An Introduction to Building a Small Form Factor PC
Published October 11, 2017
If you're looking to build a Small Form Factor (SFF) PC and want 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 put your own SFF PC together, we think you'll agree! If you're ready to take the plunge, we're confident you'll find the information you need here.
For October 2017, we continue to profile eleven distinct compact builds - just scroll down to the bottom of the page to select the one that's right for you. Over half of these systems are what we'd call "true SFF" builds, using the mini-ITX, STX, or NUC form factor, and utilizing ultra-compact cases smaller than a shoebox. We also have three options that use mid-sized micro-ATX motherboards, one that uses the full-size ATX format, and an ITX-based build in an extra-large chassis that allows extreme gaming gear to fit. With all that being said, by far our most popular model is the $1,500 Ultra-Compact Mini-ITX PC, based on the SilverStone SG13 chassis, shown above.
We're happy to report that thanks to the wide availability of mATX motherboards for AMD's fantastic Ryzen line of CPUs, the majority of our mid-sized PCs have moved over to AMD's six- and eight-core CPUs, which provide far more multi-threaded processing capability than Intel's similarly-priced CPUs. While we've considered adding a Ryzen processor to one or two of our ITX builds, there are two things holding us back: the lack of built-in graphics is a problem for lower-priced systems, and the lack of really good compact coolers for the AM4 platform is an issue on the high end. By the way, Intel's new "Coffee Lake" processor line, launched on October 5th, was supposed to shake things up a bit, and eventually it will. But Intel's marketing arm went into overdrive in the face of AMD's onslaught, and "released" a product line before it actually had any product to sell. Try again next month, Intel!
To help you keep up to date on all the latest SFF components, we're continually reviewing a variety of gear from the leading manufacturers of SFF-friendly components. Our latest gear test focused on SilverStone's new cutting-edge SX500-G power supply, which we're now recommending in the $1,500 Ultra-Compact PC. To learn more about it, jump to our hands-on review! Next up to the plate will be Noctua's awesome new 70mm-tall NH-L12S low-profile cooler, which enthusiasts have been awaiting for years!
One bit of bad news for readers who've followed this page for a while is that the promise of book-sized STX builds with add-in MXM-based video cards has run out of steam. According to our sources, Nvidia has officially pulled support for retail MXM cards starting with its next generation Volta GPU lineup, due in early 2018. The fragile nature of the tiny MXM standard just didn't translate to a viable retail product. Enthusiasts eager to get the only STX-based PC to ever showcase the MXM standard will want to jump on AsRock's limited-run DeskMini GTX/RX. Featuring a GTX 1060 6GB, it's a potent gaming system, but at $800 without a CPU, memory, storage, or OS, it's not a particularly good value given that complete laptops featuring the same video card cost only a few hundred dollars more. Apparently, consumers have realized this, as it's now being offered with free pack-in combo items to help move stock out the door until it's all gone.
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. If you decide to create your own SFF masterpiece, we'd love to add your build to The Gallery - just contact us to get your system listed.
Scroll down to choose your dream system!