I was having a chat the other week with Lifehacker's Spandas, who was looking forward to building a new PC that weekend. The topic of computer cases came up, and she remarked that the build wouldn't feel right without a full-sized tower.
Having grown up with a 286 PC and remembering the time I poured out a glass teddy bear of savings to purchase my first rig, I get it. But PC hardware has come an long way in recent years, and the days of needing a giant tower for giant framerates are over. Here are a few reasons why you should look at a mini PC like ASUS's ROG GR8 II, instead of an oldschool beast.
SSDs are ridiculously cheap
There used to be a time where it was impractical and costly to build your PC around multiple SSD drives. They didn't have enough storage; they were too expensive; they were guaranteed to fail after 2 years, if not sooner.
But times change, and hardware gets better. Case in point: a regular 500GB SSD drive will cost you anywhere from $230 to $260. 250GB SSDs are even cheaper, and their reliability has improved so markedly that they're now the default option for many notebooks and ultrabooks.
The practical effect of that means you don't need as much space, or airflow, for your hard drives. It means you get neat solutions like the BitFenix Prodigy, which has slots in the side door for two SSDs, or Phanteks' EVOLV ITX which has separate brackets for SSD drives on the rear side of the motherboard. And if you're buying a pre-built rig like the GR8 II, it means manufacturers can use the extra space for more efficient cooling, which can lead to higher frame rates and a more stable experience.
Mini PCs can fit full size graphics cards just fine
Part of the problem originally with mini-sized PCs was that you were making a trade-off in power. Because of the space you had to work with, full-sized GPUs were out of the question - and that meant compromising frame rates, resolution, effects, all the things that gamers hate giving up.
But good design has come a long way, and just about every mini-ITX case can support graphics cards up to 320mm. And to illustrate just how much room that is, the GeForce GTX 1080 reference design is just under 270mm. Even the ASUS dual-fan variant of the Radeon RX 480 is only 242mm long.
You don't have to squeeze nuts and bolts to get a full-size GPU into a mini-gaming PC - although getting a card like this in might still be a bit of a stretch. Manufacturers have also found clever solutions for getting high powered GPUs into a small space: the Gr8 II might be around the same size as the original Xbox One and the PS4, but it's got a custom, VR-ready GeForce GTX 1060.
Mini cases can be more versatile
With the advent of VR and the rise of living room PCs before that, there's been an increased need for PCs to look stylish. Massive PC cases, especially ones tricked out in synchronised, controllable LED lighting, have always had a style of their own.
But there's a difference between PC style and the sort of style you need for a living room. And traditional PC cases don't cut it. But mini gaming PCs do. It just depends on what you're after: you can go for a cabinet or shoebox-esque case which could take the place of a console quite nicely under a TV. Alternatively, there’s the vertical-aligned offering, ranging from standalone cases to prebuilt solutions like the ROG GR8 II.
And it's not just the case's positioning that makes them versatile. For one, they're absurdly simple to pick up and move whenever you want - handy for an impromptu LAN party, or if you want to get some couch co-op action going at a friend's place.
It's also not difficult to pick up the whole unit and move it from the living room to your study or bedroom, meaning you can have the full cinematic gaming experience in the evening, and kick on the next morning with your mouse and keyboard in Overwatch or Counter-Strike without any trouble. And if you are someone who appreciates aesthetics, Mini PCs can offer just as many gorgeous and downright fun lighting choices as a larger PC.
As an example, the compact sized ROG GR8 II comes with Aura Sync RGB LED Lighting, giving users a plethora of lighting options that are customisable to suit their personal style, or even the game they're currently playing.
Keen on a red tinged Breathing Style mode for when you’re scaring yourself in Resident Evil Biohazard? You can do that. Rainbow? Absolutely. A strobe effect for when you slaughter your mates at Lijang Tower with the techno-loving Lucio? Please do.
For us control freaks, you can program it to change colour depending on how hot your GPU or CPU is running.
They run just as cool as a normal PC
Hardware is getting smaller all the time, and so is the amount of heat and noise they produce. There was once a time where a larger case was preferable, because at least you knew you would have the requisite airflow and cooling to keep everything running smoothly during intense workloads (especially during summer). But engineering has gotten a lot better and a lot more efficient. That's especially true of Intel's Kaby Lake CPUs, the most optimised and refined processors made on the company's 14nm architecture.
A smarter CPU means it doesn’t need to run as hot to get the same amount of power, which means you can have smaller, sleeker cases that won’t look like an eyesore in your living room. And the added bonus of this is that, unlike a console, your PC won’t sound like a jet engine every time you fire up The Witcher 3 or ARK: Survival Evolved.
Mini PCs have everything you need
While there will always be the hardcore enthusiasts out there who have genuine uses for 8x USB 3.0 ports, several PCI-express lanes and overclocked monsters, most of the gaming public does not. And yet because of that, people often invest in things they really don't need - and the clearest example of that is in the full and mid-sized towers that gamers buy, space that goes completely unused.
As an example, take a look at the ports available on the ASUS ROG GR8 II - a case just over 28cm tall and less than 9cm wide. (That's smaller than the PS4 Pro.) There's 4x USB 3.0 ports all up, a Type A and Type C USB 3.1 ports, 2x HDMI and a single DisplayPort port, ethernet, front and back audio ports and optical out.
For the majority of gamers, that's more than enough. You might use up to three on a permanent basis: two for your mouse and keyboard, possibly a third for a wireless receiver, and one of the USB-C ports to charge your phone. But six or eight ports is outright overkill.
The same goes for CPUs. Mini PCs like the ROG GR8 II may be compact, but with an Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake at its helm, it packs just as much punch as a full sized rig. The main difference is that it comes in a far more convenient, and less cumbersome package.
By planning around what you actually use on a daily basis, you can have a PC that's more of a joy to live with instead of an oversized eyesore. And having a mini PC makes it easier to move around, which makes it less hassle for keeping your gaming area clean.
For a look at how much gaming hardware you can fit inside a case the size of a console, check out the ROG GR8 II Mini PC on the ASUS website.