OUR FAVORITE SMALL FORM FACTOR CHASSIS
THE INTEL NUC is at the forefront of small form factor chassis, and also has the bonus of being supremely easy to build in. After all, it’s more than just a case—it’s a bare-bones kit that comes with most of the pieces pre-installed to save you some of the hard work. However, these cases don’t come cheap, especially the topof-the-range i9-powered Intel NUC 13 Extreme. There are far cheaper options available, including some so small that you can even mount them to the back of your monitor.
If you want to create a small form factor using a Mini-ITX or MicroATX, you don’t have to go down the same flat-out route we did with the NUC 13 Extreme. There are plenty of other alternatives on the market with different purposes, and we’ve listed some of our favorites here.
COOLER MASTER MASTERCASE H100
This is the cheapest offering on this list, but that doesn’t take anything away from the MasterCase H100.
It’s fun, distinctive-looking, and has one whopping great fan taking all of the limelight at the front. That fan is a 200mm RGB unit from Cooler Master’s H-Series range. Its form factor, like the rest here, is Mini
ITX and its cube-like size makes it perfect for portability, especially with a built-in handle.
Unusually, this mini box can house a full ATX PSU, which is better than the Intel NUC 13 and NZXT H1 chassis that only support SFX. Saying that, even though you can power more resource-hungry GPUs from a standard ATX power supply, you can’t fit them in this box. It only has a GPU clearance of 210mm, which doesn’t give you too many options to play with. Regardless, this is a great machine and is an interesting chassis to build with, and who doesn’t like portability? www.phanteks.com
TEENAGE ENGINEERING COMPUTER-1 $195
A fun, quirky, hobbyist alternative to a conventional PC that looks like the love child of Meccano and Intel/AMD—what’s not to like about this case? It arrives in a sheet metal format and you have to physically bend and construct the chassis yourself. That may sound like hard work, but from our hands-on experience with the case, it can be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
The only drawback is that once you start piecing the system together, things can get rather tight inside, but that’s a given with a Mini-ITX machine. Much like the Intel NUC 13, it supports an SFX PSU but the performance is held back by physical restrictions. You can only fit a dual-slot GPU up to 180 x 130 x 40mm in this machine. Yes, this thing is pretty small, but with its unique metallic design, it makes for a head-turning PC case.
NZXT’s H1 case is much closer to the Intel NUC 13 Extreme offering than the other entrants in this list. With beautiful aesthetics that even outshine our NUC build in the looks department, the H1 has a consolelike design to it— especially in its black configuration, which bears a striking resemblance to the Xbox Series X.
Much like the NUC we built with, it’s more than just a case. It also comes with an SFX 750W
PSU, 140mm AIO liquid cooler, Aer P140mm fan, and 92mm PWM Fan, and supports Nvidia 30 series and AMD 6000 series graphics cards. And in terms of its dimensions, it could also house our Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4070 Ti Trinity OC card, albeit while maxing the PSU’s limits.
Overall, the NZXT case will make for a well-constructed machine, but bear in mind that you need to provide a Mini-ITX motherboard, RAM, SSD, GPU, and CPU. For the Intel NUC 13 Extreme kit, you need an SSD, RAM, and GPU, with the price difference reflecting this. www.nzxt.com
PHANTEKS EVOLV SHIFT X $160
Another Mini-ITX case, yet this one has the ability to house a full custom loop liquid cooling system inside. Now if that isn’t overkill, we don’t know what is. Regardless, when we built a liquid-cooled system inside this chassis with pink coolant, it resulted in one awesome-looking and performing PC.
This system is versatile with 360° accessibility to make building easier, and you can also orientate it vertically or horizontally. It contains two tempered glass panels that allow you to see the fruits of your labor—if you’ve liquid-cooled your system as we did, why would you not want to stare at it?
You can even fit a GPU of up to 529mm in length, which means you could even go for an RTX 4090. As a package, this chassis provides everything you need—ease of use, plenty of compatibility, and striking looks. If you want to stray from a typical PC tower look, this does the trick.
HYDRA MINI EXPANDED BUNDLE
This is another unusual-looking chassis, to say the least, but on the plus side, there are literally no limits to building in this case. The simple design features no side panels, meaning that it isn’t necessarily the best for keeping clean, but it definitely offers something different from the vast majority of small form factor systems.
Again, it’s a Mini-ITX machine so that does have its limitations, but you can still create a capable system that doubles up as a piece of modernist desktop art. Constructed of 2mm thick AISI 304 (Stainless Steel), it’s a sturdy chassis as well.
As the case (if you can call it that) is subtle, the components in the system become the main focus. If you have a set of fancy parts, like we did when we built using the Hydra Mini, it’s a great way to show them off. www.hydra-shop.com