Building a Small Form Factor PC - August 2019

Published August 7, 2019

 

 

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If you're ready to build your own dream Small Form Factor (SFF) PC and need a bit of help selecting the perfect parts, you've come to the right place! Our comprehensive component buyer's guides and hands-on assembly guides will get you up and running in the world of SFF computers. Whether it's a budget-friendly kitchen PC or an ultra-high-end gaming system, we've got you covered. We think SFF systems represent the future of desktop computing, and once you've built your own SFF PC, we know you'll agree! So, if you're ready to take the plunge, keep reading and you'll find all the information you need.

For August 2019, there are massive changes afoot in the industry, and we're doing our best not just to keep up with them, but to let you in on all the secrets! Our build guides come in at seven pricepoints: two $500 models, two $750 models, two $1,000 models, and one each at $1,250, $1,500, $2,000, and $2,500. Our goal is to provide you the best alternatives at each pricepoint, whether your goal is to build a small office PC, a home theater PC, or a full-on gaming machine. We profile ten distinct compact PCs under 25 liters in volume, which is the cutoff we've set for what qualifies as a true SFF machine. We also have one ultra-high-end system using the NZXT H200i case, shown above, that comes in at 27 liters and packs in an Intel Core i9-9900K and a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. While it doesn't quite meet our definition of SFF, we think it's close enough to give it a pass, as smaller systems simply can't handle the heat based on our testing.

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For Home Theater fans, any of our builds would work, but we have three dedicated systems designed to look great on an AV console while providing true 4K/60Hz output via HDMI 2.0. These include a stylish $750 mini-ITX system (shown at left), a $1,000 slim micro-ATX system, and a $1,250 full-height micro-ATX system. For serious gaming fans, we have a huge range of systems, starting at $1,000 for our eSports build using the Fractal Node 202 chassis and going up to $2,500 for the aforementioned NZXT-based system. Our personal favorite, however, is still the shoebox-shaped $1,500 Ultra-Compact ITX Gaming PC, using the SilverStone SG13 chassis, simply because it's so small.

But what are those big industry changes we mentioned earlier? Well, first of all, AMD has delivered a serious challenge to Intel in the form of its new Ryzen 3000 lineup of high-end processors. While they'll certainly be a great choice for SFF builders at some point, they aren't today, due to a lack of ITX and mATX motherboards that support them out of the box. Only X570 motherboards have this support; B450/X470 boards will require firmware updates, so we can't recommend them in our guides. A lone X570 ITX board did appear for a few days online, but quickly sold out, so we had to pull our recommendation of it. The other major happening in the industry is related to tariffs on China - we are finally seeing significant impacts on pricing and availability on just about everything that comes out of Chinese factories, including nearly all PC cases, power supplies, and coolers. Expect to pay a lot more for all of this gear in the coming months, and also prepare for some of it to disappear from the market, particularly the lower-cost products where price increases just aren't feasible.

As you consider building your own SFF system, keep in mind that every compact case is unique, so no single build guide can tell you exactly how certain components will fit together in that case. SFF cases often arrange components in a way that makes it difficult to install otherwise standard PC parts. That's why in addition to our many SFF Buyer's Guides, we've worked hard to put together a comprehensive set of step-by-step assembly guides covering a wide range of case layouts. We believe these are the most comprehensive step-by-step PC building guides you'll find anywhere!

All of our Buyer's Guides shown below use Amazon's real-time pricing engine to provide up-to-date prices, and we also provide direct links to Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, and Amazon Germany, with regional substitutions made where necessary. If you purchase any of the components profiled in this guide, please use our links, which helps support continued development of this guide.

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