Everything You Need to Know About SFF PCs: The Skinny on Going Small Form Factor

Endymio

Posts: 1,334   +1,219
Not a fan of small builds. Specifically because of the heat.
The heat in a SFF is no higher than that of a larger case with the same components. The temperatures may be higher, but that's not given either: much depends on the cooling solution.

In any case, if you consider SFFs and NUCs as nothing more than smaller desktops, you're missing their point. I have a fanless SFF used as a media server, in a location for which I would never consider placing a desktop.
 

R00sT3R

Posts: 481   +1,321
They look great in stylish photos, such cool modern urban living and all that but at the end of the day they're more trouble than they're worth, from sourcing compatible components to having to deal with being on waiting lists for months because all the best SFF cases are from low volume, uber expensive kickstarter type projects.

Mini ITX SFF builds are really just style over substance.
 

nodfor

Posts: 92   +157
Is it necessary to go below matx for small form desktops? Now with M2 drives, maybe case designers should start by removing space for hdd/ssd before going immediately to mitx in order to reduce size.
 

Luay

Posts: 115   +58
Just a Jonsbo U1 Plus with an intake fan instead of the 2'5" drive mount. That's all I want. Somebody needs to make this.
 

madboyv1

Posts: 1,714   +632
Considering that, depending on the case (and honestly way more and much smaller cases than you'd expect), you can still manage to fit in a custom liquid cooling loop for one or both of your processor and graphics card, and still manage enthusiast parts (such as last generations' i9-9900k or Ryzen 9 3900x, and GTX2080ti as an example) in that same space, Managing heat isn't impossible or even hard. It just takes a little bit of planning which honestly is half the fun. Even without liquid cooling temperatures aren't honestly all that bad and within parity of their bigger cousins since the most heat generating parts are often able to pull air directly from ambient and not through the case, but again that depends on the case, and I guess sure, that is when choosing the right parts to match a certain power and thermal envelope becomes more important.

The rest of the points are pretty spot on, particularly sourcing parts. If AIBs had not gone cold turkey and stopped making RTX 2070 mini cards (talking sub 180mm length here) there was a real chance I would have built something out of the K39 or Velka 3 just for the sheer absurdity of it (and being able to carry it in small-medium camera bag). And speaking of the K39, good TFX power supplies can be expensive because of how low the demand is for them. That and prices atm are kinda nuts for good SFX power supplies and lets talk about cases. Purpose built cases are manufactured in smaller numbers and billed at premium, rivaling and exceeding the build quality and cost of premium Full ATX cases... but at least more cosmopolitan manufacturers are taking notice such as the Cooler Master NR200, which is the closest thing to what the following quoted text was thinking should be done. Honestly probably one of my favorite cases released this year for the sheer number of interior layout possibilities. the NZXT H1 is a pretty cool case too with the integrated AIO (though a shame you have to buy it as a kit).

Is it necessary to go below matx for small form desktops? Now with M2 drives, maybe case designers should start by removing space for hdd/ssd before going immediately to mitx in order to reduce size.
The mATX maximum specification for a board is 244mm², vs ITX's 170mm², 9.6" on a side vs 6.7" on a side. That's a lot smaller comparatively. Many cases nowadays are already trending to the omission of dedicated space for 3.5" drives and ODD (2.5" drives are super easy to find space for however), but just leaving the space empty or using it for more cooling options rather than reducing size. Additionally, the extra two to three PCIe slots provided by an mATX boards can be very useful yes, but generally are the reason why mATX boards AND cases are larger (Because they have to be), and unnecessary outside specific use add-on cards like a dedicated sound card, capture card, or in larger builds, a second graphics card if you so feel inclined, things that either can be replaced by a USB3/TB external box or just not needed.

At the end of the day though, all higher end/gaming desktop computers are some kind of form over function, else we'd be using open test benches or some generic box that provides enough airflow and space to hold everything we need. Go with what you want, what you like, and have a good time doing it. :)
 

veLa

Posts: 1,117   +753
I've been interested in building my own small form factor machine, but haven't had the opportunity to do so yet. Besides, lanning isn't as common anymore.

I do perform maintenance on a lot of the small HPs that my work has though. I'm pretty familiar with the limitations and heat.
 

defaultluser

Posts: 229   +207
They look great in stylish photos, such cool modern urban living and all that but at the end of the day they're more trouble than they're worth, from sourcing compatible components to having to deal with being on waiting lists for months because all the best SFF cases are from low volume, uber expensive kickstarter type projects.

I'm sorry the Case Makers just ran over your dog.

I agree with you that all one-off cases are worthless, but that doesn't mean you don't hev dozens of different choices form a manufacturer that knows airflow.

I have had a Factal Design Node 304 for eight years of HTPC gaming. I currently have a GTX 960 installed in the thing, and the card I'm going to replace it with is a Zotac 1060 AMP.

As long as you restrict yourself to dual-slot coolers , you can fit almost any card inside. The cooling is also outstanding (2x92mm in, 1x 140mm outlet).

The Core 500 is an even better revision on the Box Case concept( 2x140mm vert, and 1x 140mm rear)

If your want something a little less boxy, there is the Cougar QBX (taller), or the Node 202 (super-tall, at the cost of cooling). Both cases can handle a full-sized graphics card without any compromises.
 
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hk2000

Posts: 165   +86
A lot of the comments here are implying this is a new thing, (maybe it is to them), but MITX has been around for ages. I have 4 PCs, only 1 is a full size ATX tower, the rest are SFF ITX HTPCs, built many, many years ago. If you don't game, which I don't, then there is absolutely no need for a full size build.
 

madboyv1

Posts: 1,714   +632
Yeah, closer to 8-10 years maybe?!
I wouldn't necessarily say that long ago. Outside the Falcon Northwest Tiki in 2012 (only available at that boutique?) and then the first iteration of the Ncase N1 in 2014(?), there were very few mini SFF cases (I subscribe to the sub 20L definition) that were performance conscious before then, most being mini PC cases that offered at best half height, half length, or both for expansion slots. That was okay for you since you said you don't game with them, and actually okay for me too back then, since my first SFF build back in 2009 was also not for gaming. Since 2015 there have been a ton of gaming minded cases though, SFX PSUs became muuuuuch easier to source, and the mass adoption of 2.5" SSD and the addition of m.2 slots on motherboards has certainly helped reduce internal footprints.
 

toooooot

Posts: 1,477   +738
A lot of the comments here are implying this is a new thing, (maybe it is to them), but MITX has been around for ages. I have 4 PCs, only 1 is a full size ATX tower, the rest are SFF ITX HTPCs, built many, many years ago. If you don't game, which I don't, then there is absolutely no need for a full size build.
Thats is why many people never owned a PC in their life. A smartphone and laptop/tablet is all they ever use.
 

defaultluser

Posts: 229   +207
Has the ITX tax come down comparable to cheap MATX? If not I will pass.


I would say it has (as long as you are not fixated for some reason on sticking a Z-series Intel motherboard in your box).

When I picked-up my Ivy Bridge ITX system, I picked-up a H77 motherboard for just $10 more than an equivalent micro ATX (same brand). Manufactures know sticking a Z-series inside an ITX box is a corner-case within a corner-case, and they have you by the balls (the same $40-60 premium on Ivy Bridge Z77 still exists today).

Even though you don't NEED IT, ythey would be happy to sell it to you. But that upsell gives thre rest of the ITX motherboards a bad name.

I can't point to that tiny difference today (because ALL motherboards are still sold-out everywhere, thanks to Covid demand spike), but I would expect it to return. sometime next year.
 
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Squid Surprise

Posts: 4,151   +3,330
Nowadays, laptops tend to be just as small as an SFF... they’re often cheaper too...

I prefer larger computers myself, as I want to get the best bang for the buck when it comes to performance - and I have a laptop for when I want portability...
 

HofyPC

Posts: 97   +97
At 27L the NZXT H210 is NOT SFF. My systems have been SFF since 2008. if it is over 20L it is mid size. I actually aim for 10L or less is possible.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,334   +1,219
Nowadays, laptops tend to be just as small as an SFF... they’re often cheaper too... I have a laptop for when I want portability.
A laptop uses low-power components, and does not allow you to freely choose those components. It also comes with a screen and a clamshell, which in certain situations is undesirable.

Finally, SFF is about more than portability; I haven't moved my SFF since it was originally built.