The Intel Alder Lake Z690 ITX PC build problem

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If you live in a small apartment, you are a little short of space on your desk, or you are fan of small footprint PC formats, then the mini-tower ITX PC case size can be the way to go for you. Now, let’s say you are planning to build a new PC with an Intel’s Alder Lake processor and you still want to go in a mini tower ITX form factor, then you’re in for a quite frustrating and nerve wracking journey when you see the components don’t fit in your case, even though they are rated for the same format.

Different Gaming PC configurations have proven that only using a single GPU is more than enough to run your games at a decent performance rate, so we are ok on that area. What about the motherboard? This is where it gets a little tricky. On this article we will talk about what your best options are in terms of components to build your ideal Intel Alder Lake Z690 ITX PC.

What are the Z690 motherboard options in ITX format

We are after an unlocked motherboard, ready to be overclocked, like on this case, the Z690. The options for Z690 motherboards in an ITX form factor are really reduced and they come down to roughly only 4 models. We have only one board model from each main motherboard manufacturer, and these are:

Intel Alder Lake Z690 ITX motherboard options

Up to here, everything seems ok, until we examine our RAM memory options.

RAM memory options in a Z690 ITX build

The Intel Alder Lake CPU came in the transition between the DDR4 and DDR5 memory technologies. If you are under budget constraints or simply have complications putting your hands on a DDR5 set, chances are you are likely considering going with DDR4 for your build.

Here is the dilemma: From these 4 models, only one has support for DDR4 memories: The Aorus Z690I Ultra. However, if you are looking ahead to the future, maybe paying the extra cash for a DDR5 kit doesn’t sound that crazy.

The cooling system, another bump in the road

It is well known ITX motherboard in the past were compatible with all existing cooling alternatives available. The issue here is how beefy modern motherboards are nowadays. This is also the case on the Z690 ITX options available. There is a big number of heatsinks and components, taking a lot of space on these motherboard layouts.

This is of course good, from the perspective that all the added features present in the Z690 technology takes too much space.

CPU fan cooling options

The situation is, having such a tiny space available on the PC case, some of these motherboard models can’t fit the regular low profile CPU cooler. PC 47 mm cooling fans like the

Alpenfohn Black Ridge, that is highly sought after for ITX cases like the Dan A4 doesn’t stand a chance here. Same thing for the Noctua NH-L12S is also a little on the big side.

If we were to sacrifice CPU performance and go with the Intel 12700K or the 12600K, maybe we will have a chance to use one of these low-profile cooling options, specially the Noctua alternative. Something like this would have been possible, if we had a configuration like the Z390 and the Z490, back on the day. But for the Z690 we are doomed.

Motherboards are getting better each day and the technology we see implemented on them takes its toll size-wise. Low profile cooling options are out of the question in a Z690 ITX configuration, but what about water cooling? Here we have a couple more concerns you need to be aware of.

Water cooling options

Let’s start off with the pump orientation. There is only one orientation possible for this motherboard configuration, at least with the MSI Z690i Unify, when it comes to the pump placement. A water cooler like the NZXT Kraken have only one way to work here, and is having the water tubes pointing towards the top of the computer case.

All things considered, the Kraken is one of the most compact water cooling options available, with a fairly reduced pump block. The Aorus Z690I Ultra is a little more forgiving than the MSI, where you can point the hoses to the left (sideway) from the pump. You can also orient the outlets towards the memory dimms, although you can put a significant amount of stress on them, therefore the first alternative is the one we recommend.

Aorus Z690I Ultra tight fit in an ITX configuration

Tower cooling options

Another type of cooling, like the Noctua NH-D15 won’t fit on the Aorus motherboard, but it will be able to be accommodated in the MSI Z690i Unify. From all these options, the Asus alternative has a very similar layout compared to the Aorus, and therefore, can’t be considered for this type of cooling option. However, the AsRock Z690 Phantom Gaming-ITX is the slimmest of all the Z690 ITX options presented. That being said, the latter should give you a lot more options in terms of cooling compatibility.

The computer case options

With the motherboard, memory and cooling options out of the way, now let’s talk about our computer case options next. The most prominent ITX case manufacturers are Ncase and Dan A4. With the first manufacturer, the most popular models, the Ncase M1 and Ncase FormD T1 were discontinued, and followers of the brand are on the wait for new models to release. On the other hand, with Dan A4, just like the Louqe Ghost S1 and the IQUNIX ZX1, it only support dual-GPU configurations.

This gives us even fewer good options on the market, like the Meshlicious SSUPD, the Cooler Master NR200 and the Lian Li Q58 as our top options.

Final thoughts on the ideal Z690 ITX build

Small computer form-factors are really convenient for a lot of reasons. These types of configurations have nothing to envy high performance full tower case computer rigs, although there is a lot to consider in terms of components and space distribution. Our most valuable recommendation is, get familiar with the sizes of your components and the possible orientation alternatives you have for them.

Our final recommended Alder lake Z690 ITX configuration would be:

  • Meshlicious Mini-ITX SSUPD
  • Aorus Z690I Ultra motherboard
  • NZXT Kraken X62 280mm liquid cooler
  • Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
  • Corsair SF750 Platinum 750w Power supply
Intel Alder Lake Z690 ITX PC build problem

If your requirements are not as demanding as gaming computers need, you can go with a productivity Intel Alder Lake chipset, like the B660 or any other locked affordable model. With these options you will have a lot less to worry about in terms of compatibility and space distribution.

We really wish motherboard manufacturers realize the actual problems and pain points of ITX desktop computer users. They build their product models like there is no space limitations, adding super thick heatsinks and other elements, and for the ITX niche this is a key factor to consider.

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