An Introduction to Building a Small Form Factor PC

Published December 8, 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 December 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 ATX format (but in the smallest ATX case on the market, the SilverStone GD09), 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.

The biggest news this month is the availability, after a very long delay, of Intel's new top-of-the-line "Coffee Lake" CPUs, the Core i5-8600K and Core i7-8700K. These are the six-core chips enthusiasts have been dreaming of for years. Given their relatively-modest power draw, they finally make building a high-end six-core gaming machine possible. Note that due to the lack of reasonably-priced mATX for Intel's Coffee Lake CPUs, they really can't be used yet in micro-ATX systems. Also note that the Intel Core i5-8400, which promised great performance for under $200 when it was "launched" on October 5th, is practically vaporware, and our best guess is that this chip won't become widely available for purchase until well into 2018. On the AMD side, several of our mid-range ITX builds, as well as a few of our special-purpose micro-ATX and ATX builds, use Ryzen six- and eight-core CPUs. These chips offer tremendous processing power (but slightly less gaming proficiency than Intel's Coffee Lake models) in a cost-effective package.

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!