If you are thinking about building your very own computer from scratch, one of the most important components you need to research about before purchasing is the motherboard. This central circuit is basically the command system of your computer, because of its ability to connect the different components of the computer with each other. It acts as a pipeline, distributing power across the circuit boards, thus enabling the different parts to communicate with one another. Hence, finding the right motherboard for your computer is really a big deal, especially if you want to make use of the full potential of your machine and extend its life span.
Similar to any other computer part you know about, motherboards are also available in different sizes, come equipped with different features, and are priced differently as well. Of these three aspects, perhaps the one that almost all PC builders, especially first-timers, struggle with is the form factor of the motherboards, which basically refers to their layout and size. The form factor of a motherboard gives you essential information such as the component’s dimensions, number, and location of mounting slots, type of power supply, number of available ports, etc.
While motherboards are available in various formats and sizes, there are three types that have always been the most popular and preferred choice for desktop computers: Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX, and ATX. Yes, as their names suggest, these three motherboard types differ in their sizes; however, there is so much more you need to learn about these before concluding on what will best suit your computer.
Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX vs ATX (What’s The Difference)
First and foremost, the ATX motherboard is the first of the three types to have been introduced in the market, in 1995, and happens to be the most commonly used type of motherboards, suitable for almost all types of PC builds, even for an advanced gaming rig. As a result, ATX motherboards would be the perfect choice for you if you wish to eliminate the struggle associated with finding the right parts for your chosen motherboard, assembling them, and getting them to work.
Over the years, a lot of new variants of the ATX motherboard have been introduced, each of which differs in their parts, layout, and size. Ultimately, these motherboards can give you sufficient space for your needs, come with efficient cooling systems, are a great choice for overclocking, and will be compatible for any type of system.
Developed and released in 1997, a bit later than ATX motherboards, micro-ATX motherboards are known to be the ideal option for those looking to build a PC on a tight budget, or rather a budget-friendly gaming rig. This is mainly because the parts required for this motherboard type are relatively less expensive, thanks to their simple architecture.
Developed in 2001, the mini-ITX is known to be the smallest of the three motherboard types, making it the right choice for those building a portable machine apt for frequent travelers. Additionally, these motherboards help reduce power consumption and minimize PC running noise as well.
Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX vs ATX: Comparison
One huge difference you will notice between these three types of motherboards is their sizes. The biggest of the three is the ATX motherboards, measuring 12 inches x 9.6 inches. Micro-ATX motherboards happen to be the second largest, measuring 9.6 inches x 9.6 inches. Mini-ITX, on the other hand, measures only 6.7 inches x 6.7 inches, making it the smallest of the three.
Though the size is not a huge issue when it comes to choosing the right motherboard, one aspect you shouldn’t ignore is the size of your computer case, which should be big enough to accommodate the type of motherboard you need. For instance, if your computer case is one of those smaller models, you wouldn’t be able to use the standard ATX motherboards in your machine. Having a larger computer case, however, wouldn’t hurt, because it will be able to hold all the three motherboard types, regardless of what you choose.
Another main aspect that differentiates the Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX and ATX motherboard is their RAM size or the number of RAM slots that they come with. Due to their compact size, it is quite evident that Mini-ITX motherboards have only a smaller number of RAM slots when compared to the other two motherboard types. While the Micro-ATX and the traditional ATX motherboards come with up to four slots, Mini-ITX models carry only two, which typically means that they can store only half the memory of what the other two motherboards can.
While the Mini-ITX motherboards can hold up to 32 GB of RAM, the other two types can hold twice as much. But, it has to be mentioned that this size wouldn’t be an issue even for gamers since it is sufficient to support most modern and advanced games. On the other hand, if you are a professional and will be using software that consumes a whole lot of RAM memory, you may have to choose between Micro-ATX and ATX motherboards.
Number of PCIe Slots
The layout of these motherboards is another area where they differ from one another, and when it comes to layout, what stands out is the number of PCIe slots each of these motherboard models carries. The number of PCIe slots on your motherboard is an important factor to consider because this is where your graphics cards get supported in your PC, and the slots also enable you to use a wide range of other expansion cards.
Once again, ATX happens to be the clear winner here, supporting up to 7 PCIe slots in its design. Micro-ATX motherboards, on the other hand, come with up to 4 PCIe slots, whereas the Mini-ITX models have only one slot for the same.
Of course, the pricing of each of these motherboards also matters. Whether you are someone who thinks that price of a motherboard doesn’t really matter as long as it is efficient and functional or one of those buyers who wouldn’t mind letting go of a few features just to get the purchase within your budget, getting an overall idea about pricing can really help.
In the case of motherboards and their pricing, the first thing you should remember is that their price tags are not directly proportional to their size. For instance, just because mini-ITX motherboards are smaller and more compact in size, doesn’t really mean that they come with a smaller price tag as well. Yes, these motherboards are typically easier to manufacture; however, there are some parts used by the model that is more expensive, which in turn makes mini-ITX motherboards more expensive than the other two models. If you are looking to purchase a compact motherboard option and have allotted a budget of under $50 for the same, it will be extremely hard for you to find a mini-ITX motherboard in the price range. You will have to spend around at least a $100 to invest in a decent mini-ITX model.
On the contrary, ATX and micro-ATX motherboards, which are typically larger than mini-ITX, are available at just half the price of a mini-ITX. And because of the fact that micro-ATX motherboards happen to be the most widely used of the three, they tend to be the cheapest as well.
Which Motherboard Should You Choose?
The answer to this question depends on the type of computer you are looking to build. If yours is going to be a gaming PC, or even a good workstation, the micro-ATX motherboard would be the right choice for you, because of its ability to provide you with just the right amount of resources. With four PCIe slots and decent RAM size, this motherboard is a practical option for a gaming rig, and not to forget, its pricing is great too. And the same aspects make this motherboard a viable choice for a professional work PC as well, unless you will be engaging in a lot of photos or video editing.
If all you need is a compact and sleek machine, one you can carry during your travels, the going with the mini-ITX motherboard would be the straightforward choice. Yes, it is the most expensive option of them all, but, if size if what matters to you, especially if you are a frequent traveler, then spending that additional sum of money will be completely worth it.
And finally, if you are a professional, requiring a system that can handle the most demanding software and other intensive workloads, one that has maxed-out specifications, being able to handle anything you throw at it, then the traditional ATX motherboard will be the best investment you can make. Of course, you should be able to make use of the additional PCIe slots that come with this model in order to max out its efficiency.
On the whole, all things considered, the micro-ATX motherboard is currently the all-round option available for PC builders. Right from it reduce the price tag to decent specifications and just the right number of PCIe slots, this motherboard will be ideal for most PC builds.
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