Mini-ITX Case Review Round-Up: Taku, SG13, & Core V1

By Published May 20, 2018 at 5:53 pm
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It’s been a long time since we’ve reviewed any mini-ITX cases. The standard system that we use for testing ATX cases includes a full-sized GPU, PSU, and CPU cooler, which may or may not fit in small form factor cases, as well as an ATX motherboard that definitely won’t. Even if our components were small enough to fit, ATX and mini-ITX enclosures are like apples and oranges--SFF cases often have specific uses and different priorities than standard mid-towers.

Enough time has passed that it’s worth it to put together a separate ITX benchmarking system with a separate table of results to compare. To start off our database, we’re doing a roundup of three not-so-new cases from our backlog: the Thermaltake V1, Silverstone SG13, and the Cryorig Taku. This will start our charts, and we intend to work toward expanding those charts with the full suite of cases, as usual, including several upcoming products at Computex.

 

Cryorig Taku, Thermaltake Core V1, & SilverStone SG13 Specs

 

TAKU

V1

SG13B (and SG13P)

Motherboard

Mini-ITX

Mini-ITX

Mini-DTX, Mini-ITX

Case Dimensions

142mm (84mm without legs) x 570mm x 310mm (H x W x D) = 25.1 liters (14.8L without legs)

276mm x 260mm x 316mm (H x W x D) = 22.7 liters

181 mm x 222mm x 285 mm (H x W x D) 11.5 liters

Weight

5.3 kg

 

2.47kg

Fan Support

Internal: 1 x 92mm (included)

Front: 1 x 120mm or 140mm or 200mm (included, 800RPM 13dBA)

Rear: 2 x 80mm

Front: 1 x 120mm/140mm fan

Radiator Support

--

Front: 1 x 120mm or 140mm

Front: 1 x 120mm or 140mm

Front ports

2 x USB 3.0 and 3.5mm Audio in/out ports

2 x USB 3.0 and 3.5mm Audio in/out ports

2 x USB 3.0 and 3.5mm Audio in/out ports

Material

2mm aluminum, anodized sandblasted exterior

 

Mesh front panel, steel body

Color

Anodized silver exterior

 

Black, black and white, or pink

CPU Cooler Clearance

48mm

140mm

61mm

Graphics Card Clearance

Width: 134mm

Height: 40mm

Length: 280mm

Length: 255mm (285mm without 200mm front fan)

Width: 129mm

Length: 266mm

Power Supply Clearance

SFX and SFX-L

200mm (can fit ATX)

150mm (can fit ATX)

Memory Clearance

52mm

   

Hard Disk Drives

2 x 2.5"

1 x 3.5"

2 x 3.5" or 2 x 2.5"

1 x 2.5"

1 x 3.5" or 2 x 2.5"

Expansion Slots

2

2

2

Manufacturer Notes

If the SATA power connector is shorter than 45cm*, an additional SATA Power extender may be required (Not Included.)

*According to suggested installation guidelines, the distance from the PSU to the SATA SSD/HDD is 45cm. Please make sure that your SATA power connector is at least this length from the PSU to the designated female SATA Connector.

Some heatsinks will also fit if used with a thinner fan

 

Installing larger 140mm based radiator or fan will require the removal of the upper drive cage and sacrifice available room for graphics card to 9.3" (236mm) minus the thickness of the radiator.

Maximum length for PSU is 150mm, we recommend 140mm due to varying connector locations on PSUs and the unique structure of SG13.

Mini-ITX Case Testing Methodology

Our hardware was chosen for maximum compatibility with a wide range of mini-ITX cases: we’re using a low-profile cooler, small PSU, short GPU, and an APU for any cases where a discrete GPU doesn’t fit at all. The 2400G is configured to a fixed 3.7GHz in order to ensure consistent frequency performance under benchmarks.

Mini-ITX reviews are the least scientific of any case reviews. They’re difficult to do, and it’s a challenge to look at huge lists of thermal benchmarks to determine an obvious “best.” With ITX cases, the subjective enters play to an extreme that we can’t just “review” -- a lot of that will be up to viewers. For examples of this, Case A might be half the size of Case B (in volume), and while both are still significantly smaller than even Micro-ATX boxes, Case B might be “too big” for some users. ITX cases range between true-to-form shuttle boxes and cases that are functionally mid-towers, with some oddballs in the set-top box category (read: no dGPU support at all). While something like the SG13 (11.5 liters) might seem the incarnation of a perfect ITX box, it does suffer from reduced ease-of-installation and cable management -- that’s the nature of such a small box; then again, another user might see the Thermaltake Core V1 -- still a verifiably small case -- and think that 22.7 liters is simply too large.

Component compatibility is also a large question mark with ITX case reviews: When considering GPU lengths, for instance, many modern ITX cases can fit full-length reference cards, but that doesn’t mean they should be outfitted with those cards. Thermal considerations would sometimes dictate that a half-length/mini card is a better choice. Other boxes simply won’t support full-length cards, and thus would be incompatible with a test bench that standardizes full-length GPUs.

Then you have instances of cooling support: Unlike ATX cases, where we’re 90% guaranteed that all cases will support at least a 150mm tower or at least a 240mm CLC, ITX cases are all over the place. Some demand a less-than 50mm-tall heatsink, others can support mini-towers up to 92mm, some have 0 CLC support, some specialize in CLC support. In order to standardize for the least common denominator and support the most cases, we opted for a 50mm cooler height; unfortunately, cases that can legitimately support larger coolers will appear marginally ‘gimped’ in these tests, comparatively, as we’re restricting them to a smaller standard.

The point is, despite all efforts to control for the test environment, sometimes science isn’t the only proper approach to a benchmark. In these instances of ITX reviews, we’ll provide standardized thermal tests, then also ask that you consider more subjective factors. We’ll lay those out in the text sections in each review.

Here’s the parts listing:

Mini-ITX Case Test Bench, Sponsored by Gigabyte & Enermax

  Part Name Provided by 
CPU  AMD R5 2400G @ 3.7GHz, 1.225V @ LLC5 GamersNexus
RAM  GSkill Trident Z 3200MHz CL14 GSkill
Motherboard Gigabyte AB350N ITX Gigabyte
PSU Enermax Revolution SFX 650W Enermax
GPU Gigabyte GTX 1070 Mini Gigabyte
Cooler  Cryorig C7 Cryorig
SSD Samsung 850 Evo GamersNexus

Noise testing is still being refined, as we’re somewhat bound by the CPU cooler right now (more than the cases). Anything involving noise -- which will primarily be focused on in future reviews, not this one -- is measured at the usual 20” distance range for our testing. The noise floor is ~26dB.

Thermal testing is where it gets more detailed: We’ve added frequency over time charts for GPU core clocks, useful for determining the impact of poor cooling, and we’ve also added VRM thermal measurements by placing thermocouples on the MOSFETs. This will mostly help to identify weak spots in case cooling capabilities. As always, all tests are conducted for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Cryorig Taku Review

cryorig taku 1

The first case we tested was also the most different from the rest of the group: the Cryorig Taku, a flat, horizontal “Mini ITX Monitor Stand.”

The Taku’s quality can be neatly divided into two aspects: outside and inside. Externally, the Taku is beautiful, constructed of thick unpainted aluminum with sturdy wooden legs that flow smoothly into the bottom of the case. The faceplate is blank white plastic with only a large circular power button, backed by a soft white power LED (and a less-pleasant red HDD LED, but that can be unplugged). The ventilation holes are symmetrical and mostly invisible from the front, which is the angle from which it’s intended to be seen. There are notches cut into the front edge of the aluminum to allow keyboard and mouse cables to be routed through the inside of the case to reach the rear I/O, and there’s also a small I/O panel with USB and audio jacks on the side of the case.

For an mITX case, the Taku is fairly large. Including the empty air between the case legs, the volume of space taken up is approximately equal to a normal mid tower laid on its side. That could help with GPU airflow (check the thermal section to find out), but it also means that despite being shaped like a VHS player the Taku probably won’t fit in an entertainment center without removing the legs, and when used as a monitor stand it might lift the display uncomfortably high. Cryorig’s website does specifically advertise the Taku as an “ITX PC Monitor Stand.” The outer construction is definitely solid enough to support a modern display, but there are important ventilation holes on top of the case, so covering them with a monitor stand isn’t a great idea.

As for the internals, the most striking feature of the Taku is the sliding drawer, which allows the entire system to be slid out a few inches on a tray for easy access (sort of like the Bitfenix Portal). The drawer solution does allow opening the case without moving a monitor off the top, but the mechanism is elaborate and seems delicate compared to regular latches and thumbscrews. The drawer is opened by pushing inwards and releasing, so the drawer is free to slide back and forth when plugging or unplugging cables from the back, and it’s very easy to unintentionally hit the power button while ejecting the drawer. In addition, there wasn’t enough clearance below the drawer for our cooler bracket (Cryorig brand) and it scraped heavily against the bottom of the case. The drawer idea is cool, but we’d rather see a more robust system that doesn’t waste precious space, like a removable panel or a hinged lid. Space is limited by nesting everything inside of a drawer rather than just attaching components directly to the outer shell.

cryorig taku 2

One advantage of the drawer is that the internals can be completely removed as one unit, so there’s easy access for building the system. Still, the wide, flat layout of the Taku isn’t naturally suited to PC components. Everything is cramped despite the size of the case; our CPU cooler measures only 47mm from the coldplate to the top of the fan, but it was still uncomfortably close (for airflow purposes) to touching the case filters. The power supply is positioned as far as possible from the 24 pin connector on our motherboard, and although Cryorig did include an extension cable, there’s no logical path for routing it. The intended path is under a metal bar at the bottom of the case, but there’s no space around the edges of the board, and crossing cables over top of the board would interfere with the CPU fan. We threaded the ATX power cable through the SSD cage, but this limited our capacity to a single SSD.

The GPU is mounted fans-downwards next to the GPU, which requires the use of a PCIe riser. Cryorig includes two rigid risers, presumably in order to support some of the card’s weight. One plugs into the motherboard, the second plugs into the first, and the GPU plugs into the second. It’s a hacky solution, but it does work.

The single 90mm fan included with the case (and the only one there’s any room for) is mounted on top of the SSD cage. SSDs generally don’t need direct cooling, certainly not as much as the GPU or motherboard components (again, see the thermal section). The air that flows off of the SSD isn’t directed towards the motherboard, and it would be blocked by the RAM even if it were. The fan placement seems to be more a matter of “where will it fit” than “where will it help.” Rack-mounted servers deal with a similar form factor by directing airflow front-to-back, but this would interfere with the smooth minimalist aesthetic of the Taku’s front panel. The side vents are blocked off by another layer of aluminum and the steel drawer, so there’s no help from that quarter.

There’s room for a full sized GPU and a 3.5” HDD cage, which is nice to see in a small form factor case. Unfortunately, there’s no benefit in leaving this space unused. Leaving out the GPU or removing the drive cage doesn’t offer any additional mounting locations for fans or a significant advantage for cable management, which is at its worst around the motherboard on the opposite side of the case.

SilverStone SG13 Review

silverstone sg13 1

The SG13 is a cheap little bare-bones Silverstone case, from the good old days when they put mesh front panels on everything. It launched in 2015, but we hadn’t actually opened the box until now. The SG13B has all the features we like from the RL06: a focus on airflow, functional design, and nothing extra to raise the price (not even a fan). The SG13B-Q[uiet] is identical except for a sealed front panel, for the niche market of users that hate their computers and want them to roast. We don’t have an SG13B-Q on hand to test, but we believe the thermal results would be worse than the SG13B’s.

There’s not much to look at on the outside: it’s just a metal box to put a computer in. There are some indentations on the front mesh that probably help to prevent flexing, and there are two (intentional) larger indentations in the top mesh that don’t prevent flexing at all and make the top of the case look like it’s warped. The outer shell is made of very thin steel and hooks into the chassis with metal tabs that don’t ever want to line up correctly at the same time. On the bottom of the case there are four very nice grippy rubber feet that also make the case charmingly bouncy. It’s like an extremely square puppy.

Opening the case is simple, since there’s just one big metal cover. Getting the filter out is a little more fiddly, since it’s sandwiched between the front panel and the chassis. Other than that, there whole case is one chamber, so there’s easy access to everything as long as the power supply is out.

silverstone sg13 2

Cable management is unfortunately nonexistent. Even the reference photos in Silverstone’s own manual [page 14] show a big wad of cables that barely avoids snagging on fans. It’s possible to wrangle everything into one big bundle that doesn’t touch anything important, but a modular PSU is almost a necessity. ATX supplies are supported, but small form factor supplies leave more room, especially if a 3.5” drive is installed on the top mount. Silverstone’s manual suggests using a 120mm or 140mm CLC rather than an air cooler, and this would help to avoid some of the danger of snagging cables.

The mesh panel is great for intake, but there’s not really anywhere for hot air to exit. The top vent is over the PSU intake, the left vent is GPU intake, the right vent is partially blocked by the PSU (especially if an ATX one is used), and the rear and bottom sides don’t really have vents. With our configuration, most exhaust left through the rear I/O and the small right vent. We never bother installing I/O shields, but in the SG13 we’d specifically recommend leaving it off, since it’s one of the only paths for air to exit.

It may seem like we’re being negative toward the SG13, but it’s good at what it does. There’s a place in the market for a $40 ITX case that gets the job done. It supports surprisingly large PSUs and GPUs for its size, and if smaller parts are used, the extra space directly benefits cable management.

Thermaltake Core V1 Review

thermaltake core v1 1

The V1 takes a relaxed approach to space-saving. It’s almost exactly twice the volume of the SG13, and that offers a few advantages. Size is obviously an important consideration in small form factor cases: the larger they are, the more versatile and user-friendly they are, but at the same time the whole point of buying a mini-ITX case is that they’re small.

The interior of the V1 is divided into two sections by the horizontal motherboard tray. Thanks to the roomy PSU chamber below, cable management is relatively excellent--none of the power cables have to stretch too far, and they can be routed over two edges of the motherboard for easy access to everything except our CPU power socket.

Because it’s a cube, the four side panels of the case are interchangeable. One is acrylic, two are vents, and one is clearly intended as a bottom panel, with four plastic legs and a PSU filter. Since EVERY panel is interchangeable, any side of the case could be made the new “bottom” side by switching this panel out. It’s a simple and clever design choice that takes advantage of the form factor rather than just dealing with it.

thermaltake core v1 2

The height of the case makes it well-suited to big air coolers, which could pull air in the front of the case and push it out the back, where there are mounts for two exhaust fans. This setup could be tricky depending on the location of the CPU socket. Liquid cooling could work as well in the V1, but it isn’t as natural a choice as it is with the SG13. The front slot can hold a 120mm or 140mm fan+radiator, but the stock fan is 200mm and therefore won’t fit with a normal radiator. The 200mm fan completely fills the front of the case and pushes air both above and below the motherboard, so users will probably want to keep it--especially since they’ve already paid for it.

Material quality is fine for the price, with the exception of the HDD trays, which are fragile and don’t have a great mounting system--however, two 3.5” mounts is a lot for an mITX enclosure, so we won’t look that gift horse in the mouth. The acrylic window is prone to scratching, but that comes with the territory. We were initially apprehensive about the Core G21-esque front panel, but it doesn’t seem to hurt airflow too much

Thermals & Noise

Results from these tests are not comparable to our other case tests. Our ITX test bench uses 100% different components.

3DMark - CPU & GPU

1 mitx bench 3dmark

We’re starting with our 3DMark Firestrike test, which is a gaming stand-in benchmark that generates a realistic load on both the CPU and GPU. Remember, we’re just starting on ITX reviews, so the charts are sparse right now.

CPU temperatures across the board are acceptable for this configuration. The SilverStone SG13 is the lead performer right now, keeping the GPU at 50.1 degrees over ambient. This is well below any throttle territory, and is actually good even when compared to some ATX cases. The front intake fan on the SG13 helps tremendously here.

The Thermaltake Core V1 operates about 4 degrees warmer, at 54.1 over ambient, which is also acceptable. The Cryorig Taku is pushing it, running a 61-degree delta T over ambient. After accounting for ambient temperature, that puts us right against a major thermal limitation with GPU Boost 3.0. Our actual diode temperature is closer to 83, with throttle territory at 84C. We’re dropping some clocks here.

2 mitx bench frequency

In fact, in this frequency over time chart, you’ll see that the SG13 maintains an average clock of about 1780 to 1800MHz, whereas the Taku sits closer to 1740-1760MHz, with some dips down to 1670MHz. That’s not a lot -- you’re talking single-digit FPS differences -- but it’s certainly a demonstration of how thermals impact performance.

Blender - CPU

3 mitx bench blender cpu

Next up is Blender performance with CPU rendering, for which we’ll also cover VRM thermals.

For CPU thermals, both the SG13 and Core V1 operated at equivalence -- within margins. Both cases are at about 48 degrees over ambient for the CPU. The GPU, which is unused here, is also within error margins for differences.

The Cryorig Taku isn’t throttling or performing in a way that drastically affects performance, but it certainly could be better. The GPU, which is idle during this test, is still operating at 16 degrees over ambient -- that’s impressively lacking cooling. It’s not hurting anything, but it speaks to the design of the chassis. The CPU operates about 5 degrees warmer than the Thermaltake and SilverStone cases. Performance isn’t great, but it’s fine. Considering this test is relatively lightweight on total system thermal strain, we’re doing fine; the only component under serious load is the CPU.

Blender - VRM Thermals

4 mitx bench blender cpu vrm

VRM thermals during Blender mostly give us another metric to consider, but don’t reveal any serious design flaws. The SG13 and V1 are both operating at about 34 degrees over ambient for the hotspot MOSFET, or about 35 degrees for the SOC VRM. The Taku is about 40 degrees over ambient. For perspective, in order for even the Taku’s measurement to really matter, you’d have to have a room temperature of something like 60 to 70 degrees. The water in your body would start boiling before you had a catastrophic failure. Although interesting, this load isn’t intensive enough on the power components to hurt anything. All cases perform well within VRM spec.

Blender - GPU

5 mitx bench blender gpu

GPU rendering with Blender produces a lineup with the SG13 again in the lead, at 32 degrees over ambient, with the Core V1 positioned about 2 degrees warmer, and the Taku nearing 40 degrees.

Torture - CPU

6 mitx bench torture cpu

Torture testing is a little abusive on these small boxes. We run power viruses on both the CPU and GPU simultaneously, which results in a lot of potential for throttling.

In an absolute worst-case scenario, the Taku with the drawer completely opened -- basically an open-air bench -- performs best, naturally. This gives us an idea for the kind of impedance that these cases are causing, resulting in obstructed airflow in a few instances. The Taku establishes a baseline of 54.7 degrees over ambient for unobstructed airflow, an improvement of 13 degrees over the stock Taku’s 67.5 degree result. The SilverStone SG13 tested stock at 65.6 degrees, with removal of its filter improving performance by about 3 degrees. The fact that SilverStone’s filter only impacts performance to this minimal level is noteworthy, and it’s well worth keeping the filter in place. The Thermaltake Core V1, tested with the acrylic window in the top position, operated at 69 degrees. This was the worst performer, but is also the only configuration where the top panel is completely blocked off. Given that we’re using a downdraft cooler, that result makes sense. Shifting the acrylic window to the side and putting a ventilated panel on top, we dropped down to 66.7 degrees -- comfortably between the SG13 and Taku.

Torture - VRM Thermals

7 mitx bench torture vrm

VRM thermals under this torture test are a bit higher than previous tortures, but still uneventful overall. That’s a good thing, to be fair, it’s just not very exciting. Open air in the Taku, drawer open, vCore VRM thermals loaded to about 39 degrees over ambient, with SOC thermals at 40 degrees. The stock Taku ran significantly warmer -- about 12 degrees warmer -- at 50C over ambient vCore, or 56C for VSOC. The Thermaltake Core V1 ran warmest of all with thanks to the top-mounted acrylic, but was still fine. The mesh top V1 dropped thermals by 2-3 degrees under the acrylic-topped V1. SilverStone’s SG13 was most impressive, with a baseline vCore load temperature of 46 degrees, just 8 degrees above the open-air test.

Torture - GPU Thermals

8 mitx bench torture gpu

GPU torture thermals are a bit more varied, and establish the SG13 in a minor lead over the Core V1, and a dominating lead over the Cryorig Taku. The Taku holds a lead when left open, which isn’t really much of a Taku test -- it’s more of an open-air test.

Noise-Normalized

9 mitx bench normalized

Noise-normalized testing establishes the SG13 and Core V1 as near each other in performance, with the CPU cooler configured to 80%. We actually had to run the Taku with the CPU cooler at 90%, as it was so thermally choked on both CPU and GPU components that it restricted test conditions.

Conclusion: SFF Case Mini Round-Up

mini itx case round up 1

The Taku is form-over function, and cases like that never fare well in our thermal reviews. It does look good, but for $300, we’d like to see better performance overall, higher build quality on the internal components, and more convenient cable management and installation. Rather than spending this much money on making an ITX system look good, it would be far easier to spend $50 on a tiny case that cools better and can be tucked entirely out of view. That said, the Taku is uncontested in its very specific niche, so if that’s what you want, there aren’t many other options. The exterior build quality is exceptional, to be clear, it’s just that we think the cost isn’t justified by the sum of its parts.

The SilverStone SG13 is the opposite of the Taku: stripped down to the bare essentials with few glaring flaws. The worst problem during the build process was the lack of space for cables, but it still did relatively well in the thermal tests. There’s space for decently sized GPUs and PSUs, which is impressive in such a small footprint. SilverStone stays truest to the form factor and still accommodates everything you’d want in hardware, all while maintaining good airflow. The lackluster areas make sense -- you can’t expect much cabling space in such a small box.

Of these three cases, the Thermaltake Core V1 is the clear winner in terms of versatility and ease of use, but not size. It is much bigger than the SG13, which makes the contest a little unfair, but it’s also nearly as cheap as the SG13 despite including a fan and an acrylic window. The swappable side panels, the generous space for cable management, and the logical paths for airflow put the V1 on top even if it didn’t have the lowest temperatures with our CPU cooler and configuration.

We like the SG13 best for its form factor and performance, with the V1 coming in a close second. The Taku doesn’t fit this comparison, frankly, and is a perfect example of our earlier point: ITX case reviews are the least scientific, and it can become unfair to boil-down an ITX case to performance.

Editorial: Patrick Lathan & Steve Burke
Video: Andrew Coleman

Last modified on May 20, 2018 at 5:53 pm

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