Building a Small Form Factor PC has never been easier than before, and there are plenty of micro ATX and mini ITX cases in the market. Manufacturers are constantly pumping out new and innovate case designs, with each model designed to cram as many high powered components possible within the smallest space. Graphics card and cooler manufacturers are also getting in the mATX race, releasing smaller versions of their standard models such as the Gigabyte GTX 1080 mini and Zotac GTX 1080ti mini. These graphics cards are every bit as powerful as the standard full- length versions, except for lower overclocking headroom.
CPU coolers these days are also available in many shapes and sizes, with some water cooling specialists managing to stuff an entire custom cooling loop inside mini ITX and micro ATX cases. You can easily get a low profile CPU cooler like the Noctua NH- L9a for an AMD Ryzen mATX build, or the Cryorig C7 CR-C7A for Intel mATX builds. But just having the best CPU coolers and mini graphics cards won’t help you build a SFF gaming rig, you also need the proper case to fit in all those components. Without the case, your computer is just a scattered group of parts wired up to each other. A good mATX case needs to have efficient space management, cable grommets, CPU cooler cutouts, high quality motherboard standoffs, and sufficient hard drive slots as well as GPU slots. If you plan to run a SLI or Crossfire system in your case, make sure it has at least 4 graphics card slots in the back. Do you want to make a compact workstation that also doubles up as a media center? Get a mATX case that can accommodate lots of hard drives. And don’t forget to check for dust filters in the case. Some of the them will come with a couple of preinstalled fans, while others even feature built-in power supplies.
Without further ado, here are our contenders for the best mATX Case you can buy:
It is one of the best looking mATX cases we have ever seen, and features a unique dual compartment design which separates the heat generating core components from the auxiliary components. The primary attraction of this case however, is its dual Corsair LL120 RGB fans and Lighting Node Pro controller.
NZXT is famous for designing some of the best looking tempered glass PC cases on the market, and they always excel at cable management. The H400i is no exception, for it comes with everything you need in order to create your dream mATX gaming PC- CPU cooler cutouts, cable grommets, air filters, RGB lighting, noise insulation, and a wonderful tempered glass side panel.
InWin is committed to making products that look and feel great. The 301 mini tower gaming PC chassis follows the same principle, as it is made from high quality 1.2mm SECC steel panels and features a tool-less tempered glass side panel which can be removed with the push of a button. The front I/O ports are illuminated with red LEDs so that you have no trouble plugging or removing peripherals in the dark.
It may not be the prettiest or the smallest mATX case on the market, but the Node 804 is certainly one of the best there is. This case uses a cube design, and has a transparent side panel so you can show off your fancy RGB fans and high end CPU cooler. Talking of cooling, the Node 804 can fit up to 10 fans and comes with three Silent Series R2 120mm fans preinstalled, as well as a fan controller.
Frequently Asked Questions-
What features should you look for?
First off, you need to center your case around the build, not the other way around. Set a budget for your gaming PC build, and leave yourself a little extra room for the case and peripherals like gaming mouse, keyboard, etc. Then, think about the following- how much storage do I need? How many graphics cards will I run? What kind of cooling shall I use? If you are interested in a liquid cooled mATX build, it is a good idea to check the case for radiator mounting spots. What is the largest size of radiator that the case will support? How many 120mm and 140mm fans can it take? In case you plan to keep things simple and air cool the CPU, it is important to check the CPU cooler clearance in your case. How tall of a CPU cooler can you fit in there, and will there be any issues with mounting the RAM kits? Of course you will purchase low- profile CPU coolers and low- profile DDR4 RAM, but these things still need to be measured beforehand. Check the manufacture site to get exact figures on cooler clearance and radiator support.
Once you have all of that sorted out, look for cases that come with features which make it more convenient and enjoyable to build the system. Aesthetics matter too, if you want your case to blend in with the rest of the room and surrounding peripherals. There are steel mATX cases with regular side panels, and you also have mATX cases with tempered glass side panels which are great if you want to show off your RGB CPU cooler and RGB case fans. But make sure that the case also has good cable management options if you go with a transparent side panel, since there is nothing more embarrassing than a gaming PC build in which motherboard, fan, and GPU cables are spread out all over the place. This makes the build look unorganized and takes away from the attractiveness of the case as well as internal components. Cable management grommets are present in every premium mATX case, and some of them even have chambers behind the motherboard where you can stow away all your cables.
There are cases with shrouds to hide the power supply and give the system a much cleaner look. If you are interested in water cooling, make sure that there is a cutout for the CPU cooler. And if you want to go with a RGB build, you can purchase one of the cases from your preferred brand that comes with RGB fans and a RGB controller preinstalled.
What does mATX mean?
Micro ATX or mATX refers to an internationally recognized motherboard standard. The mATX standard trickled down from ATX, which is the type of motherboard that most people use (over 60 percent of PC builds are ATX). ATX stands for Advanced Technologies Extended, and any device that is ATX compliant is guaranteed to fit on an ATX motherboard. A Mini ATX motherboard is smaller than an ATX motherboard and mini ITX is smaller than even mATX. A case that is designed to accommodate an ATX motherboard can also fit a mATX or mini ITX motherboard, but a case designed for mATX or mini ITX cannot fit ATX motherboards. And then you also have E-ATX or Extended ATX which is larger than ATX. So exactly what defines the standard of a motherboard? Mainly it is the size- ATX motherboards measure 305mm (height) x 244mm (width). They have support for up to 7 expansion cards and 4 memory slots for RAM. So to run a 3-way or 4-way SLI or crossfire system, the minimum requirement is an ATX motherboard and a case with 8 GPU slots. Micro ATX boards are physically smaller at 244mm x 244mm, and support fewer expansion cards. They also tend to be less expensive compared to ATX motherboards. Micro ATX boards have 2 to 4 memory slots and support a maximum of 4 expansion cards, which means you can either run 4 single slot expansion cards or a two- way SLI/ Crossfire setup. Mini ITX boards are even smaller than mATX, measuring just 170mm x 170mm. They are also cheaper than mATX and feature even fewer slots for graphics cards and RAM (2 memory slots maximum, and a single expansion card for one dual slot graphics card). Here is a quick explanation of the different PC motherboard types and sizes.
The different types of PC cases
Unlike motherboards, PC case types and sizes are not standardized. However, over time PC builders and manufacturers have come to use specific terms for cases based on their height and number of external expansion bays. For instance, you have the most common PC case type- the Mid Tower. A mid tower case is expected to be within 17 and 21 inches tall, and it should have 3 to 4 external expansion bays for stuff like hard drives and optical disk drives. They must also be capable of fitting a standard ATX motherboard. Full towers are the next category, they are taller than mid towers and range between 22 to 27 inches in height. Full towers also have 5 or more external expansion slots, and support both ATX as well as EATX motherboards. If you want to go all- out with a high budget gaming PC, and need 8 hard drives along with a quad SLI/Crossfire graphics card setup, full towers are for you. They are also easier to build in, because of their roomy nature and ample space for just about any kind of liquid cooling system that you can think of. Mini towers are the cases which are shorter than 17” and only support 2 dual slot graphics cards with a maximum of 2 or 3 expansion bays in the front. The mini tower cases can accommodate mATX or mini ITX motherboards. If you want a case specifically designed for mini- ITX motherboards, check out Small Form Factor (SFF) cases. To learn more about cases, check out this video.
Which one of these mATX cases is the best?
NZXT’s H400i looks sleek and has brilliant cable management. The InWin 301 min tower has a tempered glass side panel while maintaining a relatively affordable price tag. Fractal Design separates the hotter components from the colder ones by splitting the inside of their Node 804 cube case into two segments, this improves airflow and cooling performance. You know what Corsair did? They took all the aforementioned features, and fused them together to create the Crystal 280X RGB. Not only does it looks great and have brilliant cable management, but the internals are split into two chambers just like the Fractal Design Node 804 so that you can keep the PSU, cables, and hard drives in their own separate space. The airflow is excellent, and it can accommodate 240mm radiators on the front and in the floor, or a 280mm radiator on the top. It even comes with two Corsair LL120 RGB fans preinstalled, along with a Lighting Node Pro RGB controller so that you can sync up all your RGB accessories within the case and control them easily through software.
Yes, the case is more expensive compared to its competitors, but it also includes two RGB fans and a controller both of which combined cost nearly as much as the InWin 301 case. If you don’t want to pay extra for the RGB, you could purchase the Air 240 case which is the platform from which the 280X is derived. The Crystal 280X is a modified Air 240 with RGB components. But if you then go ahead and purchase two LL120 RGB fans and a Lighting Node Pro on top of the Air 240, you will end up spending more than what you would have if you just purchased a 280X in the first place. And the 280X is better suited to RGB builds when compared to the Air 240, because it is equipped with tempered glass panels on both the side and roof, whereas that Air 240 has a simple plastic side panel with wide borders that limit the side view.
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