What is SFF Desktop – 13 Advantages & Disadvantages

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SFF or Small Form Factor desktops have a very small form and come in different shapes such as cubes, shoeboxes, nettops, home theater, Computer on Module or COM, books, NUC or Next Unit of Computing and Ultra-Small Form Factor or USFF.

These are lightweight and portable and come with ergonomic design and aesthetics making it easy to carry to LAN parties.

However, these computers come with features that resemble modern desktops computers.

Right from the processor to the memory module and hard disk to optical drive, everything in it is standard.

Want to know more about the Small Form Factor computers and the advantages of using them. Continue reading.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Small Form Factor desktops consume much less power which reduces the monthly energy bills.
  • The small size and compact design allows placing the SFF desktop anywhere from on a server rack to behind the monitor or under the desk.
  • The Small Form Factor desktops do not offer much expansion options due to the shortage of space.
  • The small size causes quicker heat buildup and difficulty in repairing or replacing a damaged part.

What is SFF Desktop?

what is SFF Desktop

Literally, an SFF desktop is a ‘Small Form Factor’ computer that takes up less space but provides the users with what they need. Apart from home and office use, there are also industrial small form factor computers available in the market.

However, the manufacturers often define the Small Form Factor much differently from the normal definition in order to serve the best interest of their product. Depending on varied marketing strategies, manufacturers may mark their products differently as:

  • Minitower
  • Micro-tower or simply
  • Desktop.

Mostly, these SFF cases will have a couple of expansion cards, but there may be a few that have enough space to support 3 or 4 length cards.

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They also use integrated motherboards that contain most of the on-board peripherals.

This is good in a way because it actually eliminates the need for additional expansion cards.

But there is a specific downside of these SFF cases. It is the space limitations that may prove fewer expansion options.

This means that, if you want to install a heatsink of a standard CPU, it may not fit well inside the SFF computer case.

For this reason, most of the manufacturers offer their cases fitted with custom cooling systems.

The cube style SFF cases, though marked SFF, may actually be of Micro-ATX form factor to support a full-size PS 2 form factor power supply.

However, a true SFF computer will use TFX, SFX or even smaller power supplies. More so, a few of them may even need an external power brick, as used in a laptop.

There are some SFF PCs that come with compact components. These are specially designed to be used in mobile computers as different components such as:

  • Notebook optical drives
  • Processors
  • Memory modules and
  • External AC adapters.

These cases do not usually have an internal power supply unit that you will find commonly in a full-sized desktop computer.

The most obvious benefits of SFF computers apart from the space factor is that it uses much less power to operate as compared to the other large-sized variants.

Ideally, the SFF computers cannot be said to be an official designation.

In fact, it is a product range that is compared with the traditional desktop computers and bigger industrial computers like a VME chassis in terms of space and power consumption.

The different form factors that can be grouped as SFF computers include:

  • Micro-ATX
  • Mini-ITX
  • Pico-ITX
  • Nano-ITX and
  • FEMTO-ITX.

This group may also include other form factors such as EPIC, EBX, PC-104, and 3.5-inch.

These computers are now being used extensively in the transportation and automation sectors.

These computers are high on performance, mostly at par with a towering PC.

Even with the similar type of components, these computers are considered to be stronger than a few specific types of laptops.

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The powerful graphic engine makes them ideal for gamers to experience a higher-level immersion.

These computers also have better cooling, low noise performance, easily expandable and upgradable.

The best part of these computers is that it will fit in with your specific requirement and application without requiring shoehorning it to fit into a specific area.

Irrespective of the fact that you use a very specialized or a general purpose SFF board, you can even mount these boards on a chassis which is more acquiescent to the given area.

Advantages of SFF Computers

1. Space: It will take up much less physical space as compared to the traditional computer types.

2. Power: It will consume much less power thereby reducing your energy bills due to the fewer fans and low power hardware.

3. Weight: The SFF computer is light in weight which makes it easy to carry to new locations and work with.

4. Mounting: The small size and design make mounting these SFF cases easy on the server rack, placing under the desk or behind the monitor to keep it out of the way ensuring safety.

Downsides of SFF Computers

5. Repairing or replacing: The most significant disadvantage of SFF computer is the smaller size that may pose difficulty while replacing a damaged component.

6. Upgrades: While upgrading your computer, you will need to look for components that are similar to the OEM and fit into the case.

7. Usage: It certainly has got limited usability and cannot be used for powerful servers and high-end computers.

8. Cooling: The cooling system should be exceptionally good because the small size may help in heat buildup pretty fast.

9. Expansion: Your future expansion plans may be limited due to less space available to install any other component.

10. Power: Since the power consumption of the SFF computer is low, it may be overtaxing for the processor if you use it for graphic designing, CAD, or video production.

11. Price: A few of these SFF computers may come with a price tag that is the same as, or even more than, a traditional full-size computer.

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12. Loss: It is easy to lose such a small computer and is also easy to steal in a backpack or a briefcase.

13. Maintenance: It will need more frequent maintenance due to quick heat buildup in a smaller space which does not allow the air to circulate freely. This will add to your cost.

FAQ:

What is a form factor in a computer?

Form factor is an expression that is usually used to describe a computer along with its related paraphernalia. The change in demand by the users have resulted in the evolution of form factors, albeit slowly. First, it was the traditional form designed by IBM which was replaced by AT or Advanced Technology in 1995, then by ATX or Advanced Technology Extended and the latest ITX released in 2007.

What is the full form of SFF?

SFF ideally stands for "Small Form Factor" which indicates the small configuration of the computer.

Are SFF computers good to use?

Yes, it is good to use and will make a lot of difference. You will have a lot of workspace and you will also save a fair bit in money, work as well as time, energy, and effort when you use an SFF computer.

Conclusion

SFF computers are surely a go-to design but make sure that you know how much the design will affect your routine.

There are other computers available in the market that can save a significant amount of time and effort, which is especially required by a professional or a student.

About Dominic Cooper

Dominic CooperDominic Cooper, a TTU graduate is a computer hardware expert. His only passion is to find out the nitty gritty of all computers. He loves to cook when he is not busy with writing, computer testing and research. He is not very fond of social media. Follow Him at Linkedin