What is SFF? What’s all this hype about?

What is SFF? What's all this hype about? 2

First of all, I really do apologize for the sheer amount of innuendos that can be made out of everything related to small form factor. It’s literally endless, however you came here to read an article all about Small form factor right? Now I want to start you off with a little saying.. “Everything must have a function otherwise it’s wasting space”. This is something we live by in the underground cult of SFF enthusiasts. I actually do think it’s a cult at times, but that’s a story for another time.

Defining something as small can be quite tricky, we use the words SFF for describing the style of builds. Getting into small form factor technology though, many subgenres exist. The actual topic is very opinionated, as some argue that a Bitfenix Prodigy is small form factor. But others would disagree, but basically if it’s ITX or smaller? And rocking a super tiny case. That’s SFF! But it’s safe to assume if it’s bigger than ITX, it’s veering away from SFF. Delving into this topic requires you to understand a little bit more about why some might consider those cases to be on the large size.. Hopefully, we can share a variety of tips and builds to get this point across.

But let’s take a step back and understand why the hardware is so feasible now. Technology has finally become what we all dreamed for as kids. Everything is faster and more powerful, but most importantly, less heat. This means we don’t need large systems to get huge amounts of power to play the latest games, or those twenty fans that move the air around your house ten times over an hour. I’d like to think the SFF market was born again, people often think of SFF as this slow, old computing technology we’d use for an HTPC. But the modern day SFF gaming PC can cram an incredible amount of power into something you could throw into a backpack.. With some amazing companies throwing money into researching better motherboards, cases, graphics cards, power supplies. Right now, many combinations are readily available, supporting a variety of chipsets. Even AMD has an ITX solution running an APU, so at this point in time it’s only going to get better.

However the really big question I think everyone asks themselves, why is it so appealing? Why is that friend always telling you to build an ITX rig! Why do they keep popping up all over my news feed? Well, the only real way to get a feel for this crazy obsession? Look at builds on the internet, slowly you’ll start to see a unique pattern. The SFF scene attracts people wanting a challenge, every enthusiast wants their computer to be smaller, faster, more powerful, the maximum power per inch if you will. So half the appeal with smaller computers is the challenge in building them, most of the time working in very tight situations. Which can make building them way more fun than a big case.. which brings me to my next saying “Space is a luxury”.

Every detail is important, down to the length of the fan cable, the placement of the fans, the type of cooler used. It’s this level of detail and complexity that I think attracts some of the world’s best modders to push the boundaries. Working with ATX and mATX we often say stuff like.. “Yeah you’ll have a few inches spare with that heatsink”.. in some SFF cases centimeters are the unit of measurement. So building them is fun, it’s challenging for even the most experienced builders..

However, what do you miss out on vs mATX or ATX or eATX? Without a doubt most people will be sad to hear they can’t mount eight 2TB hard drives for all those “steam games” into a smaller case, not to mention there aren’t that many SATA ports on an ITX board. Also most cases won’t be so accepting of say.. a 295×2 although.. someone probably has done that, SFF modders are pretty crazy. But if you are running single GPU systems, SFF is something you should really consider. You get the same performance roughly in a smaller space.

For now though I’ll leave you with the thoughts of carrying a nice tiny PC over to your mates at the weekend, or hopping on the train to go to the next Iseries. Instead of hiring a van for the weekend or requiring help when you want to empty that loop, so SFF is not just cool to look at, it can be powerful. But most importantly? It follows the SFF way, practicality.

Now I want to just show you some of the builds that have reinvented the way I look at computing in general. Some are beautiful, some redefine the word impossible to possible.. and some are just plain crazy! A mix of cube to tower, a few scratch builds and generally. Just awesome SFF computers. I feel it wraps up the article with a nice lighter note because everyone loves looking at nice pictures right?

Scratch Build Acrylic ITX by Parvum Systems

Parvum ITX Scratch Build


This is one of the builds that got me into building smaller computers, not only did they build a completely new case.. but it’s one of the best looking ITX cases around today. I’m looking forward  the actual ITX cases appearing from Parvum Systems because they look gorgeous! Built for one purpose alone, to look sexy. However it actually uses a 120mm rad and dual 80mm rad! With a cute 670 mini up in the top section of the case. Check out the build log on Bit-Tech here.


Silverstone SUGO SG05 by hyp36rmax


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This next awesome case really outlines some of my points earlier about SFF, this build by hyp36rmax on oc.net is just stunning. He has used every inch of space this little SG05. And it just goes to show how crazy small form factor can be, don’t forget to check out the build log here.  But you can see how the person making this has crammed a custom CPU loop into the build, using the space next to the PSU for mounting a hard drive.. Following the SFF way and not wasting any space. Even down to the placement of cables you can see the GPU cables running across the top of the front intake fan, just beautiful.


Compact Splash By C73



Compact splash was a case that was released some time ago, only a few exist and it was part of a limited line created by a modder. These cases aren’t built for looks, just purpose. However they do look gorgeous and as it stands they provide one of the best layouts for water cooling I’ve ever seen in such a small space. This is actually done by mounting the PSU above the motherboard, freeing up a huge amount of space at the top and bottom of the case. Meaning Compact splash can run a 240mm and 120mm radiator



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