Small form factor PC’s have always been in a bit of a weird spot. They’re often overlooked in favor of laptops, and they simply lose out in sheer power to other, more standard systems.
Still, though, they’re common enough that I’ve built (and sold) a couple over the years, but I’ve never been tempted to keep one of them for myself—until a little over a week ago.
My Ryzen 5600G Mini ITX Build
For reference, I’ve listed the components of this particular build below.
- CPU: Ryzen 5 5600G
- COOLER: Noctua NH-LH12S
- MOBO: ASRock Fatal1ty B450 Gaming Mini-Itx
- RAM: Crucial Ballistix LT 16GB (8×2) RAM kit
- SSD: 1TB HP NVME SSD
- CASE: Velka 3-RL Mini-ITX Case
- PSU: FlexGuru Mini ITX 300w PSU
Why Build A Mini-ITX System?
Broadly speaking, there’s a few reasons to build a mini-ITX rig, the most obvious one being portability. As you can see below, the system is small enough to fit in a standard backpack, along with a portable monitor.
But this is no different than most laptops, which do the same thing in an even more compact package. This means that there’s different metrics to consider when deciding between a laptop and a Mini-ITX form rig. In my experience, there’s a few areas where they do win out against laptops.
- Thermal performance
Repairability is probably the most significant advantage that Mini-ITX systems have over laptops, which happens to go hand in hand with upgradability and longevity. The internal parts of many laptops are soldered onto the motherboard. While there’s a lot of reasons for this (some good, some bad), it means that if a component breaks, the repair process is longer, more expensive, and—depending on availability—could even be impossible.
In comparison, the modularity of traditional setups allows parts to be removed and replaced fairly easily. Furthermore, over the years, this modularity has made PC building rather straightforward—even the average person can learn to service their own computer, essentially cutting out the labor cost of taking it to a repair shop. It also helps that even when a standard PC is “dead”, it’s very rare that every part of it becomes unusable, leaving at least something that can be brought forward into a future system.
As for thermal performance, this is one area that high-end laptops have always struggled with. There’s no getting around it: Packing that much hardware into such a small space, and then enclosing it is going to end up putting out a lot of heat.
Mini-ITX System vs Laptops
While anecdotal, I’ve owned a handful of gaming laptops over the years. Even when going out of my way to keep them in good shape, I had trouble maintaining their initial performance, and in many instances, they’d begin to experience debilitating thermal throttling after around 6 months of regular use. In comparison, I’m confident in my ability to service a Mini-ITX rig well enough to keep it in a healthy, stable state for years to come.
You might notice, though, that the rig I’ve built doesn’t have a graphics card. So why am I comparing it to laptops that do have a dGPU? It’s the same reason I decided it was finally worth holding onto a Mini-ITX for myself: the Ryzen 5 5600G.
We’ve talked about this specific chip when discussing whether to choose between an APU or a CPU, and despite Intel’s fantastic 12th gen lineup, it’s managed to carve out a niche for itself, even in the currently crowded CPU market.
The reason for this is twofold: The continued graphics card shortage, and the fact that the iGPU in these chips are surprisingly competent in their own right. While not an in-depth test by any means, I’ve compiled a short list of benchmarks to illustrate my point.
*Note the 2 different tables: I ran tests on stock settings, then fiddled around with BIOS settings to see if I could manually increase performance. More often than not, the answer was yes. Bear in mind that League of Legends is more processor-bound than anything: It’s included as more of a baseline, rather than an actual performance benchmark. I also ran these benchmarks using the included stock AMD cooler, rather than the Noctua one.
|Stock Settings||Altered BIOS|
|League of Legends (Very High)||~170-240 FPS||~170-240 FPS|
|Apex Legends (Low 1080p)||~45 FPS||~55-80 FPS|
|Rocket League (High 1080p)||~40-60 FPS||~59-61 FPS|
|Rainbow Six Siege (Low 1080p)||~40-60 FPS||~58-73 FPS|
|Horizon Zero Dawn||~25-30 FPS||~30-33 FPS|
For the altered BIOS section, I set shared memory to 2GB and clocked RAM to 3200mhz, CL16. I was also able to achieve a stable 4000mhz CL16 clock speed on the same memory kit, but a lot of that is trial and error, and is something the average user might not feel comfortable doing—same with overclocking the iGPU. Keep in mind, though, that APUs tend to benefit greatly from higher memory frequency. There’s a good bit of performance left to gain if you’re willing to mess around a little bit.
In all the benchmarks performed, the CPU never went above 67℃, even when using the stock AMD cooler.
There’s still a case to be made if you’re looking to build a system that has (or will have) a dGPU, as well. Unless you’re willing to buy a prebuilt (which can get pretty expensive), you’re likely going to have trouble finding a good enough GPU—or any GPU for that matter. This is where the 5600G steps in. While it performs ~10% worse than its non-APU iteration, the 5600x, the 5600g is a pretty capable CPU as well. And to top it off, it costs less than the 5600x, with an MSRP of $260 (though it’s listed for $300 at the time of writing). This leaves the 5600G as a stepping stone of sorts. You get a solid CPU and a “good enough” GPU in a single component, leaving a usable system until a GPU can be acquired.
While the 5600G is the most important part by far, there’s some rationale to the other parts in the build, as well. Probably the second most important of these is the choice of an NVME SSD. Systems like these are meant to be moved around a lot. If there were an HDD in the system instead, moving it around often would put all the moving parts inside it at risk of becoming dislodged, in turn bricking the drive entirely. Using electronic storage also keeps the weight down, making it more portable overall.
More than anything, I emphasized portability in this build, and paid a little extra for better cooling as well—although that cooling wasn’t put to use in the above benchmarks. The case, PSU, and motherboard are all reflective of this. The motherboard itself is tiny, holding only a single PCIE slot, and two DIMM slots. The PSU selected is also a neat little thing. Despite its size, it consistently pulls 300w of power—more than enough to power the single-fan CPU cooler, and the meager 75w demanded by the 5600g. With that said, the manufacturing process for these smaller components is generally more expensive, meaning a higher retail price as well. The Velka chase I chose retails for $160, the PSU is $140, and the motherboard is listed for $200 at the time of writing. These are all substantially more expensive than their normal-sized counterparts. But, again—I prioritized portability over pretty much everything else, and was more than willing to pay extra to achieve it. For me, this is the perfect balance between portability, longevity, and what I consider to be “acceptable” gaming performance.
This also means that, if on a budget, it’s fairly easy to build a system with similar (or even better) specs for around $500—meaning the rest of the budget can be dedicated to a decent GPU. And if $500 is the entire budget, well… you could do a lot worse.