If you've been reading the site recently, you've probably noticed the real resurgence of mini-ITX mortherboards
. We've got Intel to thank for that since it's pushing the form factor hard this year - all these new mini-ITX boards are made for its Core i3 and i5 CPus with integrated graphics.
However, mini-ITX has been a real backwater until now, which means that many of the companies are exploring unknown territory.
This is good, because it creates optimisim and competition. Zotac, for example, wouldn't do well making full ATX motherboards and ECS' mini-ITX offering is pretty decent, so we're seeing smaller, less well known companies gaining exposure and driving the market.
This should then encourage the bigger motherboard manufacturers to up their games and come up with decent mini-ITX boards; in turn this will keep prices competitive and encourage case manufacturers and the supporting industry to join in with mini-ITX products, so there will be more choice for consumers.
The downside though is that mini-ITX has something of the Wild West about it, and I don't mean that you get a free pair of leather chaps in the box with your H55 board.
Intel has done well pushing the motherboard manufacturers to come up with creative mini-ITX designs, but neither it nor the mobo guys have really communicated much with end users about what the expect from mini-ITX.
Many people I've spoken to see mini-ITX as a way to build a ninja PC - complete with a full-fat quad-core overclock in a design that takes hardly any space.
No-one is saying telling people that it is too ambitious on a board that's 17cm square, because currently BIOSes even give ATX-level power adjustments. The fact is that the physical power hardware cannot take it. The size of mini-ITX boards limits them to just three or four phases of power, which equates to 65/75/95W (depending on the exact components used). That's not enough to handle the demands of heavily overvolted CPUs - especially not i5-750s or even i7s.
An analogy: it's like connecting a Ferrari engine to a gearbox and drive-shaft from a Mini. That engine will simply rip the rest of the car apart, and likewise, we expect many customers to not understand the limitations and blow the brains out of many-a-mini-ITX board.
Motherboard manufacturers I've spoken to have unanimously expected
customers to only use mini-ITX boards in low power and home theatre PCs. The opinion is "why would anyone want to overclock it?
" which is crazy considering their bread and butter is from overclocking. That OC gene doesn't just turn off in enthusiasts because we lost some PCB estate.
There clearly needs to be more dialouge and understanding between motherboard companies and enthusiasts before users sour on mini-ITX as a result of boards breaking, and companies dropping the format because it's costing too much in RMAs.