Building a Small Form Factor PC – The November 2021 Update
By Ari Altman | Published November 10, 2021 | Updated November 10, 2021
If you’re ready to build your own dream Small Form Factor (SFF) PC and need help picking the perfect parts, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve been publishing our comprehensive SFF component buyer’s guides and hands-on assembly guides since 2013, so no one else can get you up and running in the world of SFF PCs better than we can! Whether it’s a budget-friendly kitchen PC, a compact yet powerful small office, or an ultra-high-end gaming system, we’ve got you covered.
We define SFF systems as anything having a total volume of under 25 liters, although that’s just a starting point, and every system in our guides at this point is under 20 liters! We fully believe these PCs represent the future of desktop computing. 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.
This Month’s Updates
For November 2021, there’s plenty of good news in the SFF market, with more competition than ever among case manufacturers to bring you the freshest, smallest, and highest-performing designs. We’re getting to the point where it’s not obvious what they’ll think of next, because seemingly everything has been optimized to the fullest! See our video below for the latest example of SFF case innovation, this one from industry-veteran SilverStone!
But what about the components you put in these cases? Well, there’s some exciting news out of Intel with its 12th-Gen “Alder Lake” CPUs, and we think the Core i5-12600K and Core i7-12700K in particular would make great SFF CPUs. We’d stay far away from the 12900K, however, due to its excessive power use (about 100W more than the similarly-performing 12700K). The downside right now is, as always, limited ITX motherboard availability at launch. Typically the “Big Four” manufacturers (Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock) each offer one ITX motherboard using Intel’s top chipset (in this case, the Z690), but so far, only Gigabyte’s Z690I Aorus Ultra is available, at a cool $290. It’s likely excellent, and we may recommend it soon in a guide, but obviously only in a very high-end machine. For now, most of our SFF builds either use 11th-Gen Core processors on older, cheaper motherboard, or AMD’s Ryzen, which can also be paired with much cheaper motherboards.
Alas, we still have the problem of GPU availability due to the lasting effects of this year’s cryptocurrency mining craze, and it’s always more complicated when you also have to think about size constraints! So, for ITX machines, we are pretty limited right now, but you’ll find our best suggestions in each of our gaming-oriented SFF PC buyer’s guides.
Our Latest Reviews and How-Tos
As always, we continue to test all the latest and greatest SFF gear we can get our hands on. Most recent is our First Look at SilverStone’s most exciting ITX chassis in years, the SG16!
We’ll continue to feature reviews and builds on our YouTube channel you won’t find anywhere else, so don’t miss out – subscribe now! We also have a huge catalog of SFF review articles listed later on this page under the “Articles” tab.
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!
One last thing: all of our Buyer’s Guides shown below provide product links to select retailers. If you purchase any of the components profiled in this guide, please use our links, which helps support continued development of this guide.
Scroll down to find the buyer’s guide for your dream system, and click on Articles to see our huge catalog of reviews and how-tos!