Why are you interested in SFF?

jeshikat

Jessica. Wayward SFF.n Founder
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Feb 22, 2015
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What got you all interested in building little computers?

For me it's when I was building a new computer and I really wanted a ROG board but the ATX versions were out of my price range so I ended up going with the cheaper mATX Asus Maximus III Gene with an Intel i7 750 in the Antec Mini P180. Not exactly a SFF case though :p

Then I built an AMD 1090T system in the Antec P182 as a workstation. Really nice case but it's big and heavy and after replacing the Maximus III Gene build with an ITX build in the M1 I decided to only build in smaller cases from then on.
 
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MJVR1

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Jun 10, 2015
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For me, mostly because of lack of space. I need something thats out of the way and wont be easily dropped. A small case on my desk is hard to be tipped over. Another reason is that i dont need anything bigger. SLI doesnt interest me when theres a another more powerful card available. Ive never needed more than 16Gbs of ram(It seems that recently ive needed more but skylake should fix that with DDR4.) And i could easily build a nas out of old pc parts if i need more than storage.
 

rawr

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Mar 1, 2015
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I like to push the limits! Even a Silverstone SG05 is too big for me.

Also I have this frame of mind where the bigger a case is, the uglier it is to me.
 
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Phuncz

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I'm going to include pictures because this goes back a while.

I've had mid-towers most of the time, but I started looking at something "better". Something flexible, quality-oriented and limitless cooling options.
This is what I found:


Cooler Master Stacker (the original)

Nice but even with 5 or 6 HDD's, watercooling and what-not, I was still craving more space.
So I went from that to this:


The Cooler Master ATC-310, extremely rare case. It went for about a $ 1000 at launch, thanks to my relationship with Cooler Master, I got it for $ 50.
After needing two people to carry it to LAN parties, I found myself asking why I needed such a large case. So my next PC was this:


Shuttle SG33G5. While still smaller than the Ncase M1, back then it was insane. No way that puny thing could work. I had a Q6600 in there with 4GB of RAM and a Radeon HD 6870 I believe. I was fascinated how well-engineered computers could be small and fast. It was back then that I nixed the ODD, I could use that space for more useful things. Like cooling. That was the main issue: cooling. A single 92mm fan. But still the design was solid, it was the heatsink's beefyness that was lacking. Also, the very limited 200W PSU's meant you couldn't just slap any GPU and CPU in that case. In the days before 80+ Gold and the quality PSU's we are accustomed today, this was an issue. But I soon lacked storage space too and went to this:

Silverstone SG02-B. mATX meant double the RAM and I could install something besides a GPU. I liked it, but I wasn't content on it's design, internally and externally. I felt more could have been done and the 80mm fans all around weren't my favorite feature. So I got this:


Lian-Li PC-V352B after much research. I focussed mainly on the V350 and V351, but the V352 was just released and it looked promising. But boy was I wrong.
Worst internal design ever. You want a GPU, high end ? No problem ! You just need to have a reference card and the power plugs on the end of the card, not the side like almost all cards. You want to remove your HDD's ? Start unscrewing that motherboard plate. You want to move your motherboard plate ? Don't forget to remove all the cables ! It was a nightmare to work on, even though it was relatively huge.

I was pissed, because it had such huge potential but was wasted because the case seemed to have never been tested before pressing the manufacturing button. I was dead serious on finding the bestest, most efficient case. Almost going for a Silverstone SG05, until a guy named Necere was taunting my mind with a gem of a case...

My next case was the Ncase M1 v1. But before it arrived, I had a Cooler Master Elite 130 to start prepping the build:



And finally I'm in SFF heaven as a proud owner of an Ncase M1:



Now I'm waiting for Kimera Industries to finish their gem so this list could grow a little longer :)
 

jeshikat

Jessica. Wayward SFF.n Founder
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Feb 22, 2015
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Great post! Fun to see your progression in case sizes over time. I didn't build it but my first gaming computer was in a Cooler Master Ammo 533


So I've been a fan of handles on my computers for a while :p

For a while there Cooler Master seemed to have lost their touch with case designs but I'm liking the idea of the new MasterCase.
 
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Phuncz

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I've done a mod for Cooler Master with that case ages ago, but I only had a few weeks to do it, so it was nowhere near spectacular.
It was a very nice case, especially for LAN-parties. Cooler Master has indeed had some tough times being all over the map. The Stacker series are good designs and the 830 was excellent allround. I still like it as a brand but in SFF they have not much to offer yet. The Elite series mITX is a nice touch but the ATX PSU requirement make them bulky. Modular design and flexibility has been their strong points and the MasterCase seems to be a new gem. Also reminiscent of the Stacker 830 design-wise.
 

WiSK

Water Cooling Optimizer
May 10, 2015
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I also used Cooler Master cases, before going truly SFF. I found the mid tower cases to fit on my desk very well. Before that I don't even remember what sort of cases I bought, except for my first PC. That was a stylish beige IBM-XT clone with a flip-top lid. Was from the days that they used 12 gauge steel instead of the paper thin panels of modern cases. Wish I'd kept it now.

Getting into SFF was kind of accidental. We needed a new PC for the living room. It would only need to do email, surfing and dvds. While researching parts I saw that mITX was no longer only for Via boards. So I bought an SG05 and put an i5 in it. At first, inside it seemed tiny and cramped, but it ran cool and wasn't obtrusive in the room. There was even space on the desk for a second monitor.

Then came the revelation: a paradigm shift of sorts. I started looking at it, no longer with the idea of how little space there was, rather with eyes suddenly seeing how much space there was left. For GPU I found the 188mm Gainward Phantom, which left plenty of room at the front of the case for a 120mm radiator. Built my own drive cage so as to allow space for two fans on the rad. Sleeved the PSU, added lights with a switch, etc etc. Suddenly the living room HTPC was a modest gaming machine.

That mod was so fun, I did the whole build again in an FT03-mini this time with full watercooling. I had to mod the case frame a bit and made a new top. That was all so fun that I started to consider custom cases. The choice was Compact Splash or NCase M1. I bought both, and shortly after another M1 for my Dad.

So the why for me is the challenge of fitting a lot of stuff in a small space, and enough modding that I can feel like I've put something extra into the build. The wife likes these cases too. I wasn't allowed the old CM Gladiator in the living room, but the FT03-mini and the M1 are accepted.
 
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Vittra

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May 11, 2015
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I had my FT02 / Full ATX and found it curious how much space was going to waste. The TJ08-E was released, and I saw a great opportunity to downscale the size of my computer significantly (~64L to ~30L) and took it. Granted, the TJ08-E doesn't fit the criteria of SFF as we consider it, but it was a very small case, especially by mATX standards at the time - in fact, the only case I can think of that is smaller than it do this day is Silverstone's own SG09/10 at 23L. The Kimera will of course change things. The TJ08-E bothered me however in some regards, specifically with reference to rigidity and overall quality control, which led me back to ATX through the Fractal Arc Midi R2. This didn't stop me from buying a second one later on though, which I still have and currently houses my server turned main rig. I've sold off my HTPC and main rigs and am resorting to this for everything, for the time being.

After the Arc Midi R2 however, my focus shifted to ITX as more robust designs seemed to emerging. This prompted me to get a SG07, after some research into cases. Unfortunately I didn't like it too much and sold it off relatively quickly, though it bears mention that I had a GTX 690 at the time, and dual GPU cards, while fitting, were pretty horrible in such a small enclosure. I think similar to WiSK, I had a "this is too small/cramped!" moment, though the 690 was in a precarious situation. Unlike single gpu cards, the dual GPU's exhaust heat both out the front and back, and the significant amount of heat coming out of the front really had nowhere to go. This in turn was causing the 690 to recycle it's own hot air. I had it in my head that I wanted a lot of power in a small package, so the 690 wasn't going anywhere. Similar to Phuncz and somewhere along the line I was investigating Lian Li's ITX and mATX options but was not at all pleased with what I saw, as they all had tradeoffs and it seemed each new case version Lian Li would introduce good features, but completely remove other ones, the Lian Li V35x range is truly a perfect example of this.

Anyway, fast forwarding a bit I ended up with an NCASE M1 V1 which was pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a case. It was also the first time I build a custom loop, which was challenging in such a small case but an interesting experience. I found that unfortunately, WCing in the NCASE really wasn't feasible if the objective was silence, as due to the perforations all around the case, I could hear the pump (PWM, set around 1400rpm), which to me defeated the purpose. I could also hear the ST45SF-G fan, but this couldn't be changed at the time as the fan mod wouldn't handle the load. I subsequently found out the ST45SF-G couldn't handle the 4770K + 690 + pump, at stock anyway. I started seeing graphical anomalies that prompted me to pull apart the loop, get the 690 back on air, and test it on the AX850. It, and everything else, was fine. I was just asking too much of the lil SFX. Thus, the NCASE was running on air again, with the STSF45-G now modded with the Noiseblocker fan, and a different GPU. I sold the 690 for a 780 ti, while I started to investigate bigger cases once again to WC in, and went through a few WC builds always keeping the same ITX mobo, which allowed me to swap back into the NCASE and try out the SX600-G, which again disappointed me due to fan chirping! A server rig was downscaled into the DS380 (ITX) which subsequently took on the SF45SF-G. Fairly recently, my Z87i-Deluxe and 4770k were sold off, and I ended up with a 5930K/X99-Deluxe, housed in the S340/FT05 which am I in the process of selling off. This ended up being a tangent I wasn't too pleased with after all for various reasons. At any rate, I've found I really do prefer smaller cases and the challenges and complexities of building in them. Even during that period of time that my main rig was getting larger again, I ended up with a Lone Industries L1 for my HTPC to sate my interest in smaller machines.

Right now I have a whole slew of cases I need to get rid of, but the TJ08E and NCASE M1 will be sticking around!
 
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Phuncz

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... as they all had tradeoffs and it seemed each new case version Lian Li would introduce good features, but completely remove other ones, the Lian Li V35x range is truly a perfect example of this.
I know what you mean. I needed a long time to figure out which of the V35x's I wanted, in the end I choose the latest one (V352 back then) because of the USB 3.0 (which I never used) and the I/O cluster being on the left or right side. But the V351 was less convoluted to open up and had better size limits.
To this day when I look at a PC-V3xx I still cringe when I see the typical design flaws that make it a chore to work on. It was another lesson for me: expensive cases don't mean well-designed cases.
 

iFreilicht

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For me, the LAN-party aspect is a huge thing. I just love the looks on peoples faces when I arrive with public transport or bike with nothing but a shoulderbag and a screen, and then proceed to pull out my mouse, my headphones, my keyboard and then my PC out of that shoulderbag while everyone else is lifting their huge Full ATX cases out of their trunks which don't have any more potent hardware than mine. :D

Also, I have long legs and I like to stretch them under the table, so my regular tower was in the way of that, and I don't have the space to put a regular case on the desk, even the M1 would be too large for my taste in that regard.

Another thing is that SFF is the cheapest way to go extreme in PC building. If you think about it, what are the "extreme" things you can do when you build a PC? Extremely high power, extremely oversized cooling, extremely unconventional looks, all that stuff costs a lot of money. But extremely small is all about doing as much as possible with as little as necessary. The only cheaper extreme premise I can think of for a PC build would be "extremely affordable".

Last but not least is that I love the idea of showing what an atrocity the Xbox One is from a hardware standpoint. That thing is huge, loud, has weak performance and still requires a power brick about as large as my GPU. I was able to build something better than that in a few months, MS worked years on that thing and probably sunk millions of R&D cost into it.
 

rawr

SFF Lingo Aficionado
Mar 1, 2015
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...Hate all you want on consoles, but the Xbox One is $350 (just considering hardware). Your PC probably cost about thrice that figure.

It's also unfair to compare building a PC, slightly modifying a case; and completely designing an entire system from scratch.

Obviously overall cost (considering games prices and Live membership) is another story though.
 

jeshikat

Jessica. Wayward SFF.n Founder
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Feb 22, 2015
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Another thing is that SFF is the cheapest way to go extreme in PC building.
Building crazy custom loops with multiple GPUs and such can get expensive but designing and building custom cases isn't cheap either. Still way, way cheaper than some other hobbies though, at least that's what I tell myself :p
 
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Phuncz

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Another thing is that SFF is the cheapest way to go extreme in PC building.
I agree, you can make any large ATX build look good by just throwing money at it. Achieving the same with SFF takes a lot of thought and research.
 
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Vittra

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It still requires a lot of money, especially when you start looking into buying specialized parts to fit size restraints and/or importing them from different continents.. I think you guys are fooling yourselves a little bit in that regard.
 

rawr

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Mar 1, 2015
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Especially if you go really small, you may need to fabricate or source some really niche components.
 

iFreilicht

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I have to say, the mod I did to the PC-Q12 was as cheap as it gets. I bought two pieces of aluminium sheet, one had a single bent flange. About 20€ for that, 5€ for the countersunk screws, plus the 120€ for the case. That's the whole premium I payed for going SFF. Everything else I would've needed anyway for a new PC. I think that's pretty damn cheap.
 

iFreilicht

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...Hate all you want on consoles, but the Xbox One is $350 (just considering hardware). Your PC probably cost about thrice that figure.

It's also unfair to compare building a PC, slightly modifying a case; and completely designing an entire system from scratch.

Obviously overall cost (considering games prices and Live membership) is another story though.

That's true, it is a lot cheaper, and I purposefully left that out. But MS is also subsidising the cost of the console with the money they make on every sold game.

Well if it is so expensive to design custom hardware, maybe they shouldn't do it? With the new consoles being real x86/x64 inside, it seems like they would only have to make a slightly modified mITX mainboard to make a compelling product. Why invest all the money in making something yourself that can be done better with existing technology? That money could be spent better for their development, programming and store ecosystem, something which truly makes your console stand out.
Not like I care about MS wasting money, they've got tons of that stuff, but it seems weird that with all their research and development of fully custom hardware, they didn't manage to even incorporate the PSU inside the case.

Oh also I'm specifically hating on the Xbox One, not consoles in general. The PS4 is a pretty nice piece of technology and the last generation was nothing but impressive. Just wanted to clear that up.
 
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Phuncz

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It still requires a lot of money, especially when you start looking into buying specialized parts to fit size restraints and/or importing them from different continents.. I think you guys are fooling yourselves a little bit in that regard.
The thing specifically for my build that was the most expensive was the watercooling, which I didn't need, looking back. The other stuff I would have bought either way in any PC.
 

theGryphon

Airflow Optimizer
Jun 15, 2015
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I just registered, so I think it's appropriate my first post is here.

Why SFF? Because I've always liked to stuff big hardware in small places :eek: Computer hardware!

No, seriously. My first case in the US was an NZXT ADAMAS, which was in 2007. At 40lts, it was a small case back then, it got even smaller (comparatively) afterwards. It was a tank with full 2-3mm aluminum build, leaving even smaller useable space in it.

My first build in that case was with an ABIT P35 Pro (if anyone remembers ABIT, good old days, sigh), a Q6600 and an ATI 3850. A year or so later, I decided to OC the Q6600 more (was topping at 3.5GHz), so I upped to an EVGA board with digital VRM, and broke 4.0GHz on the Q6600 on air (Noctua U12 cooler), which was really something if anyone recalls.
Then, in 2009, I started folding at home, and things started to get crazy. I opened a third 120mm fan opening on the side door, and I stuffed two GTX295's (for the novice, each GTX295 is a dual-GPU card) in that small enclosure to increase my folding output:


Then, bigadv came (where you can get a ton of folding output with multi-socket CPUs) so I decided to put a dual-socket Supermicro SSI-CEB motherboard in there with two OC'ed AMD engineering samples (16-core each). Mind you, the case was only designed for ATX boards, so it took a little modding:



I wasn't quite satisfied, so I had to try and put in a 4P board in there to more than double my output, and I did :eek::



It still looked pretty good from outside, lol:


Then, in early 2012, I was having some financial troubles, so I sold this rig in all its 4P glory. Had to survive on my work laptop for more than a year (painful times), then in 2013 summer, I built an ITX rig in a Fractal Node 304. As you see, "stuffing big stuff in small spaces" motto was still there:


Then my folding craze came back, I wasn't happy with Node 304 build quality, and I had some money to spend on computers. So, in summer 2014, I got a Jonsbo UMX2 (37lts) to try and build a very unassuming, stealthy and handsome dual-GPU folding rig in there with all AIO coolers. And I did: http://forums.evga.com/theGryphon-builds-a-Gryphon-build-m2186127.aspx

Unfortunately, it had to go too :(.

I've been going through some major work and life changes, and I needed something truly portable. I didn't wanna give up from computing power, so I ended up getting a Dell M6800 (i7-4900MQ, 16GB, K4100M, 3 SSDs). At 4.3 lts, that's quite an SFF :p:D and don't worry, I didn't pay retail :cool:

I'll always be a system building geek, with special interest in "stuffing big stuff in small spaces", and that's what SFF is about for me. I grew interest in case designs, thanks to the [H] subforum, and the creative minds there. I'm not in a position to lead a project right now but I can certainly share my ideas as they materialize, as I've been trying to do.

Kudos again to all those who are putting out some incredible projects and bring them to life! :)
 
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jeshikat

Jessica. Wayward SFF.n Founder
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Feb 22, 2015
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I've worked in that case before and the interior isn't that great, props to you for cramming a 4P setup in there :D