Looking at the most popular consumer motherboard form factors as a spectrum, we have ATX, mATX, and mini-ITX in descending order of size. ATX is the most common, comprising the vast majority of available products and user builds that provide virtually unrestricted hardware compatibility with your favorite full and mid-tower case options. mATX comes in at just a couple inches shorter than standard ATX, which means less PCIe expansion slots for a more compact platform still with similar potential performance. Here you would decide between a mid-tower or a dedicated mATX mini-tower. Finally, there’s mini-ITX, specifically designed to pack as many features and as much performance as possible into ultra-compact SFF (small form factor) systems. The best premium case options for mini-ITX builds are typically costly, and hard to acquire since they’re not manufactured en masse, though there are still excellent mass-market options from which to choose.
In this entry to our build series here at PremiumBuilds, we’re going to explore the intriguing but criminally overlooked form factor: mATX (micro-ATX).
Primarily due to the rapidly expanding market for fantastic SFF components that offer full-sized performance, people may not care to build with mATX over standard ATX or mini-ITX. Even when looking at the Z490 options that are currently available, it seems most motherboard manufacturers aren’t keen on dedicating their resources to engineering truly high-end mATX platforms, which is a damn shame.
mATX can provide genuinely incredible performance in a super-compact package. Although mATX may not be as tiny as mini-ITX, it’s still an excellent pick to reduce the overall size of your next PC while retaining significantly better hardware compatibility. mATX also has 2 additional advantages over mini-ITX, being considerably more straightforward to build with, and where things like cases and motherboards are typically cheaper and more readily available. mATX makes the perfect form factor for those looking to build a space-efficient machine that still comfortably supports high-end workstation performance.
That said, we’re going to give the “middle child” some love and show how impressive an enthusiast mATX system can be. We’re opting for the cream of the crop with every component selection for a no-compromises, compact powerhouse that can crush whatever you might throw at it!
How will this machine perform?
With the killer power delivery and excellent airflow of this build, we’re able to fully leverage both a Core i9-10900K and an EVGA RTX 2080 Ti FTW3 ULTRA OVERCLOCKED with air-cooling. Not only will you be able to push max settings in games up to 60Hz+ at 4K resolution, but you’ll also enjoy extreme performance in production workloads across the board thanks to the ample overclocking headroom we have for all of our components. That headroom also ensures our ability to upgrade to the top-tier next-generation hardware!
Now, despite being a compact form factor, mATX still offers the space to accommodate some of the bulkiest CPU coolers, up to 280mm radiators, and custom 3-slot GPUs. Be aware; if you do decide to spring for an AIO CPU cooler, the added radiator width restricts the maximum length of which GPUs you can use to around 270mm instead of 315mm with only front intake fans. To determine a case’s maximum GPU length with a front radiator installed, if not directly listed in the specs, subtract the width of your radiator from the max support listed with front fans installed.
Best Core i9-10900K mATX Battlestation PC Build – The Parts List
|CPU||Intel Core-i9 10900K||$540||The absolute best CPU on the market for gaming that still sports competitive productivity performance.|
|CPU Cooler||Noctua NH-D15 Chromax||$100||Simplicity, reliability, performance, and (thanks to the Chromax variant) style. Noctua provides their legendary performance unit in all-black and with an additional fan.|
|Motherboard||Asus ROG STRIX Z490-G Gaming (Wi-Fi)||$240||14 Phase (12+2) VRM on a compact motherboard with the feature-set of a full-sized ATX Z490. Allows you to push this generation's best hardware, and comfortably upgrade to the next.|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB DDR4-3600 CL16 (2x16GB)||$329||32GB provides enough memory to tackle multi-threaded workloads, and ensures you never have to worry about multitasking or gaming. The 2x16GB Low-Profile kit also leaves room to add more, and gives clearance for the NH-D15.|
|Storage||500GB Samsung 970 Evo Plus M.2-2280||$120||Lightning fast NVMe storage for the best OS performance, with plenty of space left over for some of your most frequently played games.|
|2TB 2.5" Samsung 860 EVO SSD||$300||Additional high-performance storage for your media library and large project files.|
|Graphics Card||EVGA RTX 2080 Ti FTW3 ULTRA OVERCLOCKED||$1576||For unparalleled 1080p and 16:9 1440p performance, with enough resources to comfortably run 1440p Ultrawide and 4K at max settings.|
|PC Case||Fractal Design Meshify C Mini - Dark TG||$100||A compact mATX enclosure with best-in-class airflow, excellent build quality, and a brilliant internal layout. The dark tinted tempered glass window is an added bonus for our dark aesthetic.|
|Power Supply||Corsair AX 1000W 80+ Titanium||$389||One of the most "future proof" components you can buy. With our total system TDP of at least 500W, this unit will deliver clean and stable power at peak efficiency under load.|
|Case Fans||2x Noctua NF-F12 Chromax 120mm PWM||$50||1 top 120mm exhaust, 1 rear 120mm exhaust, and 2x front intake 140mm fans will provide the best airflow to cool this power-hungry machine. Chromax variants here compliment the dark theme for the rest of the components in our build.|
|2x Noctua NF-A14 Chromax 140mm PWM||$52|
|Thermal Paste||5.55g Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut||$27||Arguably the best all-around thermal compound that's simple to work with due to it's thin viscosity. Maximizes performance with the NH-D15, and can also be used to replace the factory paste on our GPU for even better thermals. 5.55g should last you several applications for your GPU, CPU, and future upgrades.|
Note regarding pricing: due to recent global events, electronics manufacturing took a bit of a hit while demand has skyrocketed, leading to limited availability and increased pricing over MSRP. It’s always best to pay as close to MSRP for a product as possible, so keep an eye on these parts over time and snag them when you see a good deal!
To kick off our ultimate mATX build, we’ve selected The Intel Core i9-10900K. With 10 cores, 20 threads, exceptional clock speeds, and serious overclocking potential, the 10900K is at the top of the gaming mountain while still competing in workstation tasks. Comet Lake may, by some, be considered a stop-gap solution in response to the massive success of AMD’s Zen 2 processors, but it has proved exceptional considering how far behind Intel has managed to fall in the race to 5nm. Intel’s 10th Gen results are mostly thanks to their still superior single-threaded performance, which allows them to retain the gaming crown and brute force their way into the upper end of production workload benchmarks, all while keeping thermals in check. However, where thermal performance may have been reigned in by Intel’s engineers with clever tweaks to the height and thickness of the CPU die and IHS, respectively, power draw seems to be reaching critical mass for the elderly 14nm (+∞) process at up to 250W when overclocking a 10900K.
In choosing the 10900K, we’re aiming to demonstrate the flexibility of the mATX form factor as a compelling alternative to not only entry-level ATX builds, but even the best full-tower and SFF ITX builds. Planning an mATX build requires significantly less research and sanity checking compared to SFF, which demands you thoroughly verify the compatibility of every component against each other for whichever case you decide to buy. Whereas here, you’re able to choose virtually any hardware you’d like and jump right into building as you would with a full-sized ATX machine.
You may be able to guess our pick for the best air-cooling solution, the Noctua NH-D15 Chromax. Not only is the NH-D15 one of the most renowned air-coolers ever created, it now offers an entirely blacked-out design and an additional NF-A15 Chromax fan for the ultimate aesthetics and performance out of the box. Simplicity and reliability are crucial for getting most users invested in a new high-performance PC, which are two of the main areas where Noctua has earned it’s nearly unrivaled reputation. Rest assured, as the NH-D15 is still beastly enough to handle high overclocks, even from the 10900K.
Cooling support is where mATX surpasses all but the absolute best SFF mini-ITX cases. You’ll struggle to find an mATX mini-tower that doesn’t share the same level of air-cooling support as an ATX full-tower, and a majority of mATX mini-towers also support 240mm and 280mm radiators if you prefer. Remember, though, the added width of any radiators installed to the front reduces the max possible length for your GPU.
To prove that mATX hasn’t been completely forgotten, Asus has brought us the stellar ROG STRIX Z490-G GAMING (Wi-Fi). Continuing our blacked-out aesthetic for this build, with some tasteful RGB implementation, the Z490-G is the best mATX motherboard available that can confidently push the monstrous 10900K. As always, we also leave you an upgrade path to the 11th Gen Rocket Lake Core i9 should you choose to snag that upon release.
The 14 (12+2) Phase VRM, extraordinary build quality, and incredible BIOS from Asus all mean the 10900K is right at home on this platform. As a cherry on top, we also get integrated Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6 support with the Intel AX201, and best-in-class audio from the SupremeFX S1220A CODEC. Whether you’re building a desktop or an entertainment center machine, the Z490-G guarantees one of the best experiences for connectivity and audio.
Aside from the select few enthusiast gamers that can afford it, if you’ve decided to purchase a 10900K, you’re going to expect to tackle workstation tasks like rendering and photo/video editing. To ensure the best performance for multi-threaded workloads, we’ve selected a 2×16 Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB DDR4-3600 CL16 memory kit. This low-profile kit gives proper clearance for the NH-D15, more than enough memory for modern games and multitasking across multiple displays, and a buttery-smooth experience when scrubbing through timelines in your preferred editing software. You also have 2 remaining DIMM slots where you can choose to upgrade to 64GB of memory if you’re serious about productivity.
For our primary drive, we’ll be taking advantage of the M.2 support on the Z490-G by installing a 500GB Samsung 970 Evo Plus M.2-2280 NVMe SSD. 500GB is enough storage for your Operating System, general files/documents, and your most frequently played games, all granted lighting fast speed by the glory of V-NAND flash memory. You’ll be impressed if you’ve never installed Windows on a premium M.2 drive, as it takes a shockingly little amount of time (my personal machine finished in ~17min).
In the interest of size and performance, we’ve chosen a 2TB 2.5” Samsung 860 EVO SSD for our bulk storage. 2TB is still a significant amount of space, even for those who keep massive games/media libraries. You’ll be able to enjoy all of your entertainment and still have plenty of space to play with large project files if you’re interested in learning content creation. Our build can also fit 2 more 2.5” drives, and 2x 3.5” mechanical drives should you decide you need to expand in the future.
The deciding factor in choosing air-cooling over a closed-loop liquid-cooler was the EVGA RTX 2080 Ti 11GB FTW3 ULTRA OVERCLOCKED. The trade-off of a few degrees on the CPU, and the simplicity/reliability of fully air-cooled systems, is certainly worth it for unrivaled performance in games up to 60Hz+ at 4K resolution. With the FTW3 Ultra, you’re getting one of the fastest and beefiest custom 2080 Ti cards on the market, and for US customers, the added benefit of an exceptional warranty, and fantastic customer support, from EVGA.
The 2080 Ti is guaranteed to remain a top-tier pick even after the next generation of Nvidia hardware launches thanks to technologies like Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), which has recently made great strides in terms of performance improvements with DLSS 2.0. DLSS allows your GPU to render frames at a lower resolution than that of your display, and upscale them to your native resolution with the assistance of AI/deep-learning, for nearly lossless visual fidelity. Essentially, your GPU has to work less hard to produce the same graphics quality than if it were to render at native resolution. DLSS is an astounding improvement over legacy upscaling that resolves almost all of the general issues with reduced visual quality and “fuzziness.”
Another exciting technology available to you with an RTX card is RTX Voice, best described as “technological witchcraft.” RTX Voice allows you to leverage your RTX GPU for AI-driven noise-reduction (voice isolation) for your microphone, and it is scary good. With RTX Voice enabled, you can run a vacuum, clap, or obnoxiously type directly next to your mic, and it only registers your voice when you speak. RTX Voice is an invaluable feature for those concerned with noisy neighbors or roommates, and especially for those interested in live streaming. While the development of AI may ultimately lead to humanity’s destruction, at least you won’t have to hear it in the background during VoIP calls!
For our balls-to-the-wall mATX build, we want an exceptional mATX case. The Fractal Design Meshify C Mini Dark TG is one of the best-built, best-looking, and most feature-packed mini-towers out there. In the PC case market, Fractal Design has a reputation that rivals heat sink manufacturer Noctua, and the Meshify-C Mini is proof of why. You get the insane airflow and build quality of the Meshify-C mid-tower case, shrunk down ever so slightly to perfectly match mATX motherboards with the same optimized internal layout.
With the Meshify C Mini, you’re able to cram a full-sized ATX power supply, 2x 3.5” mechanical drives, 3x 2.5” drives, an mATX motherboard, a chunky dual-tower air-cooler, up to a 240mm top and 280mm front radiator, and up to a 315mm GPU in an incredibly compact package. This case also has a tinted tempered glass side panel to nail the blacked-out look we’re creating.
Fair warning, once you build in a Meshify series case, it isn’t easy to go back. Cable management is a dream, and every little part of assembling a computer has been taken into consideration by Fractal, which makes building in a Meshify unbelievably accessible.
Our system has one of the highest possible total thermal design powers (TDP) for a consumer configuration at over 500W minimum. Taking that into consideration, we’re going to recommend an absolute tank of a PSU: the Corsair AX 1000W 80+ Titanium.
The Corsair AX series offers best-in-class construction and power delivery for any system, and 1000W puts us in a prime spot on the PSU efficiency curve. Generally, PSUs operate most efficiently at ~40-60% load, which means the AX 1000W is perfect for our configuration. The AX 1000W guarantees clean and stable power delivery to the components in your machine, and some additional savings on your power bill courtesy of the 80+ Titanium rating, especially for those prone to leaving their computers powered on for days at a time.
To maximize the airflow offered by the Meshify C Mini, we’re going to load up our build with Noctua fans.
You’ll want to pick up 2x Noctua NF-A14 Chromax 140mm PWM fans for your front intakes, and 2x Noctua NF-F12 Chromax 120mm PWM fans: 1 for your rear exhaust, and 1 as a top exhaust. This fan setup provides the best airflow through your build to keep the 10900K and 2080 Ti in check and tops off our blacked-out aesthetic nicely.
No enthusiast build is complete without some enthusiast thermal interface material (TIM), which is where we recommend you pick up 5.5g of Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut. The NH-D15 includes a tube of Noctua’s NT-H1 TIM that certainly competes with the likes of Kryonaut, but when you’ve chosen two of the most powerful desktop components on the market, every degree matters.
Kryonaut is a very thin compound that makes it a breeze to apply on your CPU and evenly spread across the die of your GPU, something we strongly recommend you do. EVGA heatsinks are anchored to the PCB with only 4 screws, making it ultra-simple to replace the factory TIM applied to your GPU for significantly better thermal performance. Finally, 5.5g of Kryonaut (on top of the included NT-H1) is enough thermal compound to last you years of re-applying paste when replacing or upgrading components.
Viola! You’ve just completed the ultimate mATX Battlestation and one of the best overall consumer desktops that money can buy.
Here at PremiumBuilds, we refuse to sit idly by while such a neat little form factor like mATX flies under the radar when it can offer the best of both worlds in terms of performance and space-saving. We’re confident that if you’re in the market for a no-holds-barred PC build, you’ll struggle to find much else that competes with the raw performance of this setup in a compact case.
For those “window-shopping” at this price-point, keep in mind that you can always choose to downgrade things like the CPU, GPU, RAM, and Storage to fit your budget and still enjoy the mATX goodness. Otherwise, happy saving ☺.
Are you considering an mATX system for your next build? How do you think mATX stacks up against ATX and mini-ITX options? As always, let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!