It’s much simpler to build a PC in a large ATX case than it is to build one in a tiny Mini-ITX case. However, it’s easy to see that so many gamers are tempted: A gaming PC in a Mini-ITX case is simple to transport to a friend’s house or to fit into a little gaming nook. However, when looking for a motherboard for small PCs like these, you must be extra cautious, since Mini-ITX boards are recognised as well for what they aren’t as for what they are. If you’re gazing at the Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming, don’t worry. With one of Intel’s powerful eighth-generation Core “Coffee Lake” processors and several M.2 SSDs, this $189.99 Mini-ITX board lets you stack a completely portable PC case with the most strength imaginable these days. It’s a winner of a board as the basis for a dynamo of a gaming or efficiency PC.
Considering a Mini-ITX system? Parts Selection Is Critical
Fall to a smaller scale, like luggage, necessitates packing light. Mini-ITX motherboards are usually 6.7-inch squares, with slightly fewer part space than 9.6×12-inch ATX motherboards. Also MicroATX boards are bigger, with all of them measuring 9.6×9.6 inches. (See Buying a Motherboard: 20 Terms You Need to Use for a guide on motherboard jargon.) Unlike a MicroATX motherboard, which has two or three expansion slots, the Mini-ITX ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming only has one PCI Express x16 socket, like most of its kind. But you’ll have to make the most of that one slot.
A Mini-ITX board like this one can be used in a normal MicroATX or ATX case as long as the motherboard tray has Mini-ITX standoff holes. (Most people will.) You’ll be able to use a standard-size power supply if you do this. However, if you want a Mini-ITX case to save energy, you can need to invest in a dedicated power supply optimized for small cases. (In most cases, these are referred to as “SFX type factor” power supplies, and they are more expensive for any specified wattage.) You can also pay care to the cooling equipment and other components’ scale specifications. Depending on the case you mount the Mini-ITX board in, you can incur hidden costs that are not readily visible.
Smaller modules do not necessarily imply lower costs, and the same is true for the board itself. You can pay more for the ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming than for a full-size ATX motherboard with the same Intel Z370 chipset and several more slots and ports. Any completely loaded Z370 ATX boards can cost more than $200, however as of this writing, simple Z370 ATX boards start at $99, with several equivalent-featured Z370 boards from Asrock, Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI costing $140 to $150.
Keeping an Eye on the Board of Directors
The Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming lacks much in the way of illumination (on the top side, at least), but it does have three big brushed-aluminum heatsinks, which will provide plenty of eye candy in a Mini-ITX PC case with a side window.
The LGA 1151 CPU socket is located in the middle of the ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming, with heatsinks on three sides. On the right, two memory slots border the CPU socket, leaving only enough room for a heatsink fan or a water block. Unfortunately, the architecture eliminates several possible routes for liquid-cooling tubes to stop passing directly through the memory modules. That’s not a concern if the cooling system will easily snake over the DIMMs. Most builders won’t have a problem with it, but it serves as a warning that constructing a PC in a regular ATX case is usually simpler.
Asus rendered the lone PCI Express x16 slot extra-durable by wrapping it in steel. Given the weight of today’s game-friendly video cards and the probability that a Mini-ITX PC would be subjected to jolts when being transported to LAN parties and other gaming activities, this is a smart idea.
While it’s difficult to imagine a motherboard called the “ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming” being used for something other than gaming, it’s worth remembering that all of the compatible Intel CPUs have onboard graphics. As a result, you may depend on Intel UHD Graphics and use the PCI Express slot for something else. For example, the Asus Hyper M.2 x16 card will provide extra M.2 slots to DIYers.
However, most builders should not be disappointed by M.2 compatibility on this surface. Gamers can appreciate the board’s two M.2 spaces, which will accommodate M.2 sticks up to Type-2280 in height. (That’s a length of 80mm.) The top M.2 slot has a big aluminum heatsink, which is a good touch by Asus. Surprisingly, the heatsink even reaches (parts of) the underside of your storage unit.
On the other side of the ledger, the M.2 slot is just below its twin. The M.2 slot on the front of the board serves both SATA and PCI Express M.2 SSDs, while the one on the back is just PCI Express. (For more details, see our review of the best M.2 solid state drives.)
It’s also worth looking at the lines of RGB LEDs around the motherboard’s edge nearest to the memory slots. The lights cast a subtle underglow on the motherboard tray. While it isn’t exactly RGB fireworks, Mini-ITX doesn’t provide many options for onboard bling. So this would have to do, and it does so admirably.
Plenty of Ports and Headers for the Size
The I/O panel on the Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming is nearly the entire width of the frame, as is common of Mini-ITX boards. The SupremeFX audio codec is supported by a standard series of audio ports on the wall. The Wi-Fi card on the motherboard is nearby, with two antenna connectors available. For your phones, the board has 802.11ac Wi-Fi (with MU-MIMO support, which is a good touch), as well as Bluetooth 4.2.
Near the left side of the I/O panel, Asus stacked a USB 3.0 Type-A port on top of a USB 3.0 Type-C port. Following that is a stack of four USB 2.0 ports, DisplayPort and HDMI outputs for the Intel IGP, and two more USB 3.0 Type-A ports.
That’s a good number of USB ports for such a small board, and Asus topped it off by including a USB 3.1 Gen 2 connector. It’s just an internal header (it’s not visible on the I/O panel), so it’s worth noting. Some, but not always, brand-new PC cases can have a cable for this header that allows you to link it to a front-panel Gen 2 socket.
Internal ports and headers on Mini-ITX motherboards are severely restricted, particularly along their edges. The PCI Express x16 slot takes up almost the whole lower edge of the ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming. Just a few headers for M.2 systems were able to fit into the narrow open spaces near the heat spreader, according to Asus. Two of the board’s fan and pump connections are tucked in with front-panel audio connectors and USB 2.0 headers.