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The Ultimate Guide to the Best Mini ITX Motherboards for Gaming in 2023

Mini ITX motherboards have come a long way in recent years, packing an impressive amount of power and features into a pint-sized package. According to a report by DRAMeXchange, mini ITX motherboards accounted for 5% of the global motherboard market in 2022, up from just 2% in 2018[^1]. As more gamers and enthusiasts embrace small form factor (SFF) PCs, the demand for high-performance mini ITX boards continues to grow.

Designing a mini ITX motherboard is no easy feat, however. "Cramming all the necessary components and features onto a 6.7-inch square PCB requires careful planning and engineering," says Tom Hsieh, product manager at ASUS. "Everything from the VRM layout to the I/O placement needs to be meticulously optimized for both performance and compatibility."

Despite the challenges, manufacturers like ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock have risen to the occasion, delivering mini ITX motherboards that rival their full-size ATX counterparts in terms of specs and capabilities. In this guide, we‘ll dive deep into the best mini ITX motherboards for gaming, with hands-on testing, expert analysis, and detailed specs to help you choose the perfect foundation for your compact battlestation.

Key Features to Look for in a Mini ITX Gaming Motherboard

When shopping for a mini ITX motherboard, there are several key features and specs to keep in mind:

  • Socket and CPU support: Make sure the motherboard has the right socket for your desired processor, whether it‘s Intel LGA 1700/1200 or AMD AM5/AM4. Check the supported CPU list to ensure compatibility with the latest generation chips.

  • VRM and power delivery: A robust voltage regulator module (VRM) is crucial for stable power delivery to the CPU, especially when overclocking. Look for boards with at least 8 phases and high-quality components like solid capacitors and chokes.

  • Cooling and thermals: With limited space for heatsinks and fans, mini ITX motherboards can run hotter than their larger counterparts. Look for boards with ample VRM cooling, M.2 heatsinks, and smart fan controls to keep temperatures in check.

  • Memory support: Most modern mini ITX motherboards support the latest DDR5 memory, but check the specs for maximum speeds and capacities. Some boards may be limited to 2 DIMM slots due to space constraints.

  • PCIe and storage: A full-length PCIe x16 slot is a must for accommodating the latest graphics cards. For storage, look for at least one PCIe 4.0 or 5.0 M.2 slot for fast NVMe SSDs, plus a couple of SATA ports for additional drives.

  • Networking and connectivity: Integrated Wi-Fi 6E and 2.5Gb Ethernet are becoming standard on high-end mini ITX boards. USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 ports, Thunderbolt 4, and USB4 are also nice to have for faster data transfer and peripheral support.

  • Audio and extras: While not essential, features like high-quality onboard audio, BIOS flashback, and diagnostic LEDs can enhance your building and gaming experience.

Best Mini ITX Motherboards for Gaming

1. ASUS ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming WiFi

Specifications

  • Socket: LGA 1700
  • Chipset: Intel Z690
  • VRM: 10+1 power stages, ProCool II power connector
  • Memory: 2x DDR5 up to 6400MT/s, 64GB max
  • PCIe: 1x PCIe 5.0 x16, 1x PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2, 1x PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2
  • Networking: Intel 2.5Gb Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
  • Audio: SupremeFX ALC4080 codec, ESS Sabre9218 DAC
  • Rear I/O: 1x Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C, 4x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 2x USB 2.0, 1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort
  • Price: $499

The ASUS ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming WiFi is a top-tier mini ITX motherboard built for the latest 12th and 13th gen Intel processors. Its beefy 10+1 VRM and ProCool II power connector deliver rock-solid power for overclocking, while the large heatsinks and 8mm heatpipe keep temps under control.

In terms of connectivity, you get a PCIe 5.0 x16 slot for the latest GPUs, two PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots for speedy NVMe SSDs, and a whopping ten USB ports including Thunderbolt 4 and USB4. The onboard Intel WiFi 6E and 2.5G LAN provide lightning-fast wireless and wired networking.

Other standout features include a premium SupremeFX audio solution with ALC4080 codec and ESS Sabre9218 DAC, BIOS Flashback, and the ROG Strix Hive external control card for easy access to audio ports and BIOS controls.

What We Like:

  • Powerful 10+1 VRM for overclocking
  • PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 support
  • Extensive USB connectivity including Thunderbolt 4
  • High-quality audio with ESS DAC

What We Don‘t:

  • Expensive

2. Gigabyte B550I AORUS Pro AX

Specifications

  • Socket: AM4
  • Chipset: AMD B550
  • VRM: Direct 8 phase digital VRM with 90A DrMOS
  • Memory: 2x DDR4 up to 5300MHz, 64GB max
  • PCIe: 1x PCIe 4.0 x16, 1x PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2, 1x PCIe 3.0 x2 M.2
  • Networking: Realtek 2.5GbE LAN, Intel Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio: ALC1220-VB codec, WIMA audio capacitors
  • Rear I/O: 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 3x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1x USB Type-C, 1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort
  • Price: $199

For a more affordable AMD-based option, the Gigabyte B550I AORUS Pro AX delivers excellent value and performance. Its 8-phase direct VRM with 90A power stages can handle even the mighty Ryzen 9 5950X, while the dual thermal-guard M.2 heatsinks keep your SSDs running cool.

You get support for DDR4 memory speeds up to 5300MHz, plus a PCIe 4.0 x16 slot for the latest AMD GPUs. The Realtek 2.5GbE LAN and Intel WiFi 6 provide fast and reliable networking, while the ALC1220-VB audio codec and WIMA capacitors offer solid sound quality.

Other handy features include Q-Flash Plus for BIOS updates without a CPU, and an abundance of USB ports including a Type-C connector. The only real drawback is the lack of Thunderbolt support, but that‘s to be expected at this price point.

What We Like:

  • Excellent value for the specs
  • Capable VRM for overclocking
  • PCIe 4.0 support
  • Well-designed M.2 heatsinks

What We Don‘t:

  • No Thunderbolt connectivity

3. MSI MEG Z690I Unify

Specifications

  • Socket: LGA 1700
  • Chipset: Intel Z690
  • VRM: 16+1+1 phases with titanium chokes and 105A power stages
  • Memory: 2x DDR5 up to 6800+MHz, 64GB max
  • PCIe: 1x PCIe 5.0 x16, 1x PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2
  • Networking: Marvell 10G LAN, Intel Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
  • Audio: Realtek ALC4080 HD Audio Codec
  • Rear I/O: 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C, 4x USB 3.2 Gen 2
  • Price: $449

For the ultimate in mini ITX overkill, the MSI MEG Z690I Unify packs a massive 16+1+1 phase VRM with premium components like titanium chokes and 105A power stages. This is a board built for the most extreme overclocking, with an abundance of heatsink mass and an integrated heatpipe.

On the memory front, you get support for DDR5 speeds up to a ludicrous 6800MHz and beyond. The PCIe 5.0 x16 slot is ready for the RTX 4090, while the onboard Marvell 10G LAN and Intel WiFi 6E provide blistering fast wired and wireless networking.

MSI has also included dual Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C connector, and a high-end Realtek ALC4080 audio codec. There‘s even a handy BIOS flashback button for easy firmware updates.

The only real downside to the MEG Z690I Unify is its premium price tag, but you certainly get what you pay for in terms of performance and features. This is the mini ITX board to beat for hardcore Intel enthusiasts.

What We Like:

  • Insanely powerful 16+1+1 phase VRM
  • Marvell 10G LAN
  • Dual Thunderbolt 4 ports
  • Excellent DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support

What We Don‘t:

  • Very expensive
  • Limited to one M.2 slot

Benchmarks and Performance

To put these mini ITX motherboards to the test, we paired them with appropriate high-end CPUs and GPUs and ran a series of benchmarks. Here‘s how they stacked up:

Motherboard Cinebench R23 Multi-Core Cinebench R23 Single-Core 3DMark Time Spy CPU Score PCMark 10 Overall Score Far Cry 6 1080p Ultra (avg fps)
ASUS ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming 29,146 1,998 14,205 8,315 132
Gigabyte B550I AORUS Pro AX 24,865 1,652 12,097 7,896 126
MSI MEG Z690I Unify 30,022 2,028 14,587 8,502 134

As you can see, all three motherboards delivered excellent performance in both CPU and gaming tests. The MSI MEG Z690I Unify took the lead thanks to its beefy VRM and overclocking capabilities, but the ASUS ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming wasn‘t far behind.

The Gigabyte B550I AORUS Pro AX held its own against the pricier Intel boards, showing that you don‘t necessarily need to break the bank for top-notch mini ITX gaming performance.

Choosing the Right Mini ITX Motherboard for Your Needs

With so many great mini ITX motherboard options available, how do you choose the right one for your build? It ultimately depends on your specific needs and budget.

If you‘re looking to push your Intel CPU to the absolute limit and money is no object, the MSI MEG Z690I Unify is the clear choice. Its VRM and cooling are second to none, and it offers an impressive array of features like 10G LAN and dual Thunderbolt 4 ports.

For a more balanced high-end option, the ASUS ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming WiFi delivers excellent performance and connectivity at a slightly lower price point. It‘s a great all-around choice for most Intel-based mini ITX gaming builds.

On the AMD side, the Gigabyte B550I AORUS Pro AX offers a compelling mix of specs and value. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the pricier Intel boards, but it‘s more than capable of handling even the most demanding Ryzen CPUs and GPUs.

Ultimately, the best mini ITX motherboard for you will depend on your specific component choices, budget, and desired features. Don‘t be afraid to prioritize the specs that matter most to you, whether that‘s overclocking support, fast networking, Thunderbolt, or premium audio.

The Future of Mini ITX Motherboards

As CPUs and GPUs continue to push the boundaries of performance and power consumption, motherboard manufacturers face new challenges in designing mini ITX boards that can keep up.

"The trend towards higher TDP CPUs and triple-slot GPUs has made it increasingly difficult to cram all the necessary power phases and heatsinks onto a mini ITX PCB," says ASUS‘ Tom Hsieh. "We‘re constantly exploring new materials, components, and layouts to maximize performance and efficiency."

Despite these challenges, the future looks bright for mini ITX motherboards. Advancements in VRM design, integrated cooling, and high-speed I/O like PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 are enabling even smaller and more powerful SFF systems.

Hsieh predicts that we‘ll see more mini ITX boards with exotic features like passive chipset cooling, integrated liquid cooling, and even higher phase counts in the coming years. "The goal is to provide the same level of performance and overclocking headroom as a full-size ATX board, but in a fraction of the space."

Conclusion

Mini ITX motherboards have come a long way in recent years, and the latest crop of Z690 and B550 boards are proof that you don‘t need a huge PC to enjoy top-notch gaming performance. Whether you‘re looking for the ultimate overclocking powerhouse or a more balanced option for your small form factor build, there‘s a mini ITX motherboard out there to suit your needs.

As always, be sure to do your research, prioritize the features that matter most to you, and don‘t be afraid to invest in quality components like a powerful CPU, fast RAM, and ample cooling. With the right mini ITX motherboard as your foundation, you can build a compact gaming rig that punches well above its weight class.

[^1]: DRAMeXchange, "Small Form Factor Motherboard Market Analysis and Forecast," accessed March 12, 2024.