small form factor comparison

If you are in the market for a new PC, the term SFF may have popped up in your search for information. SFF or “Small Form Factor” PC’s are compact systems designed to fit into tight spaces or offer levels of portability not found in typical full-sized desktop gaming computers. The compact nature of SFF PC’s can be very enticing, but they usually come with some tradeoffs.

SFF PC Components

When building one of these systems, a little more time and effort must be spent selecting the components due to the space constraints. While there is no compatibility rule book or defined guidelines for small form factor systems, below you will find some of the typically associated parts.

Motherboards: Mini-ITX, and Mini-STX are typically the only motherboards supported by these systems with mITX being the most common mainstream option.

Power Supplies: You will find small form factor systems that support ATX, SFX, SFX-L, Flex-ATX, DC-DC, and Pico power supplies.

Graphics Cards: SFF gaming cases will typically support a 1 dual slot GPU. Some systems may only have space for single slot or half height cards. You also have to check GPU length, as small form factor systems are often built to take advantage of compact GPU’s.

CPU Coolers: Case layout will determine the cooler type and size. Some SFF systems manage to squeeze liquid cooling into there compact body. However, most opt for air coolers that typically fall in the sub 80mm height range.

SFF PC Tradeoffs

NX SFF caseYou are probably thinking… if you can build a system with powerful components that is smaller, why doesn’t everyone just do that? Well, there are some key tradeoffs often associate with small form factor gaming computers.

Performance: Full sized systems typically offer better airflow, cooling performance, and component compatibility.

Depending on component selection you may find it difficult to achieve the maximum overclocks that most PC gamers strive for in a system featuring limited cooling potential. Even the best compact CPU air coolers can’t offer the same level of performance you will find in full sized liquid cooled PCs.

SFF Mini-ITX graphics cards are smaller, which limits the size of there heatsinks and fan arrays. Much like CPUs this can limit the overall overclocking and cooling potential.

Pricing: Due to limited production and increased engineering costs, SFF components are often more expensive when compared to their full-sized counterparts.

Noise Levels:  Small Form Factor Gaming PCs are typically louder than normal full-sized computers. These systems generally rely on air coolers with fans that have to spin up to high RPM. Airflow can also be compromised in compact cases creating turbulence.

Is an SFF Gaming PC Right for You?

Even with all the issues listed above, SFF systems are still a great option. You just need to make sure you are smart about the case and components you select.

If you need a portable gaming machine, or LAN party rig there is no better option. The ever-increasing selection of small form factor cases allows you to create something unique, powerful, and small.

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Charlie O'Donnell

Charlie has been a member of Velocity Micro's team since 2018. He has a love for both graphic design and PC gaming.

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