It’s fascinating to build a mini-computer that can run the latest AAA game titles at 4K while having a footprint equal to a laptop.
Mini-ITX gaming PCs can now house top-performing gaming hardware, but there is a factor we need to consider: Heat Load. Due to their compact size, ensuring that all the heat escapes the PC case is challenging.
With an effective cooling system, the temperatures of the two primary heat-generating components, the CPU and GPU, can remain stable.
The steady temperatures of components increase with heat. As the rising temperature reaches an alarming value, the PC component starts to thermal throttle.
Thermal throttling saves hardware from damage but reduces the computer’s speed to lower heat production. It directly affects the gaming performance, resulting in lower frames-per-second (fps) and stuttering.
CPU, GPU, and SSDs are the primary hardware that thermal throttles under high heat conditions, especially in small enclosures.
Whether you are playing with your favorite GTA V modded account or CyberPunk 2077 to display your rig online, heat production is a cause of concern.
There is little space in Mini-ITX casings, so the most challenging aspect is fitting a cooling system. A PC builder can use a liquid cooling kit or an air-based cooler.
This guide will explore how to cool a powerful Mini-ITX gaming PC that annihilates laptop computers. Let’s get into the details of understanding, selecting, optimizing, and testing a cooling system for a Mini-ITX PC.
Understanding the Challenges of Cooling a Mini-ITX PC
The term Mini-ITX PC comes from the motherboard form factor. Mini-ITX motherboard is 170 mm × 170 mm, ideal for miniature PC build.
It allows PC casing to become smaller with sizes identical to gaming consoles. However, there are two main challenges to cooling a Mini-ITX PC: Space to fit hardware and heat routing.
Let’s look at each of them to understand the challenges so we can later pick the right parts for the Mini-ITX PC to build.
Manufacturers continuously develop unique designs to house enormous components in trimmed cases.
Fractal Ridge, Lian Li Q58, and Phanteks Evolv Shift 2 are just some big names of Mini-ITX casings that can accommodate big graphic cards such as the Asus TUF Gaming RTX 4080 OC: 318mm.
A typical dimension of an SFF case is 342mm x 170mm x 250mm. Carefully planning components is critical. The cramped-up hardware leaves little room for airflow. The cooling system must be efficient and robust to force air flow and fit within the confined space.
High Heat Output of Gaming Components
Gaming takes a toll on hardware, pushing it to the limits. GPU, CPU, Motherboard VMUs, RAM, SSD, and PSU are PC heat-generating components. GPU tops the chart in thermal load, followed by CPU.
Here are some examples of heat loads:
|PC Component||Product||Thermal Load (Watts)|
|CPU||Intel Core i9-13900K||125W|
|GPU||Asus TUF Gaming RTX 4080 OC||320W|
|RAM||Kingston Fury Beast DDR5-6000 (4x8GB)||28W|
|SSD||Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB||7W|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG Strix Z790-I Gaming WiFi||5W|
As we can see in the above example, the total heat load of a typical gaming PC build is around 485W, and it can go higher with the addition of external cards, etc.
*We excluded PSU from the calculation as it usually operates independently without adding heat to system components.
Choosing the Right Cooling Components for Your Mini-ITX PC
When building a gaming PC with Mini-ITX form, factors such as performance/watt, dimensions, static pressure, airflow, liquid flow, and PC case design become critical.
Let’s dive into each element:
CPU cooler can take up a lot of space inside a PC case. Mini-ITX chassis have anywhere between 70 mm and 80 mm CPU height. Some may offer higher or lower clearance.
It leads us to a few options for liquid and air cooling. As buyers, we need to consider the following aspects before making a purchase:
- Cooler TDP should be higher than CPU TDP
- An air cooler should have a height lower than the PC case CPU clearance
- There are limited options for liquid cooling. Usually, a cooler with a single radiator fan or a custom loop works for the Mini-ITX case.
- Prioritize high static pressure and flow rate over fan RPM.
- Low-profile air coolers are an excellent option for compact cases.
Here are some of the popular options for low-profile CPU height Mini-ITX casing:
- Noctua NH-L12S: Noctua, with its silent air coolers, tops the list as the most silent air cooler. It has a 70mm height without a fan, and with a fan, it only takes up 128mm of space above the CPU. It supports a TDP of 88W.
- Be Quiet! Pure Rock LP: With 100W TDP support, Be Quiet has successfully manufactured an air-cooling unit with a total height of 45mm. It is the best air cooler for Mini-ITX gaming PC build.
- Corsair Hydro H60x: A few AIO (all-in-one) liquid cooling systems are compatible with Mini-ITX PC cases. One popular option is the Corsair Hydro H60x. It supports a 175W TDP processor and takes up 45mm space above the CPU.
- Custom Loop: Custom loops allow users to route the liquid as they prefer or find space. They are ideal for PC cases that have very tightly compact hardware.
In combination, GPU coolers, VRAM coolers, PCBs, and power delivery systems are collectively called graphic cards.
The heat production by the graphics card depends on its number of processors, operating frequency, architecture, lithography, and RAM configuration.
Graphic card manufacturers mention the TDP in their product specifications. Be sure to find the one with the lowest TDP and physical dimensions.
Here are the factors that a buyer should consider when purchasing a graphic card:
- Size: The cooling system should be compact to fit inside the dimensions of a mini-ITX PC case. A dual-fan Nvidia RTX 4080 has a better chance of holding than a tri-fan Nvidia RTX 4090.
- Power Consumption: A high-end graphic card with a flagship GPU will have higher power consumption, leading to higher heat production. Check the graphic card TDP and power consumption before finalizing one for your build.
- Performance: As a gamer, you will look deep into fps, refresh rate, output ports, etc. Check out the benchmarks for your favorite game before finalizing a graphics card.
As we mentioned, SSDs, motherboard chipsets, and RAMs also produce heat and usually don’t have enough space to fit a cooling system.
At most, they consist of a simple heatsink. The case fans play a vital role in pushing air throughout the system. It removes the heat from devices with no forced air or liquid cooling. Here are the factors you should consider when buying a case fan:
- Size: Usually, fans come in 80mm, 92mm, 120mm, 140mm, and 200mm sizes. The most popular size is the 120mm width and height fans. A mini-ITX case can fit any of them, but you must consider maximum flow through the PC case. It can result from using a larger quantity of small fans or one big fan.
- Static Pressure: It is the pressure that the fan generates to create flow through the system. A higher static pressure value means the fan can flow air through more significant obstruction in a mini-ITX case.
- RPM: High RPM doesn’t necessarily mean a high flow rate. The design of the fins and shroud plays a vital role in its performance. So, find the proper balance between each factor for best performance.
- Noise: Fans are the most significant source of noise in gaming setups. A low-noise fan with high static pressure is the best for the mini-ITX case.
- RGB: If you are a fan of aesthetics or own a PC case with a glass window to showcase your build. Then, select parts with custom RGB that are sync-enabled through software.
Here are some of the best PC mini-ITX case fans in a tabular form:
|Fan||Noise (dBA)||RPM||Static Pressure (mmH2O)||Size (mm)||RGB|
|Noctua NF-A12x25||25.1||1700||2.37||120 x 120x 25||No|
|ARCTIC P12 PWM PST||18.9||1800||2.9||120 x 120x 25||No|
|Be Quiet! Silent Wings 3||15.9||1600||2.41||120 x 120x 25||No|
|Corsair ML120 Pro RGB||22.3||1600||2.4||120 x 120x 25||Yes|
|Phanteks T30||22.5||2000||9.5||120 x 120x 30||No|
The power supply produces heat but usually routes away from the computer components directly outside. The amount of heat that the power supply has depends on its efficiency. Here are the typical power supplies and their efficiencies:
- 80 Plus Bronze: 82% efficiency
- 80 Plus Silver: 85% efficiency
- 80 Plus Gold: 88% efficiency
- 80 Plus Platinum: 92% efficiency
- 80 Plus Titanium: 94% efficiency
Optimizing Your Cooling System
Optimizing the PC build is a vital aspect of your computer system. Ensuring that the air has the right path to flow and that there is no obstruction across heat fins and heatsinks can lead to better-performing hardware.
Here are a few things you should optimize when building your PC:
Modern PC cases have cable management features like rubber grommets, dedicated cable routing channels, velcro straps, tie-down points, and shrouds.
They keep the cable away from the path of air, so make sure that the Mini-ITX PC case you select comes with these features.
Push and pull configuration for a small and compact PC case is ideal. A fan in the front that pushes air inside the case and a set of fans that pull the air out the back, top, or side can help cool the PC and maintain its temperature.
Speed-controlled fans via software are the best, but you will need a high-end motherboard to enable such features.
Place your computer in a place where there is decent airflow. To ensure that the hot air does not circulate back into the inlet. Avoid placing it in enclosed spaces. Table-top is the best place to put your mini-ITX gaming PC.
Test Your Build
Finally, test your build using dedicated software or in-built game benchmarks. Here are some of the software:
- FurMark: FurMark is a free and open-source stress test tool specifically designed to test graphics cards’ stability and cooling performance. It is a very demanding test, and it is essential to note that it can overheat your graphics card if it is not adequately cooled.
- Prime95: Prime95 is a free and open-source stress test tool designed to test CPUs’ stability and cooling performance. It is a very demanding test, and it is essential to note that it can overheat your CPU if it is not adequately cooled.
- AIDA64 Extreme: AIDA64 Extreme is a paid stress test tool designed to test the stability and cooling performance of all components in your PC. It is a comprehensive test and a good choice for users who want to test their system thoroughly.
- HWiNFO64: HWiNFO64 is a free and open-source system monitoring tool that monitors the temperature of all components in your PC. It is a good choice for users who want to monitor their system temperature during stress testing.
– My Final Conclusion:
Gaming has pushed manufacturer to experiment with their limits. Modern gaming Mini-ITX PC cases have the most compact design and still can house powerful hardware like the RTX 4080 graphics card.
A casual gamer building their entertainment rig, a streamer thriving for views to earn fame or a hardcore grinder on the lookout for something that helps them farm New World gold fast, needs a powerful gaming machine.
So why not make it compact like a gaming console? Mini-ITX gaming PC builds have the best aesthetics. They look elegant on table tops and have a unique vibe.
With excellent cooling options, Mini-ITX PC cases have become par with high-air flow machines. So get the best performance from a miniature-size Mini-ITX PC case and start your build today.