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Micro ATX vs Mini ITX vs ATX Motherboards: Choosing the Right Size for Your Build

Deciding on the right motherboard size is a crucial part of planning any PC build. The form factor you choose impacts everything from performance and expandability to ease of building and future upgradability. This comprehensive guide examines the key differences between the three most popular options: full-size ATX, compact Mini ITX and balanced Micro ATX motherboards.

A Brief History of Form Factors

To understand the differences between modern ATX, Micro ATX and Mini ITX, it helps to first understand the origins and evolution of these now ubiquitous motherboard standards.

The original AT standard debuted in 1995 as an evolution from the aging Baby AT form factor. AT improved on internal connectors and board layouts to accommodate increasing complexity and capabilities of PC components.

ATX then built on this in 1997 with a more integrated, efficient design. Some key innovations included moving the CPU socket closer to expansion slots, consolidated cable connections, and integrated I/O shield. These changes made building significantly easier.

The smaller microATX variant arrived in 1997. It quickly grew popular among more budget-focused builders. It delivered much of the performance of full-size ATX in a more compact footprint.

Intel then introduced Mini ITX in 2001 to cater to embedded computing and compact PCs. The tiny 6.7" x 6.7â€3 boards proved revolutionary for small form factor computing. Mini ITX adoption accelerated with the rise of home theater PCs in the mid 2000s.

Now decades later, ATX remains the enthusiast standard while mini ITX carves a niche in tiny but mighty SFF builds. Letâ€TMs examine how the specifications and capabilities differ across these long-standing form factors.

Electrical Specifications

Modern ATX, Micro ATX and Mini ITX boards have some common fundamental elements that enable cross-compatibility to varying degrees.

Shared Standards

  • PCI Express
  • DDR Memory
  • SATA ports
  • USB connectivity
  • Multi-core CPU support

However, underneath the hood lie some important technical differences:


  • 24-pin primary power connector
  • 4-8 pin supplementary CPU power
  • 6 mounting holes
  • Higher 12+ layer PCBs on high-end models

Micro ATX

  • 24-pin main power connector
  • 4-8 pin for CPU
  • 4 mounting holes
  • Typically 4-6 layer PCB

Mini ITX

  • 24-pin main power
  • 4 pin for CPU
  • 2 mounting holes
  • 2-4 layer PCB

The reduced PCB layers on smaller boards allow cutting costs but high performance models still utilize thicker designs. The power delivery specifications also impact overclocking potential which weâ€TMll explore shortly.

First letâ€TMs quantitatively compare some key specification differences.

ATX vs Micro ATX vs Mini ITX – Spec Comparison

Specification ATX Micro ATX Mini ITX
Max Dimensions 12" x 9.6” 9.6” x 9.6” 6.7” x 6.7”
Expansion slots 4-7 1-4 1
RAM slots 4-8 2-4 1-2
Max GPU length No limit ~300mm 210mm
CPU cooler height No limit ~160mm 82mm
PCIe x16 slots 2-4 1-2 1
M.2 slots 3+ 1-2 1
Rear I/O ports Many Moderate Few
Power phases Up to 16+ ~8 ~6

Key Takeaways:

  • ATX offers best future-proofing with max expansion slots and connectivity
  • Micro ATX provides a healthy balance for most builders
  • Mini ITX prioritizes smallest footprint over upgradeability

Now letâ€TMs see how these spec differences ultimately impact performance…

Performance Impact

One of the biggest considerations when choosing a motherboard form factor is overall system performance both now and in the future. The innate expandability differences come into play here.

Multi-GPU Configurations

Thanks to having up to 7 PCIe slots, full size ATX boards readily support multi-GPU setups using SLI or Crossfire. This allows stacking graphics horsepower for running games at 4K or powering virtual reality.

Micro ATX boards typically offer 1-2 PCIe x16 slots, permitting dual card arrangements. Mini ITX is usually limited to a single GPU.

Here is a benchmarking performance comparison of some common multi-GPU configurations across the ATX, Micro ATX and Mini ITX form factors:

ATX vs mATX vs ITX GPU Benchmarks

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra (4K) Benchmark Scores

We can see full size ATX takes the performance crown for multi-GPU, while a single modern GPU still delivers decent 4K prowess on Mini ITX.

Storage Expansion

More PCIe and M.2 sockets on ATX boards also facilitates attaching vast amounts of blisteringly fast NVMe solid state storage. This aids professional media creation or running data centers.

ATX vs mATX vs ITX Storage Expansion

Maximum Theoretical SSD Capacities

For most home and gaming usage, the 1-2 M.2 sockets common on Micro ATX and Mini ITX provide sufficient speedy storage. But ATX offers nearly unlimited expansion room for the extreme power user‘s appetites.

Memory Support

Higher core count CPUs depend on large memory capacities and bandwidth to feed their threads. The greater number of DIMM slots on full size ATX directly permits adding more RAM:

ATX vs mATX vs ITX Max Memory Comparison

Supported Maximum Memory Configurations

64GB should easily satisfy even rigorous professional workstation usage these days. But it illustrates yet another advantage ATX maintains over its smaller brethren.


Given suitable high-end CPUs and proper cooling, larger ATX boards generally provide more overclocking headroom thanks to beefier VRMs and power phases:

ATX vs mATX vs ITX Overclocking Comparison

CPU Overclock Percentage (Above Base Clock)

As expected, the difference is minor for mainstream 65W parts but quite substantial when pushing power limits on unlocked enthusiast CPUs.

In summary, while the compact Mini ITX and Micro ATX boards offer perfectly adequate performance for general duties, ATX remains king at the extreme end. But you pay the price premium for the privilege as we‘ll examine next.

Cost Considerations

With increased capabilities comes increased costs. Unsurprisingly, full-sized ATX boards command higher prices while ITX models focus on portability and efficiency:

Form Factor Price Range
ATX $100 – $700
Micro ATX $50 – $250
Mini ITX $100 – $400

There can be considerable price overlap however, as flagship ITX boards with premium features encroach on or even exceed mid-range ATX models targeting budget buyers. Top of the line overclocking-focused models with exotic VRMs and bleeding edge ports fetch north of $500 in either form factor.

You certainly pay extra for the engineering that stuffs full sized ATX performance into the ultra compact Mini ITX dimensions. Value-focused buyers may prefer Micro ATX here.

Keep in mind additional costs like small form factor power supplies and low profile coolers when comparing any SFF build against standard ATX towers as well.

That said, dropping component costs over generations allows even compact motherboards to deliver excellent performance efficiency…

Performance Per Dollar Comparison

Factoring in the premium commanded by miniaturization and extreme overclocking ability, most regular users get more bang for buck from the smaller boards:

ATX vs mATX vs ITX Price Efficiency Comparison

Cinebench R23 Multi Core Score Per Dollar Spent

As this benchmark data highlights, Micro ATX emerges as the efficiency sweet spot nowadays. The chart uses an average selling price sampled across a variety of model specifications and brands. It reveals just how capable even ITX boards have gotten compared to the much larger ATX legacy.

Of course, money is only one factor to consider. Your use case should dictate priorities…

Ideal Use Cases

Given the inherent size versus expandability tradeoffs, certain builds lend themselves best to each form factor:

Good ATX Build Examples

  • Extreme gaming rig (multi-GPU, exotic cooling)
  • Professional workstation (maximum cores/memory/storage)
  • GPU-based render box
  • High core/thread count application server
  • Any build needing 7+ expansion cards

Solid Micro ATX Use Cases

  • Compact office productivity PC
  • Living room gaming computer
  • Home theater PC (HTPC) media center
  • VR-ready gaming rig
  • Mid-range NAS storage box

Top Mini ITX Applications

  • Tiny media center
  • Compact router/firewall
  • Space-limited console rival
  • Under desk work PC
  • Wall-mounted CAD rig
  • Tablet-like touchscreen
  • Industrial computing

Full ATX shines when thermal limits, noise levels and budgetary constraints fly out the window! A decked out EATX board leaves room to push the boundaries of extreme performance.

Micro ATX handily condones whisking a capable gaming PC from the basement to the living room. Its smaller footprint also blends easier into grown up offices versus towering behemoths.

And ubiquitous Mini ITX spawns creativity – fueling one-of-a-kind appliances like household controllers or mobile workstations. Its no-compromises size constraints do require careful component selection however…

Special Considerations for compact Mini ITX Builds

While Micro ATX allows stretching legs a bit from cramped Mini ITX quarters, small form factor computing remains challenging. Substantial planning and foresight helps avoid headaches down the road.

Component Selection

With ultra compact enclosures in mind, give careful consideration to:

  • CPU cooler height clearance
  • GPU length limits
  • Right angle cables
  • High efficiency PSUs
  • Strategic fan positioning

Adequate Cooling

Heat quickly becomes an enemy in tight cases with little airflow. Low profile air coolers or compact all-in-one liquid solutions help provide essential heat dissipation.

Case Modding

Custom cabling and relocating drive mounts externally in some instances radically improves thermal performance. Getting creative expands what components can be squeezed inside minimal space.

Power Supply Size

Employ a PSU size commensurate to required wattage with conscious allowances for future expansion. Efficiency > 80 Plus Gold units generate less waste heat as well.

While certainly more challenging, selecting the right Mini ITX components allows rivaling and even exceeding traditional ATX desktops, now with featherweight portability!

Top Motherboard Recommendations

Here are some of my top picks spanning high-end, mid-range and budget offerings across the ATX, Micro ATX and Mini ITX categories:

Best ATX Motherboards

Best High End ATX Motherboards

ATX Enthusiast Class

  • ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 Extreme – LGA1700 flagship loaded with connectivity
  • MSI MEG X670E ACE – Cutting edge AMD AM5 platform
  • Gigabyte Z790 AORUS Extreme – DDR5 beast with insane VRMs

Content Creator Workstations

  • ASUS ProArt Z790-Creator WiFi – Thunderbolt 4 built-in
  • Gigabyte Z790 Designare – Unique external clock gen

Best Micro ATX Motherboards

Best Value Micro ATX Boards

Intel B660 Chipset

  • MSI Pro B660M-A WIFI DDR4 – Well rounded features
  • ASUS TUF Gaming B660M-Plus WiFi DDR4 – TUF gaming essentials
  • ASRock B660M Steel Legend – PCIe 5.0 ready

AMD B650 Chipset

  • ASUS TUF Gaming B650M-Plus WiFi – New Zen 4 support
  • MSI MAG B650M Mortar WiFi – High-end mATX focused
  • Gigabyte B650 AORUS Elite AX – DDR5 and USB 4

Best mini itx motherboards

Favorite Mini ITX Boards

AM4 Socket

  • MSI MPG B550I Gaming Edge WiFi – Feature rich ITX
  • ASRock B550 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ax – 802.11ax Wi-Fi
  • Gigabyte B550I AORUS Pro AX – Compact premium

Intel 1200 Socket

  • ASUS ROG Strix Z590-I – Loaded small board
  • ASRock Z590M-ITX/ax – Thunderbolt 4 onboard
  • Gigabyte Z590I Vision D – Creator focused

For detailed breakdown and analysis of the best motherboards across various chipsets, check out my guides here:

Best Z790 Motherboards for 13th Gen Raptor Lake CPUs

Top X670 & B650 Motherboards for Ryzen 7000 desktop builds

I purposefully diversify recommendations across the major vendors given unique innovations like ASUSâ€TM comprehensive software suite or ASRockâ€TMs pioneering PCIe 5.0 support.

Do your research as products evolve generationally. I base suggestions on optimal combinations of VRMs, power design, connectivity and expansion capabilities relative to intended use case and price points.


Determining the right motherboard size involves juggling the tradeoffs inherent to the ATX, Micro ATX and Mini ITX form factors.

Full-sized ATX boards cater best to performance enthusiasts wanting unlimited expansion room. The leading edge features and comprehensive rear panel connectivity also provide excellent future upgradability. However the bigger dimensions result in increased costs and size considerations.

For more budget-focused mainstream PC builds, Micro ATX hits the sweet spot – delivering superb value and performance for most gamers and power users without costs ballooning into the stratosphere. The moderately compact dimensions also promote placement flexibility over bulky ATX towers.

And Mini ITX allows cramming shockingly potent desktop power into extremely compact spaces through clever component selection and case modding ingenuity. The no-compromises constraints demand planning but enable uniquely portable and efficient computers rivaling conventional setups.

There is no definitively “better” pick among these three popular motherboard form factors. Your own priorities and use case should dictate which size class makes the most sense when planning your next PC build. This guide aims to provide sufficient facts to navigate the tradeoffs inherent to choosing ATX, mATX or Mini ITX for your system.

Over twenty plus years after debuting, the ATX standard continues evolving to drive ever more extreme desktop performance. Yet the computing landscape increasingly prioritizes minimal environmental impact and focus on unique use cases where Mini ITX shines. And Micro ATX satisfies the computing demands of average users across generations of technology changes.

No matter your build goals, keeping current on specifications and components allows harnessing the form factor just right for you!