- Case Uses of Small Form Factor PCs
- Disadvantages of Small Form Factor PC
- Recommended ITX Cases
- Best Budget Cases for Small Form Factor Gaming PCs
- Best Value Cases for Small Form Factor Gaming PCs
- Best Luxurious Cases for Small Form Factor Gaming PCs
According to Intel,1 link a small form factor personal (SFF) computer’s volume is 25 liters or less. However, SFF communities mostly agree that small form factor PCs are 20 liters or less. A particular arbitrary restriction that the SFF PC community imposes in what constitutes a small form factor PC is that whether the PC employs an external power brick. The power supply residing outside the chassis in the form of the external power brick, for the majority of enthusiasts, is sort of cheating. One of the primary reasons why those with external bricks are not considered is it just removes a part out of the case to reduce its volume only for it to be carried along with the case still in travel situations. This takes up space in the bag and possibly doubles the volume of the entire PC. This makes traveling with the PC inefficient. Unlike the normal PSU cable, this power brick is much harder to find if you happen to forget to bring it along with you. For the purposes of this guide, we excluded those chassis with external power bricks and those enclosures that are 20 liters or more.
Case Uses of Small Form Factor PCs
SFF PCs are for:
- Those who are frequent travelers and want to bring with them their gaming rigs.
- Those who live in small rooms and apartments and spaces are at a premium.
- Those who find PC building as unchallenging. Small form factor enclosures complicate PC building significantly from parts-hunting up to tinkering the settings in order to reduce heat and/or noise.
Disadvantages of Small Form Factor PC
- SFF PC components are hard to find and hence much more expensive than the usual.
- Physics is not a social construct; thus, thermals and acoustics will be a problem that is needed to be solved.
- And because of number two (2) performance in most cases is compromised.
Recommended ITX Cases
Contrary to the usual principle in PC-Building, those who dabble in the SFF PC usually build around the diminutive case of choice instead of the other way around. The cases are, for the most part, aesthetically leaning towards the minimalist crowd hence the parts are more on function over form. This is especially true in plotting parts lists since the best thermal performing parts are chosen instead of parts that fit in a certain theme. Remember, SFF PC’s use case is usually for travel and mobility, employing a tempered glass as a panel is just inviting disaster. Not to mention, small form factor PC parts are already slim pickings.
Best Budget Cases for Small Form Factor Gaming PCs
Like Linux fans before them, the SFF PC community always has this “20xx is the year of the SFF PC” hopes and dreams that get crushed every single year. However, with popular brands jumping to the SFF PC craze, this might be the start of the decade of SFF PC! Cases manufactured by these mainstream brands are way cheaper compared to the boutique ones that are made by enthusiasts and startup companies. Mainstream casemakers populate the budget segment with a notable exception which is the:
For those who want the smallest possible gaming PC, the K39 is the cheapest option. Its biggest negative is that you need to source these babies from China but that package should arrive earlier than having to wait for the Western equivalent, Velka 3, to have their inventory available to the public– while also being much cheaper in price. Admittedly, the K39 is not made of top-tier metallic components. On the other hand, the K39 is incredibly budget-friendly, a characteristic rare in small form factor chassis, and it is not like it has haphazardly constructed with unreliable materials. The K39 is just not on par with boutique products with thrice its price. Currently, there is an influx of K39 cases up for sale on eBay. This may be due to the difficulty of cooling the CPUs, these Intel and AMD CPUs are hot. There are not a lot of aftermarket HSF that fits the K39 but one of them performs exceptionally well. Check out our HSF rundown for cases like the K39.
The K39 though is one of the harder cases to build around because it only allows Plex PSUs (1U) and can only fit 179 millimeters or smaller graphics cards. Especially now that the Ampere cards from NVIDIA are humongous things, this case will have a little bit of trouble fitting a gaming GPU, at least at the higher ends. The smallest Ampere video cards that would have fit in the K39 are the GTX 2070 from MSI (Aero), Gigabyte, and GALAX. Check out our rundown for GPUs fitting the K39 and its derivatives.
SilverStone SG13 is the most popular chassis in the SFF PC community. This case allows an ATX power supply without further caveat. SG13 can still fit usual-sized parts, the standard power supply configuration as mentioned, and also 3.5 HDDs and long graphics cards. The CPU cooler is restricted up to 61mm, though.
Most will probably recommend putting some AIO in this case, but honestly, a water-cooling solution just does not fit well with SG13’s budget-friendly reputation. Nevertheless, it is an option that is taken more often than not by those who own the SG13. One of the best cooling solutions that you should try before going the AIO route is to install an exhaust fan in front of the case, and also reverse the PSU installation that the fan faces upward to the vent instead of having it stare down the CPU.
Fractal Core’s Node 202 is definitely much more svelte than the SilverStone ML08. However, we cannot just recommend the former since it is infamous for thermal issues. There are ways and means in cooling the Node 202 if you insist using this case, yet, it is better for anyone to just purchase the ML08 and be done with it.
The ML08 employs the console-like design with its slim, primarily vertical orientation. There is also an option to attach a handle, a very underrated hardware feature absent in most mini-ITX cases. The case is not a looker in itself, but it is easy to build in especially for gaming purposes.
Best Value Cases for Small Form Factor Gaming PCs
Below are the value cases that are not necessarily cheap, but not gratuitous in pricing as compared to the high-end segment of this hobby. These cases also have mainstream appeal since their design language speaks to those who prefer the RGBs. Those who want to stay minimalist can also opt to stay RGB-less with the same cases below. Pound for pound, these are the best mini-ITX chassis in terms of value.
The price, at its face, may not look like it is budget but the H1 is actually the best value case as the price includes the AIO and the power supply. This case is highly recommendable for those who are either starting to enter the SFF PC hobby building from scratch or transplanting their current parts into a small form factor case.
H1 is second only to SilverStone SG13 as the most popular SFFPC in the community. While the former values compact design, the HZ1 is catering for the absolute compatibility of PC parts. While true that the SG13 can still be jam-packed with most off-the-shelf PC parts, NZXT’s just beats SG13 in cooling solutions and relative ease of building compared to any other mini-ITX cases out there.
The H1 also has a great modding community. There are panels that are made of unconventional materials like wood. Some also employ 3D printed panels to further customize the look of the case.
SilverStone really is the king of small form factor chassis. This is the company’s third rec for this guide. The folks over there do deserve such high praise. SilverStone does have strong product lineups be it chassis or power supplies.
Unfortunately, those who like console-style PCs have only the Raven as the option in the affordable segment. There are the ML08, but for honesty’s sake, it really does look ugly. The Raven is its good-looking version but for a bit more of price. However, be sure to pick the Raven with the RVZ03 product number and not the RVZ01 and RVZ02 because they do not look as good albeit the prices are being the reflection of them. The RVZ03 has great compatibility for parts, as technically, it allows an ATX PSU. The RVZ03 also does not suffer like the Fractal Node 202 in terms of thermal performance when both of them have the same layout.
Cooler Master NR200
When the NR200 came out, the SFF PC community was not really thrilled about it because it is in the larger size side of mini-ITX cases. Its design is “only” the dwarfed version of typical chassis. It did not excite the crowd.
Yet, it looks like the NR200 is the best mini-ITX case for the next generation of GPUs. The Amperes look like they necessitate high-powered PSUs. Couple with that current crop of CPUs that run incredibly hot, Coolermaster may take the crown for the best mini-ITX case for the rest of 2020 and beyond.
Admittedly, the NR200 will not have space in the small hearts of the enthusiast since it is really pushing the limits at 18 liters. However, those who are newbies in building mini-ITX computers will have a better time building into the NR200 especially when using the Amperes, Big Navis, 10th Gen Intel, and Zen 3 as parts. All of them are power-hungry beasts that are bursting hot air everywhere. With the NR2000, this should be the least of anyone’s problems. And if there is a question regarding the NR200P, the difference between the NR200 and the NR200P is nothing but the NR200P sporting tempered glass.
Best Luxurious Cases for Small Form Factor Gaming PCs
The following cases are priced way outside of most people’s budget for a chassis. However, a PC case is one of a select few parts in this hobby that is truly buy it for life. These luxurious cases are not expensive just for the hell of it. They are mostly expensive because there is no production line for them and the makers pay upfront. These enthusiast-builders also create their cases from scratch, from planning up to production. Gladly, as a general rule, the expensive cases have great materials like aluminum or reinforced steel. Being enthusiast products, most of its feature sets are tailor-made for the community like compatibility, portability, and decent thermal design.
DAN Cases A4-SFX
DAN A4 is the most successful boutique mini-ITX case. As of its writing, the DAN A4 is on its fourth revision and enjoys phenomenal success. It sports a sandwich-style design which is popular with the community that most boutique cases are now implementing the same design.
Daniel Hansen, the maker of the case, listens to community feedback and implements to case’ revisions the good suggestions. He also follows the technology trends hence we have now a USB-C as front IO when all others, even those mainstream case-makers, have failed to do.2 The Silverstone SG13 is the surprising exception with its USB-C revision.
DR. Zaber Sentry
The Sentry 2.0 is the slimmest, and tiniest among the PC cases that “resembles” traditional video game consoles. At least that was how consoles used to be. The Xbox Series X / S and PlayStation 5 have now abandoned how consoles have looked in terms of footprint and design language. Nevertheless, the Sentry 2.0 is the slimmest possible iteration of the console-like PC case which still allows an SFX PSU, 3 The original Sentry allowed SFX-L. standard-sized dual-fans, and even some triple-fan GPUs.
This case is very difficult to find because of its availability. There are crowdfunding runs that let you wait for several months and if it becomes up for sale, it is severely limited. The secondhand market is also ridiculous with its markup. Fortunately, there are other cases that employ the same design and charges cheaper, while also being wildly available. Check our rundown of the Chinese mini-ITX clones of popular cases.
Velkase Velka 3
The Velka 3 is the darling of the luxurious Liliputian gaming PC case if we dismiss the Skyreach 4 Mini because of power brick reasons earlier provided. It looks good, it is well built, and more importantly, it is small. Because it is so small, the CPU cooler clearance is at its bare minimum at 37mm that even the Wraith coolers do not fit. Nevertheless, there are a lot of options now for a low profile HSF solutions for the Velka 3.
Another problem that comes within the territory of this tiny PC is that it is powered by Flex PSUs. They are loud and hard to find. Although SilverStone is soon to offer its 1U power supply before 2021, which is also the estimated time of the delivery of the next production run of the Velka 3.