As part of our PC build series here at PremiumBuilds, we aim to assemble the best possible PCs based on a specific need (e.g., gaming), form factor (e.g., ITX), budget (e.g., $500 or $2500) or component selection (e.g., building around the RTX 2080 Super or Ryzen 9 3900X).
For this entry to the series, we are focusing on the increasingly-popular ITX form factor with the best possible price-to-performance and the best possible aesthetic. Thus, we have decided to build a powerhouse SFFPC, at a mid-range budget of $1500, in the highly-rated LOUQE Ghost S1.
Our goal is to select components that offer extreme levels of performance, but don’t necessarily command an expensive price tag. We at PremiumBuilds are confident that we’ve created one of the best price-to-performance ITX gaming PCs in the mid-range market, and arguably one of the best looking SFF systems out there.
Note: We have cherry-picked the best components, proven to perform in the Ghost S1, and if we were to build in another chassis such as the Dancase A4-SFX – the case fan, CPU cooler, and PSU selection may be completely different.
How fast will this ITX gaming PC perform?
For this particular mid-range ITX build, we want to be able to game at 1440p resolution – preferably at a 16:9 ratio and minimum 100hz, or at 21:9 ultrawide 1440p at 80hz on high settings. The perfect graphics card that can achieve this, within budget, and provide futureproofing is Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Super – which is arguably the best mid-range 1440p graphics card currently on the market.
At only a $1500 price bracket for this SFF build, we, unfortunately, can’t expect to be gaming comfortably at 4K above 60Hz, even on Medium-Low graphics settings. Thus, we are aiming to nail >60Hz at 1440p on High settings for many AAA titles – with ray tracing.
Best Value Mini ITX Gaming PC Build for 2020 – The Parts List
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 3600||$174||Best value, price/performance CPU on the market today|
|CPU Cooler||Noctua LH-12S||$49||Best air cooling performance for the LOUQE Ghost S1|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG Strix B450-I Gaming||$135||Best feature-packed B450 ITX motherboard, with Ryzen 3000 pre-flashed onto BIOS|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix Sport LT 16GB 3200 MHz CL16 (2x8GB)||$97||Great value, Easy to overclock to 3600 MHz CL16, Low-profile|
|Storage||Sabrent Rocket 1TB NVMe M.2 2280 SSD||$149||Great price/performance NVMe SSD, cheaper than the Intel 660p but similar performance|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia Geforce RTX 2070 Super Founders Edition||$489||Capable of 1440p ultrawide gaming, future proofed, best value mid-range GPU of 2020|
|PC Case||LOUQE Ghost S1 (No Tophat, Copper Grill)||$269||Great build quality, performance, possibly the best ITX case (so far?)|
|Power Supply||Corsair SF600 Platinum||$149||Best in class SFX power supply, Platinum variant for sleeved cables (vs Gold rated)|
|Case Fan||Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM||$19||Best performing 120mm slim case fan|
|Thermal Paste||ARCTIC Thermal MX-4||$9||Top budget, carbon-based thermal paste|
We want to squeeze as much performance as possible out of our components, which only leaves one option for our processor – AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600. For the money, the 3600 is regarded as the best price-to-performance value currently on the market, especially for SFF systems. It’s a fantastic 65W chip that offers performance on par with the Intel Core i5-9600K (overclocked) and its more expensive brother, the 3600X. See our comparison of the Intel Core i5-9600K and the Ryzen 5 3600.
With 6 cores, 12 threads, a base/boost frequency of 3.6/4.2 GHz, and PCIe 4.0 support – all at an extremely modest price point – there is very little to dislike about the Ryzen 5 3600.
The Noctua NH-L12S, considered to be one of the best low profile CPU coolers on the market, offers significant cooling performance improvements over the stock Wraith cooler (included with the Ryzen 5 3600). Moreover, it has shown best-in-class performance over other CPU air cooling solutions when paired with the LOUQE Ghost S1 – and considering we are building an ITX machine focused on price-to-performance – this is our best bet.
Note: The Noctua NH-L12S is just a few millimeters too large for the LOUQE Ghost S1, so for it to be compatible, many ITX builders opt to slightly bend the heat pipes to gain that few extra millimeters of headroom. Space is tight, but once you get it to fit, you know you have the best possible cooling setup within the LOUQE Ghost S1. See our guide for bending the NH-L12S.
For our platform, we decided to go with a B450 motherboard, which either had to be pre-flashed with the latest BIOS, or at least have USB BIOS Flashback so we can do it ourselves. If we want to utilize the latest PCIe 4.0 support offered by the Ryzen 5 3600, we would have to choose an X570 motherboard. However, both X570 motherboards and PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs are simply too expensive for a mid-range build. With our budget, we, unfortunately, won’t be able to utilize PCIe 4.0.
Our best option here is the ROG Strix B450-I Gaming. Despite its size, this ITX board certainly packs a punch with the number of features for the price: RGB, onboard WiFi module, 8x USB ports, a robust VRM for great thermals, all with a super sleek design. If only this motherboard also had USB Type C…
Picking RAM specifically for the LOUQE Ghost S1 and Noctua NH-L12S combo can be especially tricky – and many builders have found out the hard way that theirs do not physically fit in the case. Due to the Noctua NH-L12S being a low-profile CPU cooler, it has severely limited RAM clearance (even with a topside fan configuration), so we’re required to opt for super low-profile RAM to get it actually to fit.
Another consideration when picking the best RAM for the Ryzen 5 3600 is CAS latency – of which we have a comprehensive guide here. The main takeaway is that DDR4 3600MHz CL16 appears to be the sweet spot for price-to-performance, so that’s where we’re aiming. Interestingly, the Crucial Ballistix Sport LT with a 3200 MHz CL16 configuration can be easily overclocked to 3600 MHz, thus offering fantastic value for its impressive performance. The Ballistix Sport LT also has just enough clearance to fit under the NH-L12S. Additionally, this RAM features white ‘digital camo’ heat spreaders, which give them a very sleek look.
For most use cases, 16GB is still more than enough memory for gaming and basic multitasking, hence why we decided against a 32GB kit. We’re not going to be able to utilize that amount of RAM unless we start getting into intensive workstation tasks like rendering and editing.
For our storage, we decided that a single 1TB NVME SSD would be sufficient. 1TB is more than enough space for our boot drive, general storage, and game library. Our ROG Strix B450-I Gaming has a single M.2 slot, as well as 4x 6Gb/s SATA ports (though we won’t be using them in this build due to internal case volume restrictions). The LOUQE Ghost S1 has enough room for a drive at the bottom of the case, but you can decide to replace that with a new 120mm slim case fan – which is what we’ve done to ensure maximum cooling performance.
As we mentioned previously, Ryzen 3000 CPUs support the latest PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs, which offer blazing-fast transfer speeds compared to their predecessors. However, with our focus being maximum price-to-performance, we decided to stick with PCIe 3.0, and opt for one of the best values on the market. That title goes to the Sabrent Rocket 1TB NVMe SSD, which has proven to be an excellent NVMe SSD for gaming.
Although there are plenty of AIB/aftermarket RTX 2070 Super cards that offer improved stock overclocks, PCBs, and VRMs over the Nvidia 2070 Super Founders Edition, we decided to stick with it here. The main reasons include the surprisingly decent performance of this dual fan design within the LOUQE Ghost S1, as well as its gorgeous design that feels right at home in such a stunning enclosure. We readily admit that the aesthetics are still a critical deciding factor in this particular build (while retaining the maximum price-to-performance for our given budget).
We wanted this system to be capable of gaming at 16:9 1440p, as well as pushing up to 4K should we decide to upgrade in the future. The alternative was a 5700 XT, but we’ll need that slight bit of extra headroom to be able to push 1440p at higher settings. See our head-to-head comparison of the Nvidia RTX 2070 Super and the AMD Radeon 5700 XT.
Ever since the Kickstarter announcement of this small form factor (SFF) ITX case, the LOUQE Ghost S1 has been an absolute hit. Widely regarded as one of the most desirable PC cases in 2020, it had to be the star of our next build. It’s certainly not cheap and won’t maximize our overall price to performance, but the overall look and build quality justifies the cost, especially if it’s going to be sitting on our desk for the next few years. With a jaw-dropping, understated design – this ITX case will undoubtedly impress any of your fellow PC builders and fill them with envy!
Note: There have been reported shipping issues for many people that have bought this case, and many PC builders (including us!) have had to wait months upon months to get their hands on it. Most of these issues have reportedly been ironed out by LOUQE, but it may still be difficult to acquire one – so be aware. If you don’t feel like waiting or shelling out $269 for your enclosure – here is our guide on the best Ghost S1 alternatives to consider.
Corsair’s SFX series of PSUs, widely regarded as the best on the market, left us with an easy decision here: the SF600 Platinum. With this 600W unit, we have some overclocking headroom and the ability to upgrade components in the future. Furthermore, it was rated 9.8/10 by JohnnyGuru – a testament to its fantastic voltage regulation, performance, build quality, and value.
Benefits of the Platinum rated version of the SF600 over the Gold version include premium sleeved cables (perfect for cable management in our ITX system) for a clean interior, as well as an improved fan. However, we wouldn’t recommend the $10 premium over the Gold SF600 if you aren’t planning on using the stock sleeved cables, and are instead going for a custom sleeved cable configuration.
The LOUQE Ghost S1 allows for one additional 120mm case fan slot at the bottom of the chassis – should you choose not to install a 2.5” SSD drive. Occupying this slot is, of course, the industry-leading brand – Noctua. They need no introduction, offering best-in-class airflow, cooling performance, and build quality – as long as you don’t mind Noctua’s striking color scheme! The specific model we opted for was the Noctua NF-A12x15 PWM, which is a 120mm x 15mm slim case fan – with PWM fan control..
In our roundup of the best thermal pastes on the market earlier this year, we found the Arctic MX-4 to be the best carbon-based thermal paste on the market. It offers fantastic performance for its price, costing considerably less than the highly-regarded Thermal Grizzly Kyronaut, while still competing on thermal performance.
Priced at just $7 for 4 grams, the addition of the Arctic MX-4 to our build is a cheap but effective upgrade for our Ryzen 5 3600’s thermals.
For the money, it’s tough to beat a reliable ITX gaming system. As manufacturing processes continue to improve, and smaller components offer more performance and features, SFF computers have been skyrocketing in popularity. If ever you’ve found yourself interested in joining the SFFPC community, we’re confident this build is a fantastic place to start… even if you lack the patience to wait for the LOUQE!
Have you built in the LOUQE GhostS1? Are you considering switching to an ITX system? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!