An Introduction to Building a Small Form Factor PC

Published October 11, 2018

 

 

Fractal

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- and counter-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 October 2018, we continue to profile ten distinct compact PCs, but we've re-worked the pricepoints of the various systems to provide a more useful comparison shopping experience for our readers. Thus, all systems now come in at multiples of $250, with two $500 models, two $750 models, two $1,000 models, and one each at $1,250, $1,500, $2,000, and $2,500.

One major change we've carried over from last month is our new hard limit of 25 liters for a system to be considered Small Form Factor. With so many ITX cases putting on the pounds over the years, and mATX cases slimming down, the SFF market started becoming a little bit hard to navigate, so we think looking at overall volume is the best way to approach the situation. While the 25-liter limit will disqualify just about everything larger than a mini-ITX based system, two mATX systems do squeak by: our new $500 Home Office Desktop PC, which comes in at 22 liters, as well as our sleek $750 Home Theater PC, which is 16 liters. On the gaming side, we have models like our $2,000 Ultimate Gaming Mini-ITX PC, shown above, which comes in at just 20 liters, and our new 12-liter $1,000 eSports Portable Gaming PC shown below, which is focused on the eSports tournament market. It packs a ton of gaming power into a travel-friendly package - it even has its own handle!

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In other news, there have been some big-name product releases in the past month, including Nvidia's new RTX series of video cards and Intel's 9th-generation Core processors, headlined by the eight-core i7-9700K and i9-9900K. While neither Nvidia or Intel is cutting consumers a break on pricing, thanks to the rapidly falling cost of SSDs and RAM, we have actually worked the Nvidia RTX 2080 into both the $2,000 Ultimate Gaming Build and the $2,500 Ultra-Extreme ITX Build. The new Intel Core processors, however, will have to wait, as new Z390-based ITX motherboards that support them will lag behind ATX motherboard introductions by about a month, if history is any guide. Look for the 9700K/9900K to appear in our SFF builds for November! In the meantime, AMD's fabulous Ryzen four- and six-core processors have proven to be the perfect fit for SFF PCs, and they appear in four of our ten builds this month, including the 16-liter $750 Home Theater PC, which uses a Ryzen 2400G APU with built-in Vega 11 graphics, and the 7-liter $1,000 Ultra-Slim ITX Gaming HTPC, shown below, which features a Ryzen 5 2600 six-core processor and GeForce graphics.

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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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