expensive mainboards with Z370 chipsets, which made low-cost systems almost impossible. This gap is now closed by the new Coffee-Lake chipsets H310, B360 and H370. The “middle class” variant B360 is used by Gigabyte and MSI.
Within the limits of its mini-ITX form factor, the B360N WiFi makes extensive use of its capabilities, but somewhat neglects the USB ports. Up to 4x USB 3.1 Gen.2 with 10 Gb/s each would be possible, but only 4 USB 3.0 ports are offered, which make a nominal 5 Gb/s. But in the end, this is no drama, because the higher USB bandwidth should be needed only rarely.
The Gigabyte B360N WiFi is best suited for this in a LAN: Here, two Gigabit Ethernet ports are available at the same time – ideal, for example, for connecting to different networks simultaneously. The Intel internal performance duel with the MSI B360I Gaming Pro AC lost the Gigabyte B360N WiFi by a narrow margin, but won the price duel clearly, and even across all classes: It was the cheapest Mini-ITX mainboard in comparison with the MSI B360I Gaming Pro AC at 110 Dollar.
Fifth: ASRock B365M-ITX
- Beautiful design
- Good workmanship
- 2 RGB + 1 aRGB header
- 6 SATA + 2 m.2 connectors
- USB 3.1 Gen. 1 only
- Memory up to max. 2.666 MHz
As the name suggests, the packaging design follows the Phantom Gaming series. The packaging is kept in red tones and the Phantom Gaming logo is emblazoned on the front. Some of the supported processors as well as the reference to HDMI connection and Polychrome Sync functionality can’t be missed, of course. The model name is located at the bottom right. On the back you’ll find all kinds of information about the features as well as a list of technical data.
Two M.2 ports with 32 Gbit/s connection
The two M.2 slots on the B365 Phantom can be connected to the system at the full 32 Gbps and support Intel Optane technology. ASRock provides both connectors with a cooler cover, which should protect the built-in SSDs from excessive heat. Other features include a total of six SATA 6 Gbit ports, two RGB headers for the additional connection of RGB LEDs and possible control via the manufacturer’s polychrome RGB software.
The sound is realized by an ALC-1220 chip from Realtek, which can use a PCB section isolated from the rest of the motherboard. The audio connectors are gold plated and the sound solution supports DTS Connect.
Two USB 3.1 Gen2 connectors, one of which has the USB type C standard, complete the mainboard.
The B365 Pro4 is similar to the B365 Phantom Gaming 4, but ASRock does without some features like the double M.2 cooler and the audio solution is realized with a Realtek ALC-892 chip.
ASRock B365M-ITX/ac with WLAN and Bluetooth
As the only model with B365 chipset the ASRock B365M-ITX/ac is the ITX variant and equipped with a WLAN and Bluetooth card (IEEE 802.11ac). A suitable antenna is included in delivery.
B365 chipset is similar to the H270 chipset
The innovations of the chipset were already published last year. Overall, the new B365 chipset is more similar to the already older H270 chipset than the B360, even though the naming does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the features or the manufacturing process used.
The ASRock B365M motherboard convinces with an appealing look and a total of 3 RGB headers, one of them is designed for addressable 5 Volt RGB LEDs. It has almost all current and important connections, only a real USB 3.1 connection of the current standard is unfortunately not available. The mainboard is especially suitable for the masses, because there are no overflowing OC settings. In addition the mainboard only supports memory with a maximum of 2.666 MHz. The ASRock B365M motherboard is currently available in stores from 90 Dollar and up. We award 8.7 out of 10 points and our recommendation based on the performance and design.
We hope our in-depth test helps you to find the right M-ITX motherboard for your PC setup. If you have any questions regarding this test, M-ITX motherboards, or any other hardware or software topic, feel free to contact us. We would love to help you out.