Building a Small Form Factor PC - January 2019
Published January 5, 2019
If you're looking to build a Small Form Factor (SFF) PC and need some help getting started, you've come to the right place! Our comprehensive set of component buyer's guides and hands-on builder's guides will help you create the system of your dreams, whether it's a budget-friendly kitchen PC or an ultra-high-end, yet still portable, gaming system. We publish these guides because we think SFF systems are the future of desktop computing, and once you've built your own SFF PC, we're confident you'll agree! If you're ready to take the plunge, keep reading and you'll find all the information you need.
For January 2019, we continue to profile ten distinct compact PCs, all under 25 liters in volume (our cutoff for what qualifies as SFF), at multiple pricepoints: two $500 models, two $750 models, two $1,000 models, and one each at $1,250, $1,500, $2,000, and $2,500. Among our favorite options is the new "Bean Canyon" quad-core NUC from Intel, shown above, which brings serious computing power into the palm of your hand at a remarkably-reasonable price. You can learn more about it in our $750 NUC PC Buyer's Guide! With that said, our most popular model at the moment is our $500 Home Office PC, shown below, which uses a compact mATX chassis and standard-sized components. It's perfect for anyone who wants a system that will let them get a lot of work done without taking up a lot of space.
The big news this month is that Intel has completely abandoned the low-end CPU segment due to its production problems - all available manufacturing capacity had been allocated to higher-margin CPUs. Therefore, all of our recommended budget PCs rely on AMD's Ryzen cost-effective lineup. There is some good news for high-end users, however: Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2080 8GB video card and Intel's Core i7-9700K are now both in good supply, and they are our picks for our top-end $2,500 Ultra-Extreme Mini Gaming PC, shown below, which is a showcase of the best in SFF performance and design.
Note that although both Intel and Nvidia have higher-spec'd chips (the Core i9-9900K and RTX 2080 Ti, respectively), we don't believe either belong in a true SFF system due to their enormous heat output. The "95W" Core i9-9900K actually uses more like 145W, while the RTX 2080 Ti is the most power-hungry GPU ever released. Fitting them both in a compact chassis simply will not work without serious performance and/or acoustic degradation, so we aren't featuring them in our guides. In fact, we've become aware that some Z390-based ITX motherboards with oversized heatsinks designed around the 9900K actually don't work in many ITX builds, as they are incompatible with most low-profile heatsinks. We've made adjustments to our builds to help you avoid these boards when building up systems with the Core i7-9700K or Core i5-9600K.
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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