Building your own computer can be a really worthwhile task, especially since you can customize almost every aspect of it. Gaming PCs are no exception, and there are a lot of great things you can put together in building your dreams – from the best motherboards to the latest graphics cards.
While some gamers may prefer a traditional tower PC that can accommodate future components and changes, smaller builds can also be built into fairly powerful gaming PCs, despite their small size. Of course, there are some liberties to make when choosing your components, but if you keep all of this in mind, you can create a great gaming PC that’s a fraction of the size of an average PC.
What is a mini form computer?
A Small Form Factor PC (or SFF for short) is as the name suggests, a computer much smaller than your average PC. SFF PCs have been in the market for years and are often used for things like media center computers, thin clients, or any scenario where space is limited but you still want a fully functional PC. SFF structures have their own advantages and disadvantages, and it is important to keep them in mind before embarking on your own construction.
First, SFF computers are quite compact, which is fine when you don’t want to take up much space with a powerful computer. Some SFF cases are as large as a modern game console, and can easily be placed near the TV or placed on your desk with very little effort. It’s also a lot more portable than its larger PC siblings, so if you need to move your PC quickly, you can just unplug the external cables and turn your PC into its new home.
On the flip side, due to the small build area, you have to be careful what components you choose. Certain SFF cases will only allow certain GPU sizes or CPU coolers, so it’s important to properly research the components that fit your case. Another important thing to keep in mind is cooling – smaller space usually means you can open fewer fans, so expect slightly higher than normal temperatures when using an SFF PC.
Regardless of these points, it’s an exciting journey to build your own SFF PC, so we’ve put our favorite components together to build our own SFF gaming PC. We wanted to put together a computer that was not only compact but also had some great hardware in it, capable of handling any game we wanted to play.
Here’s what went into our SFF Gaming PC architecture:
SFF Bag – Lian Li Q58
The first thing to settle is your SFF case, here we use Lian Li’s newly launched Q58 computer case. This case is great because it’s very compact but makes room for some forgiving components, like larger GPUs and a 240mm AIO CPU cooler. It has glass and mesh panels on both sides that can be swapped for an all-glass or all-plexiglass look on one side, and also includes an easy-to-use RGB power hub and fan that makes it much easier to connect all your fans and other components in one place.
CPU – Intel i5 11600K
While the 12th generation Intel processors are already on the market, we are still impressed with the performance available in the Intel i5 11600K. It has a lot of overclocking potential if you want to take advantage of it more, and it can handle a variety of tasks – from running your games to making sure video editing is a breeze.
Motherboard – Gigabyte Z590I Vision D
Since our computer case is white, we figured we’d also be using a white motherboard, and the Gigabyte Z590I Vision D fits right in. It has great storage connectivity, supports 10th and 11th generation processors, and offers a good amount of connectivity with USB Type-A and Type-C ports and built-in Wi-Fi.
G.Skill Trident Z Royal Elite 3600 CL16-19-19 RAM (16 GB x 2)
We are huge fans of G.Skill’s RAM not only for its performance, but also for its great designs. This particular unit has some excellent overclocking performance, and full RGB control as well. Support for XMP 2.0 also means that it will work well with our Intel processor to always keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Storage – WD_Black SN850 + SN750SE
WD_Black Series drives are a great choice here due to their performance when it comes to gaming. For our OS drive, we’re using the SN850 in an M.2 PCIe 4.0 slot for the fastest boot times and overall performance. The SN750SE secondary drive will only be used to store games, ensuring that our primary OS drive doesn’t fill up with programs and files too quickly.
CPU Cooler – EK-AIO 240 D-RGB
This AIO cooler is a perfect fit for the top of our case, and will help keep our CPU cool under heavy loads. It’s also able to sync with RGB options on the motherboard, making it easy to control for the best visuals. When choosing an SFF case CPU cooler, you will have to make sure that it fits snugly without any bends in the tubes, or that will greatly affect the efficiency of your setup.
GPU – Color iGame GeForce RTX 3070 Ti Vulcan OC 8G-V
While this GPU is definitely a card monster, it does the necessary clearance for our case. The PCIe 4.0 cable included in the box means we’ll mount this GPU vertically and slide its screen up to check GPU and CPU temperatures at any time. This card can easily handle any game you throw at it, with smooth frames at 1080p and 1440p at a time. Again, make sure that the GPU you choose strictly adheres to the size limitations of your case.
PSU – FSP SFX Dagger Pro 850W
To build an SFF, you’ll need a small but powerful PSU to power everything. We chose the FSP SFX Dagger Pro 850W PSU for our build for several reasons. First, it’s incredibly small, and it could fit into our computer case without compromise. It’s also fully modular, so we just have to plug in the cables we’ll actually be using. Finally, it’s quiet, features reliable Japanese electrolytic capacitors, and is 80 Plus Gold certified for exceptional reliability and performance in your SFF.
Put it all together
When assembling an SFF PC build, you have to keep in mind that you have less room to maneuver around things. It is important that you try to get the AIO cooler and fans first, then double check that the CPU block will fit correctly with the motherboard. Once this is done away, you can then take the AIO out again and insert the motherboard and PSU (don’t forget the connections) with the CPU, RAM and storage already connected. You can then screw it securely onto your CPU block and make sure the AIO tubes aren’t curved into any tight angles that would compress them.
At this point, it is worth doing a boot up to see if everything is working and you will get into the BIOS. Of course, you can check all of this out of the box as well, but sometimes the design can work out of the box and then disappear once you screw everything inside. If you manage to get into the BIOS, the biggest hurdle is gone. If you just got a black screen, check the error LEDs on the motherboard (check the manual that will tell you where these LEDs are), reinstall the RAM or try with just one stick, make sure all your connections are for power and the screen Safe.
Once your computer shuts down after a successful boot, you can finally install the GPU and start tidying up your cables a bit. Mounting the GPU vertically can be a little tricky, especially with a height cable, so take your time and work slowly. Next, connect the monitor cables to your GPU and boot again. If all is well and you are able to get into BIOS or Windows setup, you can start by rebooting the case and any cable ties and screws at the last minute.
After you’ve installed Windows, installed your games, and updated everything, it’s time to finally sit back and enjoy your new SFF gaming PC. It’s insane how something so small can still be so powerful, but it sure is an amazing sight to see. Make sure you have a number of games or benchmarks on and keep an eye on your temperatures – if things seem a little warmer (we’re talking about 50°C and above when idle) you may have to rethink your airflow setting or double-check that your All-In-One Your is working properly. Ideally, you’re looking at CPU temperatures of 40°C or lower idle for an SFF build, and up to 65°C when gaming.
Once everything is set up to your liking, you can then show off your brand new SFF design on your desk, thanks to its small footprint. Spice up your RGB lighting, put some stickers on your case (like we did) and just pop back in to enjoy your handiwork. The SFF Gaming PC is definitely something to look at as a compact (and even portable) gaming solution that can be easily concealed or commanded prominently on your desk.