What is SFF Desktop – 13 Advantages & Disadvantages

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What is SFF desktop? SFF or Small Form Factor, refers to the form that is specially intended to curtail the footprint of a desktop computer. It also reduced the volume by a significant margin as compared to the average ATX form factor.

The size of the SFF computer case is measured in liters and comes in different sizes, types and shapes. These include:

  • Cubes
  • Shoeboxes
  • Nettops
  • Home theater
  • Computer on Module or COM
  • Ultra-Small Form Factor or USFF
  • Next Unit of Computing or NUC and
  • Books.

Apart from the smaller construction, the lightweight factor has also made these SFF cases so popular.

These cases are often used to make the home theater and gaming computers. It is portable, and therefore, convenient for the gamers to join LAN parties with their own PCs.

The manufacturers of the Small Form Factor cases focus on the ergonomic design and aesthetics of these cases.

Making the best use of the advancements in technology and component design, the SFF manufacturers have now been able to provide people with a powerful computer that is small as compared to those old and traditional huge towers.

However, manufacturers often define Small Form Factor much differently from the normal definition in order to serve the best interest of their product.

These definitions are open to misuse and wrong interpretation due this variance in definitions by the manufacturers.

Depending on varied marketing strategies, one manufacturer may consider marking their produce as SFF while other manufacturers may differ in their opinion and interests and mark their products differently as:

  • Minitower
  • Micro-tower or simply
  • Desktop.

However, none of these definitions include the computing devices, irrespective of the fact that these are small such as those found in the mobile systems or embedded in the motherboard.

The features of these SFF computers resemble and support the features of modern desktops PCs to do the same operations and provide the same results. The only difference is that the SFF computers take a much smaller space.

Most of these SFF computers will accept similar components of a standard computer such as:

  • A standard x86 microprocessor
  • A standard DIMM memory module
  • A standard 3.5-inch or 8.9 cm hard disk and
  • A standard 5.25-inch or 13.3 cm optical drive.
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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.

In most of the time, 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.

They also use integrated motherboards vastly that contain most of the on-board peripherals. This is good in a way because it actually eliminates the need for additional expansion cards.

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. Check out HP EliteDesk 800 G4 SFF Desktop Review.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.