Why You Don't Need A Full-Sized PC

Image: ASUS

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

Image: Kotaku

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

Image: ASUS ROG Blog

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

Image: Supplied

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.


Comments

    I think the determining factor for people would be how much storage they want in their computers.
    Even in an age of streaming content, a lot of people still like to collect their media; games are getting bigger and bigger as well.

    The solution may be a dedidcated file-server, a NAS or portable HDDs, but then with those it's another separate thing to maintain/move.

      Yup. I have a nice corsair case but it only fits 2 normal sized hard drives. Sure I can have 3 ssd's but I really miss my old case where I could have up to 6 hdd's.

      I now have 3 old hdd's in a drawer just... Sitting. It's sad. I'd use them if I could.

          Awesome! How did I not know about these?

          How does it work? I'm using an older mobo so I only have 1 sata3 connection free.... Do I need a separate connection for each drive?

          That thing is so cool!

            Sorry I didn't realise there were different outputs, I'm used to a single 2.5" enclosure for old laptop drives that goes to USB3.0.

            This one below lets you choose USB3.0 output or eSATA, the other one I sent was just 3xsata out I think, all you need for this is a USB port!

            https://www.scorptec.com.au/product/Hard-Drives-&-SSDs/Enclosures/55621-MH-3643-JSC

            Last edited 01/02/17 10:06 am

              That thing looks cool!

              But I might grab a 5.25" bay converter. That way I can just use one of the drives still but i can stash it inside the PC and use the 1 sata I have left.

              It's a shame though. I have a 320GB drive that, no joke, I bought it 2006! It still works but I know at it's age, it probably won't work again if I ever get around to hooking it up to something. And lord knows I can't sell a 10 year old drive.

              I find it really satisfying when computer tech lasts for years. I hate the constant upgrades involved in keeping a tight rig. I just want things to last.

                Yeah I like to choose when to upgrade things, just because it's old doesn't mean it's no good!

                A 320gb drive in 2006 would've cost heaps too I'm sure!

                I had a couple of 200gb drives in my first desktop, I did consider re-tasking them a few years ago but you can get 2tb 2.5" portable drives for a little over $100 so there didn't seem much point!

    The big reason i got a full tower for my build was that i had a closed loop liquid CPU cooler (Corsair H100i) that required a radiator to be installed, which takes up a lot space and risked having the fans blowing hot air right back onto my CPU and graphics card, making it pretty useless.

    You're right in that you definitely don't need one, but if you are going for an enthusiast grade build then you have to have enough space to put in the things you want, also having a case that is Modular is pretty important as well for that.

    If you are someone who doesn't especially like USB DAC's, sound expansion is another reason why you might go a larger case.

    Myself, I run two video cards, with the more powerful card passed thru to a Windows VM for gaming whilst the weaker card runs my OpenSUSE desktop.

    But have to agree somewhat, oo many people opt for things that are far too large.

      I used to run two video cards as well (got 2x GTX 780s on launch), but the support for SLI/Crossfire has been so awful, or nonexistent, in the last couple of years that I just can't see the value in it anymore. But I'm coming at it purely from a gaming perspective, and not the other possibilities (bitcoin mining, multiple desktops or virtual machines, data research, graphics workstation, etc).

      I run 2 x video cards also, specifically for 3 x Monitor outputs.
      While I do game, a lot, the primary purpose for multi-monitoring is for research activities and report writing.
      Being able to have raw data on one screen, charts/diagrams/etc on a second, and my core report on third is invaluable, alt-tab would drive me nuts.

        The laptop I use at work is already capable of driving it's builtin screen plus 2 additional monitors.
        I'm sure a single modern video card can power more than 2 monitors.

    There is a happy medium between mini cases and full towers called Mid ATX towers you know...In the end you choose the form factor that fits your needs...a full tower still offers a greater cooling potential (particularly if you go liquid cooling and the like)

      Yup, that's what I'm personally looking at. I'd like to downsize (currently on an ATX sized mid tower) but can't go full ITX as I need room for a 240mm radiator, a couple of hard drives/SSDs and a GTX1070.

      Thinking mATX, possibly the mATX version of the Bitfenix Prodigy, or a Corsair Obsidian 350D (though that doesn't actually look that small).

      Last edited 01/02/17 1:52 pm

    lol i was mildy confused why your link sent me to a computer that ran a GTX750Ti

    did you mean this? https://www.asus.com/au/ROG-Republic-Of-Gamers/ROG-GR8-II/

    I think there's a lot of consideration for a modern PC, most of which has been covered. Me personally, I still prefer having a blu ray drive, you know for the odd occasion i feel like doing a BSG binge or a Marvel Cinematic Universe binge

    I think its still cheaper and more expandable to still do it the old fashioned way.

    I dunno, I currently have 2tb internal storage and 2tb in an (almost) always connected USB drive and would be looking to increase my internal storage in my next build since I frequently run out of space.

    I also use way more than 3 USB ports on a permanent or nearly permanent basis. Mouse, keyboard, USB headphones, USB DAC, webcam, external drive... I'm always using all 8 rear and both front USB ports on my current rig, would actually prefer to increase to 4 front ports.

    In the linked PC, no way a 750Ti would cut the mustard for me and I also use my optical drive regularly enough that I would miss it.

    I think it's true that a lot of people will be happy with a mini PC but I think most PC gaming enthusiasts legitimately do need a proper tower.

      Yep, agreed. I think I have about 6TB of internal storage now, and I'm going to update that soon because one or two of my drives are getting pretty old.

      I also use a lot of USB ports - my headphones take up two, my keyboard takes two, mouse, printer (yes, I still have a printer), even a fitbit dongle (although that could be removed if I upgraded to a motherboard that has bluetooth built in). And that doesn't include the removable things like iPod, phone and external hard drive cables.

      Agreed. I need a tonne of USB ports..

      2x for RGB keyboard
      1x for mouse
      2x for gamepads
      1x for Steam Controller
      1x for external BD/DVD drive
      1x for external HDD (though not permanent)
      1x for external USB mic
      2x for USB hubs built into monitors.
      and some free ports for plugging in phone/tablet et al.

      I love compact cases, but so far most of them cut out too much functionality to be practical. I have a PCI wifi AC card (asus) with external antenna for example, which most cases will not fit due to cutting off access to the PCI slots except for one riser card to fit the GPU slot.

    I'd never buy a pre-built PC... always build them yourself :D

    And the mini cases you can buy separately are just like shrunken version of their larger counterparts... whereas ones like the Asus ROG GR8 look more like consoles, as they're pre-built and the internals are god-awful if you wanted to change anything :D

    I have a mid tower at present, and it's nowhere near big enough. It's old, so that's partly to blame. My GPU has about 2mm between it and the HDD bays. I have 6 HDD's loaded in the bays, and another 4 that just have to stand vertically outside my case cos there's just no room for them. Sure I'd like to get a NAS, but I need to upgrade my pc first, as it's getting old now, so I will likely get a slightly larger case, though I don't think I'll go for a full tower. I had one of those many years ago, and it was almost as tall as my desk! Mind you, it did have a dual cpu system running inside, so I really needed the space for it in those days.
    I could never go for a mini case to house my main pc. Perhaps my media pc that I have plugged in to my tv, but my work horse needs space!

    Iv been a big advocate of small gaming for some time now but none of my friends will go down that path because they love big towers. They are aware of the negligible performance differences but its purely personal preference to them.
    Id probably disagree with the thermals side of your story, my RVZ01 CPU runs ~8'c hotter in that case compared to a mid sized case and I had to change to a reference cooler designed GPU as the twin 120mm fans on my GPU were starved of airflow and raised the temps but the reference card worked like a charm.

    I have since swapped to a MATX case because I wanted hard piped watercooling, overclocing, additional ram slots and other cool stuff but im still a fan of the tiny cases and use them for my HTPC, server and second rig

    I built an ITX rig around an RX480 recently. All fit inside the Phanteks Enthoo ITX case, its great! Got x2 SSDs and a HDD in there too. Would never go back to ATX.

    I'll stick to my Xigmatek Elysium super tower. The caster wheels make moving it around easy.

    Today I ordered all the components I need to build a mitx in the node 302, to keep using my 970 g1 gaming

    My next PC later this year will be a Silverstone ITX custom DIY 'RX Vega' build. Buying these packaged up ones can be expensive and allot of them will have quite low end videocards in them.

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