Up until recently, small form factor PCs were pretty blunt machines. Sure, they were smaller than regular PCs, but size aside, they didn’t have much to show off for: their performance was subpar, upgrade options were almost nonexistent, and their prices were prohibitive, so there was no real reason to consider a small form factor PC unless you REALLY needed said PC to be small.
Fast-forward to today and most of those downsides no longer hold true. Hardware advanced in leaps and bounds, so you can find all your favorite components in a SFF-friendly format, which means you’re no longer restricted to low-end parts in the performance department. Upgradability is also a thing now, as most SFF builds are now future-proof to some degree, supporting decent upgrades. Last but not least – price; while a SFF build will still cost slightly more than a traditional build due to the need of some more exclusive parts, the price difference is no longer astronomical, making these builds a viable alternative for regular PCs. Whether you consider SFF for a HTPC build, office use or day to day browsing, modern SFF PCs can do it all. The growing popularity of this format even captured the attention of gamers, so it’s not uncommon to see powerful gaming setups crammed in a SFF case.
We have already covered the best readily-available mini PCs out there, but if you don’t want to miss out on the trend and want to put together your first small form factor PC yourself, you are just in the right place. In this article we’ll focus on one of the core components of a SFF build – the case. Whereas in a regular-sized PC the case’s role is primarily aesthetical, with most cases providing the essential features needed for a decent build, the case plays a more crucial role in a SFF build, as the range of features it provides is more limited, so you need to make sure you find the one with just the right characteristics for your specs. Let’s go over the basics, and see what makes a case the best SFF case.
Size is one of the definitive traits of a small form factor case. As its name suggests, it should be small, but just how small is small enough? To qualify as small form factor, a case’s volume should technically not exceed 20 liters.
How this volume is encapsulated depends on the format of the case. The most common formats are:
The size and format of the case will dictate the motherboard format you can fit. Most models can fit a mini-ITX or micro-ATX motherboard comfortably, but smaller designs might only play well with nano-ITX, pico-ITX, or other exotic formats. Unless you’re really restricted to a very small design, your best bet is to go with a case that can house a mini-ITX or micro-ATX motherboard, as such cases are bound to have some space for additional components like as a discrete GPU, decent cooling and multiple storage options; most importantly, said models can fit a CPU of your choice. With nano-ITX or pico-ITX, what you see is what you get, as these boards usually come with embedded CPU, GPU and sometimes even RAM or storage.
One of the key differences between modern SFF builds and legacy ones lies in the graphics department: while older models were very limited in terms of graphics horsepower, usually relying on integrated graphics, modern SFF builds can now fit a discrete GPU and provide desktop-grade performance.
The exact specs of the supported graphics card varies from one case to another, most popular being support for two-slots graphics cards with lengths between 250-300mm. We’ve covered GPU support in SFF cases in more detail in our article on the smallest mini-ITX cases that can fit a full size GPU – check it out!
Cooling is a crucial aspect of any PC, so it’s not an overstatement to say that the best small form factor PC case is the one that can cram in the best cooling system. Because of the space limitations, cooling solutions are fairly limited. Tower coolers are not an option for this type of build, being replaced by C-style coolers. AIO solutions are highly desirable, but while they do not require much clearance in the CPU area, they do require a considerable amount of space for the radiator.
A decent case should also feature space for at least one case fan. Although there is no room for a proper airflow in such cases, a high static pressure cooler can really make a difference.
Most modern mini-ITX and micro-ATX motherboards come with one (or more) M.2 slot(s), which means you can get super-fast storage without sacrificing precious case space. However, most cases should provide space for at least one more 2.5” drive, with two or more bays not being uncommon. Some cases even go as far as offering support for 3.5” drives. If you’re building a HTPC, consider looking for a case that has support for an optical drive as well, so you can watch those Blu-rays without hassle.
There are two main types of power supplies for small form factor builds: external and internal. External power supplies are typically used in smaller cases, where internal space is very limited. These power supplies consist of an internal DC to DC module fitted inside the case and an external power brick that’s similar to the one used by laptop chargers. Internal power supplies are scaled-down versions of power supplies found in regular PCs. These come in multiple formats such as SFX, SFX-L, TFX, and the popular ATX.
It is important to have a clear idea of the hardware configuration you’ll be using in order to determine your power requirements, and thus the PSU format you need to go with. Some models such as TFX PSUs provide a lower power output (in the 300W range), so may not be fit for a high-end power-hungry system.
Putting together a SFF build is in itself a challenge, but the end-result is always a rewarding one. To smoothen the building process and broaden your hardware options a bit, consider looking for a case with a good design. Design may be mostly about aesthetics when it comes to regular PCs, but in the case of a small factor case, design can make it or break it. Not only does a SFF case need to look good, but it also needs to be functional and make use of every millimeter of available space. As such, a good design will blend good looks and functionality in a seamless way.
Internally, a modular design will allow you to customize the internal layout a bit. Some cases allow you to remove or move the storage trays around to make room for lengthier GPUs, radiators or case coolers.
On the outside, cutouts and grills need to be just in the right places to maximize the cooling potential. Consider opting for a case that has some decent connectivity options as well. Front USB and audio ports are not a luxury, but a necessity.
The thriving popularity of the SFF trend led to a wide variety of cases flooding the market, so whether you’re on a tight budget or have no spending limit, you’re bound to find the best SFF case for your dream project. Prices range from roughly $50 for models such as the Silverstone SG13, all the way up to a $300+ tag for more exquisite models such as the DAN Cases A4-SFX or the CaseLabs Bullet BH7.
Innovative small form factor case designs have seen a booming success on crowdfunding platforms, such as the Dr. Zaber Sentry ($222,388 raised on Indiegogo), DAN Cases A4 (€396,659 raised on KickStarter) or the NCASE M1 ($152,722 raised on Indiegogo). An important aspect to keep in mind about crowd-funded projects is that, despite their crowdfunding success, their availability may be reduced or delayed as opposed to models coming from established manufacturers.
Now that you know what to look for in the best mini ITX case for your build, let’s see what your best options are.
|Name||Width (W)||Height (H)||Depth (D)||Capacity (L)||Form Factor Motherboard||Supports a full size, dual slot GPU?||Max GPU length||Max CPU Cooler Height||Max PSU Length||PSU Support||Material||Weight||USB 3.0 Ports||Water Cooling Compatible?|
|LAZER3D LZ7||226mm||196mm||158mm||7||Mini-ITX||No||186mm||60mm||N/A||SFX||Polyamide SLS & Acrylic||N/A||2||No|
|Ghost S1||181mm||133mm||320mm||7.1||Mini-ITX||Yes||316mm||65mm||N/A||SFX, SFX-L||Magnesium & Aluminum||1.7kg||2||Yes|
|Dancase A4-SFX||112mm||200mm||317mm||7.25||Mini-ITX||Yes||295mm||48mm||130mm||SFX, SFX-L||Aluminum||1.25kg||1||No|
|Lian Li PC-Q21B||149mm||257mm||224mm||8.6||Mini-ITX||No||170mm||60mm||170mm||SFX, SFX-L||Aluminum||1.47kg||2||No|
|Fractal Design Node 202||377mm||82mm||330mm||10.2||Mini-ITX||Yes||310mm||56mm||130mm||SFX||Steel/Plastic||3.5kg||2||No|
|Silverstone SG05||222mm||176mm||276mm||10.8||Mini-ITX, Mini-DTX||No||254mm||82mm||N/A||SFX||Steel/Plastic||3.52kg||2||No|
|Silverstone SG13||222mm||181mm||285mm||11.5||Mini-ITX, Mini-DTX||Yes||266mm||61mm||150mm||ATX||Steel/Plastic||2.47Kg||2||Yes|
|Lian Li PC TU100A||170mm||277mm||252mm||11.9||Mini-ITX||No||193mm||60mm||170mm||SFX||Aluminum||1.77kg||2||No|
|Ncase M1||160mm||240mm||328mm||12.6||Mini-ITX, Mini-DTX||Yes||317mm||130mm||160mm||SFX, ATX||Aluminum||N/A||2||Yes|
|Silverstone RVZ-01||382mm||105mm||350mm||14||Mini-ITX, Mini-DTX||Yes||330mm||83mm||N/A||SFX, SFX-L||Steel/Plastic||3.71kg||2||Yes|
|Sharkoon QB One||180mm||225mm||368mm||14.9||Mini-ITX||Yes||315mm||150mm||145mm||SFX, ATX||Steel/Plastic||3.0kg||2||Yes|
|Cooler Master Elite 110||260mm||208mm||280mm||15.1||Mini-ITX||No||210mm||76mm||180mm||ATX||Steel Alloy||2.65kg||2||Yes|
|EVGA Hadron Air||169mm||305mm||308mm||15.9||Mini-ITX||Yes||267mm||140mm||Included||N/A||Steel/Plastic||6kg||2||No|
|Antec ISK600||260mm||195mm||369mm||18.7||Mini-ITX||Yes||317mm||170mm||160mm||ATX||Steel & Plastic||3kg||1||Yes|
|Fractal Design Core 500||250mm||203mm||367mm||19.5||Mini-ITX||Yes||310mm||170mm||170mm||ATX||Steel/Plastic||4.4kg||2||Yes|
|Fractal Node 304||250mm||210mm||374mm||19.5||Mini-ITX||Yes||310mm||165mm||160mm||ATX||Aluminum/Plastic||4.9kg||2||Yes|
|Cooler Master Elite 130||240mm||207mm||399mm||19.8||Mini-ITX||Yes||343mm||65mm||180mm||ATX||Steel Alloy||3.1kg||2||Yes|
|Thermaltake Core V1||260mm||276mm||316mm||22.7||Mini-ITX||Yes||285mm||140mm||200mm||ATX||Steel||N/A||2||Yes|
|Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ITX||230mm||375mm||395mm||34.1||Mini-ITX||Yes||330mm||200mm||N/A||N/A||Steel/Plastic||5.4kg||2||Yes|
The NCase M1 is a great mini-ITX case for anyone looking to build a sleek, compact SFF PC. Plenty of enthusiasts are using the NCase M1 for their SFF builds, so there is plenty of support and guidance available on what you can do with this nifty, compact mini-ITX case. With a volume of only 12.6L, this all-aluminum mini-ITX case can house a full-size GPU of up to 317mm, with room to spare. Air cooling and heat management is not compromised due to its size either – the NCase M1 can accommodate both 120mm and 140mm case fans, as well as an additional dual 120mm fan bracket found on the side panel, allowing for more case fans to be installed or even a 240mm radiator to be installed internally. Yes, you heard it – the NCase M1 is compatible with dual-fan AIO water-cooling systems.
The S4 Mini is a highly raved-about SFF case, and it is quite obvious why: with a minuscule footprint of just 330x215x63 mm, this mini-ITX case can pack a lot of power into such a small size: it is possible to hook up a GTX 1080 mini into the S4 mini case. In terms of cooling the S4 Mini manages to impress once again: with a CPU cooler clearance of up to 45mm, you can fit numerous C-Style coolers into the S4 Mini. It’s pretty extraordinary that a PC case with a volume of just 330x215x63 mm can fit all these enthusiast, performance PC parts in there. It’s good looking, too, so there’s really nothing to hold against this case.
If you want to get into the SFF game but don’t want to shell $400+ on a DANCASE A4-SFX (which we totally get), the Cooler Master Elite 110 is one of the best SFF cases budget-wise. This SFF case is very compact, sports a understated matte black finish (that we love) and can fit dual slot GPUs of up to 210mm in length – so no GTX 1080s in here unfortunately (unless some mini versions come out soon). Water-cooling is definitely possible to install within the Elite 110, as the case supports a 120mm radiator to be installed in the front. Along with USB 3.0 ports, a no-brainer price, as well as a large fan base that has nothing but love for this SFF case, the Cooler Master Elite 110 should be on your shortlist for your next small form factor PC build.
The Elite 130 mini-ITX case is a great option for those who want to really customize the internals of their case to fit their needs. This is a really modular case, allowing flexibility on what it can do and support, backed up by a great build quality, making it feel like a hefty case that feels more like a case twice its size. Nifty features of this SFF PC case include a handy hard drive mounting bracket that allows customization in its positioning, so you can further optimize the internals for maximum space. With this case allowing space for long graphics cards of up to 343mm long, you will be able to install 99% of full size, dual-width GPUs out there, including flagship cards such as the GTX 1080Ti.
While the Cooler Master Elite 130 does not exactly shine in the CPU cooler clearance department, given the overall dimensions of the case, with a maximum cooler height of only 65mm, the case makes up for it in the overall cooling options, with support for two intake cooling fans and one exhaust case fan, and the ability to install an additional 200mm fan at the top. For those LED fanboys, this case comes with red LEDs out of the box, but fear not that these can be easily replaced to suit your needs/preferences.
Just look at this thing. Right now in 2017, the DAN Cases A4-SFX is currently considered the holy-grail of SFF cases, with its compact 7.5L size, superb design and build-quality, combined with premium quality components, as well as the ability to fit a full size, dual- slot GPU (295mm long) within this mini-ITX case. The only problem is, though, that everyone is trying to get their hands on one, with many people selling the DAN Cases A4-SFX for a $200 premium on eBay – no thanks. Although we think that the DAN Cases A4-SFX is probably the best small form factor PC case available right now, it still does have a few issues that (hopefully) will be ironed out in the v2 version of the case, such as the inability to add a high-performance CPU cooler due to the size restrictions (maximum CPU cooler clearance is 48mm), as well as not being able to add a water-cooling loop – something the Ghost S1 SFF case will be able to do, once released.
What’s big, modular, comes with a plethora of options for cooling and storage, and runs for the “best mini ITX case” title? It’s the Fractal Node 304, of course! With a volume of 19.5 liters that places it close to the upper-limit of SFF cases, the Node 304 sure packs in a lot of features to show for it. For starters, the case can house a 310mm long GPU, which gives you a lot of freedom in choosing the card. Where the Fractal Node 304 really shines, though, is the cooling department: not only does this case support a full tower CPU cooler (up to an astonishing 165mm – you can even fit in a monstrous Noctua NH-D14 with a bit of tinkering!), but it also comes with three included case fans (two 92mm fans in the front and one 140mm fan in the rear), which means the case will remain cool no matter what you throw in it.
On the storage side, the Fractal Node 304 is equally impressive, being able to house up to 6 storage drives, in modular bays that can be easily removed if not needed. Last but not least, the Node 304 supports ATX power supplies (PSUs shorter than 160mm are recommended when a long graphics card is in use).
If you’re looking for a SFF case that stands out of the crowd, look no further than the Thermaltake Core V1. Coming with a cubic design, the Core V1 features a large grille that spreads across the entire front panel and stretches a bit onto the top panel as well, giving it a grandiose feel. The two side panels feature some vents as well to facilitate cooling, and the top panel comes with a window to allow you to show off your build. A distinctive feature of the Thermaltake Core V1, though, is the ability to interchange the top and side panels as needed, ensuring proper cooling and best visibility for your hardware.
On the inside the Thermaltake Core V1 doesn’t disappoint either, coming with a two-chamber design that maximizes the available space to support graphics cards of up to 260mm, CPU coolers of up to 140mm, 4 drive bays (2 x 2.5” & 2 x 3.5”), 120mm and 140mm AIO radiator support and a standard ATX power supply. Also, did we mention that the case comes with a huge 200mm vent in the front to keep it cool? This combination of features, good looks and a price tag in the $50 ballpark makes the Thermaltake Core V1 one of the best small form factor PC cases out there.
The Lian Li PC-Q21B is far from being the best SFF case out there specs-wise, but it makes up through its simple and elegant design and premium build quality. Coming in an all-aluminum build, the Lian Li PC-Q21B is an elegant tower SFF case that’s just perfect for the not-so-pretentious. It can fit in 3 x 2.5” drives or 2 x 3.5” drives, and even comes with room for an optical drive, which is not so common in SFF builds nowadays, but overall a nice addition.
In the hardware department, the Lian Li PC-Q21B can comfortably accommodate a mini-ITX motherboard, a graphics card of up to 170mm in length and a CPU cooler with a maximum height of 60mm. The PSU of choice should be in SFX or SFX-L format.
Whether you’re building a HTPC, a small form factor office PC or an all-purpose rig, the Fractal Design Node 202 will be honored to house it in style. Featuring Fractal Design’s unique style, the Node 202 comes with a design that allows it to be placed either vertically or horizontally, depending on your needs or preferences, and it will look stunning either way.
The Fractal Design Node 202 is not only about the looks, though – this small case (it has a volume of just 10.2 liters) can easily host the usual suspects: mini-ITX motherboard, two 2.5” storage drives, a GPU of up to 310mm and a SFX power supply. Speaking of power supplies – the case comes with one bundled, namely a Fractal Design Integra SFX 450W, custom adapted for the Node 202 case to provide optimum cable management. On the cooling side, the Node 202 fits CPU coolers of up to 56mm in height, and also supports two 120mm case fans. Dust filters are also present to keep the interior of the case dust-free.
If we are to describe the BitFenix Portal in one word, “unconventional” would be our first pick, with “gorgeous” coming in a close second. BitFenix went all-in with the Portal, and the result is purely spectacular – the Portal features the best mini itx case design we’ve seen in a long time. The BitFenix Portal is all about smooth curves, angled design on the side panels and a curved window on the top side. Since the bottom of the case is curved as well, the case makes use of a stand to stay in upright position. We could go about the aesthetics of the BitFenix Portal all day, so let’s just conclude that the case is simply amazing. And it’s not just the outside that’s top-notch, as the inside has some nifty tricks of its own: the chassis features an upside down design, so the motherboard will be have its expansion slots towards the top of the case. This is no coincidence, though – remember we mentioned the window on the top panel? It will provide a great view of the graphic card’s cooling system, and since the Portal can accommodate cards of up to 300mm in length, the GPU in the spotlight will likely be a top-of-the-line one.
The BitFenix Portal can also fit multiple 2.5” or 3.5” drives, as well as two case coolers, one of which can be replaced by a watercooling radiator (120mm).
It’s small (10.8 liters), it’s cheap (under $50) and it packs all the basics for a mid-range SFF build with no bling. We’re talking about the Silverstone SG05, of course – a case that provides exceptional value for its price tag. The design of the SG05 will not turn any heads, but it’s not meant to do so; rather, it’s meant to be efficient, and that’s exactly what it is thanks to the large grille of the front panel that hides an included 120mm high pressure cooler, and the easily-accessible USB 3.0 and audio ports also present on the front panel. On the inside, the Silverstone SG05 SFF case comprises of the usual specs for a SFF case: bays for one 2.5” and one 3.5” drives, a 255mm GPU clearance and SFX power supply support. Last but not least, the Silverstone SG05 also includes a tray for an optical drive.
It’s bigger (11.5 liters), it’s cheaper (just under $40) and it’s a whole lot better than the SG05 – meet its big brother, the Silverstone SG13. Technically speaking, the SG13 is not the big brother, but rather the successor of the SG05, and the case aims to tick all the right boxes that its predecessor got wrong.
For starters, the SG13 improved the storage options, the case now featuring a 1 x 2.5” + 2 x 2.5” or 1 x 2.5” + 1 x 3.5” configuration. GPU clearance was also increased to by 12mm, now totaling 267mm – not a very significant change, but since those millimeters were added and not removed, it’s still a positive change. The most notable upgrade comes in the cooling department, though – the Silverstone SG13 supports a 120mm/140mm water-cooling radiator, thus greatly improving the cooling options. One more change targets the power supply: unlike the SG05 and its SFX support, the SG13 features support for the more popular ATX power supply format.
Drawing the line, it’s quite clear – if you’re looking for the best mini itx case for a tight budget, you just found it!
Recently announced on Kickstarter, this extremely compact case is setting to capture the similar type of reaction the DAN Cases A4-SFX made back when it launched its very successful Kickstarter campaign. The Ghost S1 is meant to be a direct competitor to the A4-SFX, as well as the S4 Mini, and we think it can do this. This SFF masterpiece is priced slightly more competitively than the DAN Cases A4-SFX, and also features slightly better cooling potential – something the A4-SFX struggled slightly with in terms of CPU cooling. Our favorite feature about this case, apart from the stunning unibody design and clean angles, is the ability to expand this case based on your personal requirements with ‘tophats’. This makes it possible to set up a water-cooling loop in this ever-so-small case. This is certainly a SFF case to watch, although the earliest units will be shipping in September 2017, and that’s if the Kickstarter campaign is successfully funded. We shall see.
We’ve had two entries from Silverstone in our top so far, so why not go for a third? We’re not doing it for the sake of doing it, nor are we paid to promote the brand – it’s just that their products are very good contenders for the title of best SFF case, and there’s no better example than the Silverstone RVZ01. While the previous models we’ve listed were targeted at budget buyers, the RVZ01 is for those that seek performance. Silverstone assembled a dedicated crew to work on their RAVEN lineup, and the RVZ01 is the first case to come out from said team, and it set a high bar for future models.
With a volume of roughly 14 liters, the RVZ01 is not the biggest SFF case out there, but don’t let that fool you – the case offers some pretty impressive specs: 330mm GPU length support, multiple 2.5”/3.5” drive mounting bays, optical unit support, two included 120mm fans and, the cherry on top, support for 120mm or 240mm water-cooling radiators.
In terms of design, the Silverstone RVZ01 closely resembles gaming consoles both in terms of size, as well as due to the fact that it can be placed vertically or horizontally. Since the case is mainly targeted at gamers, it’s safe to assume that said resemblance is not exactly a coincidence.
EVGA is a one of the top names in the field of gaming hardware, being a synonym for top-notch performance, reliability and, why not, good looks. Meet the EVGA Hadron Air – the case that proves that EVGA has got it when it comes to cases as well. The design of the case combines a minimalist touch represented by the glossy front panel and the large window on the side panel, with an aggressive accent given by the large vent that spreads across the entire top panel. Said top panel hides two 120mm fans that should provide some decent cooling but, even though it is not officially confirmed by EVGA, word on the forums is that those two fans can easily be replaced by a 120mm or even 240mm radiator.
The large window on the side panel of the case provides a clean view inside the case, so make sure you populate it with some show-off worthy hardware. Since the case can house a 267mm GPU and 2 storage drives comfortably, you’ve got numerous options to go with to fit the bill.
One more important aspect to mention about the EVGA Hadron Air is the power supply – the case comes with an integrated 80+ Gold Certified 500W power supply, which should provide enough juice for almost any hardware combination that can fit in the case.
So there you have it – some of the best small form factor PC cases out there, neatly aligned, briefly reviewed and GPUnerd-approved. If you know something we don’t, or feel that we missed something, feel free to let us know in a comment.
But WAIT! There’s more!
While putting together our selection of SFF cases, we stumbled upon some cases that didn’t exactly meet the SFF-requirements by a small margin, but are far too awesome to leave aside, so check out the following near-SFF cases:
Here’s a fun fact about the Cougar QBX: while it technically meets the SFF requirement volume-wise to the very limit (19.9 liters), it misses the mark in terms of actual size due to its atypical design. The Cougar QBX comes with an interesting look that features panels that give the impression that they are distanced from the actual chassis of the case. That, along with the 45-degree angles present all-around the case and the metal-like brushed finish gives the case a refined look and feel.
Once you get past its looks, the Cougar QBX is ready to impress on the feature side as well with a ginormous GPU clearance of 350mm – enough to fit in even the longest graphics cards out there. The case can also accommodate up to 5 storage drives. Where the Cougar QBX really shines, though, is cooling – not only can the case support up to 7 cooling fans, it offers great flexibility if you want to opt for water-cooling: up to 240mm radiator in the front, up to 240mm/280mm radiator on the top, 120/140mm radiator on the back.
The best thing about the Cougar QBX? You can get it for only $50!
With a volume of roughly 34 liters, the Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ITX is not exactly SFF material, but once you see just how awesome this case is, you may want to reconsider your desire for a SFF build.
The minimal design of the case comprises of a premium-quality metal build and a windowed side panel that gives you a glimpse of its interior, and whether there’s hardware in it or not, the Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ITX is just as amazing. Owing to this is the clean interior design that includes a PSU and HDD enclosure to hide cables and improve airflow. Since we mentioned airflow, it’s worth noting that the case comes with a 200mm fan out-of-the-box, but can support up to 5 fans for enhanced cooling. Radiators of up to 280mm are supported as well on the top side, with 240mm radiators being able to fit on the top side or in the front.
Perfection lies in the details, and Phanteks demonstrated that said perfection is part of the package with the Enthoo Evolv ITX. Whether we’re talking about the included dust filters, the Velcro cable ties for wire management, the modular water cooling reservoir mount or the offset radiator brackets, one thing is clear – Phanteks really aimed to impress with the Enthoo Evolv ITX, and it totally worked on us.
What about you?