What is small form factor (SFF)?

Small form factor motherboard

What is small form factor (SFF)?

What is small form factor (SFF), you ask? Form factor is term used to describe specifications of electronic components such as shape and sizes or other physical specifications of the electronic components.

what is small form factor ( SFF motherboard)
Small Form factor motherboard

So now what is small form factor? The word is used to refer to motherboards of desktop computers that are smaller than ATX

Small form factor PC are available in many shapes and sizes.  Their size has made them preferable for home theatre use and also for gaming purposes. When they are being designed, the manufacturers put a lot of emphasizes on the aesthetic as well as ergonometric since most people carry them around.

As creative builders, many PC manufacturers such as hp, ASUS, Toshiba, intel, AMD, Lenovo, and DELL, continues to surprise their customers as they keep on pushing the limits with small form factor as pc continue to become more popular.

There are several advantages that are associated with Small form factors (SFF) such as the small space requirement compared to other full ATX pc. However, when toying with SFF, it was realized there has been a lot that is being sacrificed such as the functionality of performance. A good example is that there is no room to put more hard discs in the PC or there are very few PCIe slots available. However, this has changed over the last few years.

What qualifies as small form factor (SFF)

Unlike other items in the market, SFF has a lot to do with the volume but there exist some loose guidelines that are tied to the pc measurements. A full form factor pc (standard ATX tower) is between 40-45 liters. Therefore, by comparison, the measurements for a small factor are almost half of that 25 liters. It can be more or less depending on the manufacturers.

Advantages of small form factors

There are many advantages that are associated with the small form factor (SFF). The following are some of the advantages:

Require less space: less space requirements are the most noticeable advantage of small form factors. SFF requires far less space than the traditional full-size factors.

Reduce power consumption: since it is small, cooling will require smaller and fewer fans than the normal size pc. This is what makes them operate more efficiently.

Very easy to mount: their small sizes make them easier to mount behind Tvs, monitors, in server racks, under the desk and any where one would want to have them.

SFFs are very light:  because of the miniaturization, small components on the SFF motherboards the SFF computers are very light.

Disadvantages  

Well, SSF computers are two-sided coin.  Here are some of the attributes that makes small form factors not attractive at all.

Limited upgrades: Unless the pc is built at home, the pc will fit components that the manufacturer did fit when making it. There is no way to upgrade when there are latest components in the market.  Furthermore, if replacement is necessary, only items designed by manufacturers can fit.

Problem with component replacement: when a component has to be replaced, it is either that which the manufacturer made to suit the model or the whole pc becomes useless.

Cooling problems:  a widely sited research showed that heat builds up quickly in small form factors pc. The fans have to be strong lest the performance become crippled. Cooling is extremely important for a pc.

How to build a small form factor (SFF) PC

 PC builders looking to build their own small form factor pc today have so more options present in the market than it was every before. It is not a surprise to find that many pc that are under 25l liters in volume can make use of components that were initially meant for a standard tower pc that are twice the volume.

However, despite the variety of options in the market, builders still face more challenges than they would when working with a standard tower ATX motherboard and case. It is a relief to note that the fundamentals of building a gaming computer are not different from those of a full size gaming pc. The only difference is the little space that is available to work with. The less space available makes steps involved a little complex. It becomes very hard to select components, install them, find suitable cooling and also to manage the cables.

No need to worry because here are simplified steps to follow to build your own SFF pc. The process will include review each component and explain most important factors you will have to put into consideration while selected each component.

Small form factor components
Computer case

It is quite tricky to process to select a computer case. Probably you have already selected the components you are going to work with already such as the cooler and the GPU. That is fine. Now select the case that is going to house GPU and the cooler properly. if you have not selected components, that is also fine. Chose a case that is going to comfortably house the components you will need to fit in.

You should note that here are cases that designed to be placed vertically or those that have to be placed horizontally. Better still, there are those that can be placed in both ways. The design should be guided by the aesthetics and the portability without neglecting the component size.

Where there are questions concerning components or anything, there are forums available to assist you.

motherboard

Now that we are done with the case, the next step is going for the motherboard. There are available guides online on how to choose a motherboard suitable for you needs. Though it is very rare, there are full size motherboards that can fit in SFF cases. However, chances are high you will be forced to select a smaller motherboard. The available motherboards that can fit SFF cases include the Mini-ITX and sometimes the MicroATX that are slightly larger.

Read more on form factors of motherboard on this article here

The small size should not limit your creativity. For instance, instead of going for the hard disk, there are available options such as the m.2 that offer better performance even though they are small. Also, installing high-capacity ram sticks and using PCIe riser cards are available options.

Make sure you select the motherboard that can support dual channel RAM type for maximum performance.

Small form factor motherboard
A small form factor motherboard
GPU
a suitable GPU for use in SFF  gaming PC
Low profile GPU for small form factor gaming pc

Graphic processing unit (GPU) is an integral part of a

low profile GPU suitable for building small form factor pc for gaming

computer. More so when the primary faction of the pc is gaming. Today’s market offers many GPU form factors that you can chose from. The following are available options; half-length configuration, single slot and low profile GPU. A well cited study has shown that manufacturers are altering cases and motherboards so that they can accommodate full size GPUs.

CPU

Well, unlike the rest of the hardware components, CPUs are not affected by the size of the case or of the motherboard. CPUs are standard. However, it is very important that you choose a CPU that compatible motherboard.  New CPU models calls for new models of motherboard that can support the new power requirement and new features.

What is small form factor (SFF)?
An AMD CPU suitable for small form factor gaming pc
CPU Cooler

Today there is wide range of coolers available in the market from many manufacturers. Unlike the CPU, the coolers are affected by the size of the motherboard and the case. As a pc builder, you can choose either air cooling of liquid cooling. The air cooling is easy to fix compared to liquid cooling. The three options 

A low profile air cooler for the CPU
A low profile air cooler for the CPU suitable for small form factor gaming pc

available for you to choose from are; low-profile fan coolers, all-in-one liquid coolers and custom cooling loops.

NOTE! When a low-profile cooler is choice, make sure you also choose a low-profile ram.  There is a clearance required between the components-motherboard, cooler, chassis and the ram.

RAM

RAM is an integral part of the pc. You need to consider the motherboard and the size of you case when selecting a ram. The available standard size rams are able to fit and function excellently in all motherboards including the ITX

What is small form factor (SFF)?
Two 8Gb RAM sticks

 mini.

Note that if you need a small form factor RAM such as those used in the NUC, you may have to go for those used in the laptops.

Choose a dual channel RAM instead of a single channel. A single channel limits the performance.

The recommended motherboard below has only two channels- this is common for most small form factor motherboard.

Storage

There many types of storage.  The cheapest and many pc builders go for is the HDD. The motherboard recommended below has SATA ports to suite 2.5 and 3.5 HDD sizes. The SSD storage are also good to go for.

What is small form factor (SFF)?
WD hard drive for mini pc

However, M.2 is the most suitable for small form factors because of the sizes. They are faster and easy too cool compared the to HDD. M.2 are directly plug into motherboard so no need for cable. They save a lot of space. The recommended motherboard has ports that support multiple M.2 drives.

What is small form factor (SFF)?
1 tb M.2 drive suitable for SFF mini pc for gaming

However, sufficient cooling is necessary to avert performance issues.

 

 

Power supply

The power supply has to sufficiently provide all the necessary power required since the pc is supposed to a lot- powering the hdd, power the cooling systems and also power the sound system.

What is small form factor (SFF)?
Power supply for a full size PC

However, you have to ensure that the case is able to support full size PSU. However, the case in the recommended section is able to support Full size PSU.

General cooling

Other than cooling the CPU , GPU and the HDD, there is need to cool the whole pc as well. This can be done by air cooling.

Cheapest modern Components in the Amazon for your SFF gaming pc
  1. Motherboard
  2. Case
  3. GPU
  4. Cpu
  5. Rise cable ( pic)
  6. Low profile Cooler
  7. RAM
  8. Storage ( any of three will do)

            a. Ssd 

            b. Hdd

             c.  M.2  

  1. Power supply

Available SFF on amazon

It is possible that you don’t wish to build you own small form factor PC but rather need an already manufactured one. It is alright. There are manufacturers who have already made small form factor pc if you do not enjoy the thrill of making ne or you simply do not have time. Among the manufacturers are the intel, Hp, ASUS, google among others. Here are the four best small form factor pcs in amazon

HP EliteDesk 800 G2 Mini.

 

What is small form factor (SFF)?
hp Mini PC ( used SFF)

The features are as follows;

featuresdescription
OSWindows 10


Base Processing speed2.5 GHz
RAM8 Gb
Processor typeIntel core i5
PortsVGA
display port
Number of processors
4
Memory typeDDR3
Mini PC, Intel Celeron.
What is small form factor (SFF)?
Intel Clereon

Features are as follows;

featuresdescription
OSWindows 10


Base Processing speed2.5 GHz
RAM6 Gb
Processor typeIntel core i5
PortsVGA
display port, 2*HDMI,
ethernet port,
2* USB ports
Number of processors
4
Memory typeDDR3

There are many other mini pc, but the above 2 are the most optimal one in terms of price and the cost. Having the best pc without can mean the performance difference especially when you are building a career on gaming.  

Other than the gaming, small form factor pc could be used for other functions such as content editing or normal office or home job.

If you have a question or need a clarification, please leave a comment below and will get in touch soonest possible.