Small form factor (SFF) PCs have been around for a while, but in the early days, you could only get them from a company willing to make a custom design. Now, thanks to a burgeoning SFF subculture, you can build one yourself.
🎥: Optimum Tech
Update (February 5th, 5:00PM ET): We recommended the NZXT H1 PC case, which has been recalled for safety problems (electrical shorts) with its PCIe riser. We have removed that card and updated this post accordingly.
The best place to start is with a case. You may have your eye on a beefy graphics card, or a particular motherboard, but the case dictates what you can fit so you should start there.
We've assembled a list of our favorites, but it's not exhaustive by any means.
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Because of their small size, these cases require some specialized components. You'll need:
- A Mini ITX or DTX motherboard
- An SFX power supply
- A low-profile cooler
- A GPU that fits
🎥: Optimum Tech
If you're a PC builder, you're probably familiar with the ATX and mATX sized motherboards. However, due to the size constraints, you'll need a Mini ITX or DTX motherboard to fit into these cases.
Just like motherboards, ATX power supplies are the standard, but for these cases you'll need something a little more specialized: An SFX or Flex power supply. These can deliver less wattage than their larger counterparts, so you'll have to factor that in when choosing your other components, like the CPU and GPU.
There are two main ways to cool a SFF PC: With air, or with water. Designing a "custom loop" water cooling system for any PC is its own can of worms, so we're going to focus on air.
For that, you need a low-profile cooler, since many of these cases have the least space in the Z axis. Many cases will either suggest specific coolers, or provide a "maximum height" figure for you to use.
Building an SFF PC is kind of a huge pain in the ass, and there will be times when things you thought would fit have a corner or a side that blocks something else.
There's also a pretty sweet ecosystem of custom parts on Thingiverse if you have a 3D printer, and I can tell you from experience, it's helpful!