An Introduction to Building a Small Form Factor PC
Published June 6, 2018; Updated June 10, 2018
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 $500 kitchen PC or a $2,500 ultra-high-end 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 June 2018, we profile ten distinct compact PCs, and thankfully, with falling prices on video cards, memory, and even CPUs, you can build a better SFF PC today for less money than ever before! We're also seeing some renewed competition in the SFF case market, meaning there are plenty of premium models to choose from, which hasn't always been true. A great example is the sleek aluminum-clad SilverStone FTZ01-E slimline case, shown above and featured in our $2,500 Ultra-Extreme Mini-ITX PC.
One major issue to note is that despite the intense competition between Intel and AMD in the CPU market right now, only one of our ten SFF systems uses an AMD CPU, specifically our $1,100 High-End Home Theater PC. And that's specifically because it's not a true SFF PC, it's actually an ultra-compact ATX system. Unfortunately, despite AMD's great selection of 2000-series CPUs, the selection of ITX and mATX motherboards compatible with these CPUs is extraordinarily limited. AMD has caused a lot of confusion by marketing two generations of products simultaneously: B350/X370 chipsets and the new X470 chipsets, with only the latter offering guaranteed compatibility with AMD's current 2000-series processors. To make a long story short, going Intel for SFF just makes more sense today.
In other Intel-related news, the firm has finally released its long-awaited "Hades Canyon" NUC, shown here, which it announced at CES 2018 in January. It's a follow-up to the Skull Canyon NUC, released exactly two years prior, which was a hit among high-end enthusiasts, but honestly didn't sell all that well at launch. One clear sign of this fact: Skull Canyon dropped in price fairly quickly for an Intel product (about 20% below its $650 MSRP within a year). But Hades Canyon takes the cake in this regard: it dropped in price before it even hit the market! Announced at $1,000, it arrived on store shelves with an MSRP of $900. Our hunch is that the $1,000 pricepoint was just a bit too rich for this product given the delay and other factors. With that said, it's definitely a technological tour de force, combining Intel's best laptop processor along with arch-rival AMD's best laptop Vega graphics. And thanks to the pricecut, we're going to give it a recommendation in our guides as an optional step-up from a standard NUC.
We like to keep our readers up on the latest and greatest in SFF gear, so we'd turn your attention to our latest CPU cooler shootout, pitting two of the smallest custom coolers, the SilverStone AR11 and Noctua NH-L9i shown below, against the stock Intel cooler for featherweight dominance! At 47mm- and 40mm-tall, respectively, these coolers will fit on every motherboard on the market, as well as in every ITX, mATX, or ATX case.
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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