Z87 rules the PC enthusiast market by exposing the Haswell architecture’s full feature set. We’re particularly interested in mini-ITX-based platforms able to integrate Z87 in a compact form factor. Five boards contend for supremacy of compact computing.

Every time we hear about the death of the desktop PC, that conclusion seems to be based on slowing sales from big tier-ones like Dell and HP. But we know from talking to boutique builders that the demand for high-end gaming PCs and workstations continues to increase. It’s a good time to be an enthusiast, and games like Battlefield 4 help illustrate why.

At least some of the excitement comes from high-performance, high efficiency hardware, which is allowing the community to construct faster machines in smaller enclosures. It’s no longer necessary to drop a big case next to your desk with two or three 250 W graphics cards for playable frame rates in the latest titles. Now we can get plenty of speed in small machines that look more like living room appliances, but are every bit PCs.

Up until recently, the mini-ITX form factor was all about compromise. You’d give up most of your motherboard’s slots and room for integrated extras to fit into tighter spaces. But as this segment grows, more and more companies are recognizing a desire for premium-class platforms with all of the on-board features expected from a largerATX board. Drop in a high-end, overclockable processor, one dual-slot graphics card with multiple display outputs, and some solid-state storage. Sounds about as sexy as any monolithic gaming box we’ve ever seen.

So, which motherboard would we choose to serve as the foundation for a build like that? There are certainly many options on the market, and five of the industry’s top performance-oriented brands sent us a sample to compare.