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Small Form Factor PCs: 5 Space-Saving Advantages
December 30, 2018
For anyone accustomed to a typical tower style desktop PC or even a traditional notebook, you may be wondering; what exactly is a small form factor PC? It’s a good question that has become more relevant as the market changes and adapts to the tastes of consumers and the needs of small business and industry.
Despite their increasing popularity, there is still some inconsistency from manufacturer to manufacturer when it comes to describing a small form factor desktop computer.
What is a small form factor PC?
In a nutshell, a “small form factor” (SFF) PC simply indicates a smaller configuration than a typical tower PC. The expression is generally used to describe PCs and their related equipment. It’s a desktop PC that is a compact device; but is more powerful than traditionally compact devices such as smartphones and tablets.
Making an informed decision regardless of budget
These days, depending on your budget or profession, the number of options available means that the size and shape of your PC can vary quite a bit. However, it’s still up to you to choose the model and then map out the specs to fit your specific needs as you look for the right SFF PC for you.
Is it all that different from a traditional PC?
The smaller design - exterior and interior - is geared toward efficiency, intended to help reduce clutter. It can reduce the overall impact of traditional systems on the average-sized office. While an SFF PC may look dramatically smaller and different than a traditional tower design, many of its basics haven’t changed. You’re still generally working the same way with the same range of familiar components; it’s just in a smaller package.
Can an SFF PC design really make a difference for me?
The short answer is a resounding yes. Just about anyone can benefit from a smaller PC design. That goes for whether you’re clearing up space for your other devices or simply keeping room available as you flesh out your workspace.
The potential for savings is substantial, too, whether it’s in the scope of finance, space, or work. For users who know themselves and their routine well, that extends to more than just money. If you know the scale of your work and crave consistency, you can save time, space, energy, and effort with an SFF computer.
Of course, we all want technology we can rely on, but that means you should know as much about your routine and the systems you use as possible. Otherwise, it can be challenging to make an informed decision in a crowded market.
Before you buy, you should better understand just how much a PC with an SFF design can impact your routine. Whether you’re a student or a professional, there are plenty of situations where a more streamlined device can save time and effort.
Does smaller mean less performance?
The typical SFF PC model is designed primarily to be compact so you can save space. Fortunately for consumers, though, technology has advanced to the point where companies like HP® can offer a robust computing experience in a form factor that may have been inconceivable just a decade ago.
The HP Z240 Small Form Factor Workstation is a great example of this. It boasts numerous customization options for top-tier performance with Intel® Xeon® processors, in addition to some of the best graphics cards, storage drive options, and DDR4 RAM.
Advantages of owning a small form factor PC
Some of the advantages and disadvantages of a small and streamlined PC design may strike you as obvious at first glance, but others may be less expected. In the rest of this article, we’ll build your understanding and appreciation of just how much SFF designs can help with your routine, whether you’re a student, artist, professional, or a busy stay-at-home parent.
1. Save massive amounts of surface area in your office or workspace
The initial advantage of an SFF configuration is space, of course, because it frees up your desk or workspace for other devices and activities. Instead of cluttering up your legroom under a desk or occupying a big chunk of your usable surface space, you can store an SFF PC just about anywhere.
Place it on a shelf, tuck it in a corner behind your display, or even store it in a drawer or customized space for ventilation and access. That’s more room for you, more room for your work, and less space occupied by the clutter that comes with bigger PCs.
2. Reduce your power consumption and environmental footprint
There’s your environmental footprint to consider, too, and it can be dramatically reduced when you work on a thin client or small form factor computer. HP® even offers a range of ENERGY STAR® configurations from our SFF lines that are tailored specifically for energy efficiency.
At the budget-minded end of the spectrum, you’ll find the affordable HP ProDesk 400 G5 small form factor PC. There are also top shelf efficient options, too, such as the high-powered HP EliteDesk 800 G3 small form factor PC featuring an Intel Core™ i7 processor and speedy SSD storage.
For some users, a smaller PC may seem limiting, but there are just as many others with confidence in a stable workflow and a desire for a device that’s manageable. Though a small form factor design is tailored for efficiency, many configurations can offer good specs at a competitive price.
3. Lower the risk of incidental damage while you’re working
Whether we intend for it be or not, a dedicated workspace often ends up serving as a multipurpose area. With a smaller PC configuration that can be stored discreetly, you face fewer risks from the unexpected. Naturally, there’s far less chance of damage from food or liquids when you can easily store an SFF PC behind your display or away from your primary surface area.
Traditional tower PCs stored under a desk are also exposed to a lot of unnecessary activity. Any activity like that is too much, really, when you consider how sensitive and important they are to anyone depending on it for work. Again, being compact enough to store unconventionally, the SFF faces no such risk.
4. Smaller size means it’s easier to cool and keep clean
For many longtime computer users, there are few things more anxiety-inducing than loading a resource-heavy program and feeling a hot blast of air coming through the PC vents. Or hearing the fast, high-pitched whir of fan blades as they try to force hot air away from your system, sometimes more successfully than other times.
With a smaller configuration, users have more leeway to figure out their own safe solutions for providing extra ventilation or cooling when temperature becomes a concern. The other angle to size and cooling is wear, especially damage from dust and particulates.
Fortunately for you, the small size also means that SFF PCs are easier to maintain and clean day-to-day. Ideally, access to an easier cleaning routine allows you to preserve more functionality over time.
Unfortunately for now, there is no dedicated small form factor gaming PC variant tuned for multimedia and heavy-duty graphics, but a more compact design does open up some options thanks to custom and DIY cooling setups.
For gamers, having a small device means extra leverage to control temperature and ventilation. Though it’s not necessarily an ideal solution for long-term or regular use, it does provide at least one route if you’d like to occasionally squeeze out some extra performance for more complex tasks or programs.
5. Work with everything you need, even in a small space
Many of the advantages that come from an SFF design can be strongly connected to workflow. For individuals, workflow revolves around routine. Offices, individuals, and homes all develop their own routines for getting things done in the best and most efficient way possible, and many of us evolve our own workflow naturally over time, which can be difficult in a cluttered space.
When you integrate space-saving solutions like cloud storage or an SFF PC into your workflow, you’re making modifications that can improve your efficiency by reducing your consumption of space, power, and time. For many users, the SFF configuration is an investment in long-term efficiency as a bedrock of a more streamlined and minimalist approach.
Is smaller right for me?
HP® offers many small form factor desktops and thin client PC designs, but you may be wondering if their streamlined configuration is totally right for you.
That boils down to a small number of questions:
- How much power and performance do you really need?
- Would the extra room in your workspace add value to your experience?
These are the most important questions to ask, and it’s also good to know about one of the primary disadvantages that may deter a more DIY-minded user. One of the only drawbacks of a small form factor PCs is the lack of expandability, which can be a concern for more hands-on users.
The SFF configuration emphasizes size and convenience, which means the extra space you may find in traditional layouts, such as expansion and memory slots, is usually sacrificed to provide a slimmer profile.
Even smaller PC options from HP®
If you’re interested in desktop and workstation options that are even smaller, your choices for compact PCs and mini desktops don’t stop at HP®’s formal SFF selection.
For instance, the HP Z2 Mini G4 desktop workstation is designed specifically to support complex programs like CAD, and yet it’s incredibly compact. To keep you unencumbered, it reaches only 8.5 inches at its longest measurement and just over 2 inches at the shortest while weighing in at 5 lbs.
While a device like this isn’t necessarily made for tighter budgets, it does offer a strong balance of features centered on performance and space-saving measurements.
Cost, performance, and portability with an SFF desktop PC
When shopping for a new compact PC, we all want a comfortable balance between cost, performance, and portability. Fortunately for all of us, the rapid adoption of the technology has made comparing SFF and traditional PC configurations easier, with minimal drawbacks.
While SFF desktops may offer less room for do-it-yourself PC upgrades and have fewer standout specs compared to premium options, they offer substantial advantages depending on the configuration and your style of work.
The range encompasses a bit of everything. You’ll find highly affordable options for customers who want to save money on their initial investment, and ultra-small configurations to help declutter or upgrade a busy workspace. There are even performance variants that offset any possible sacrifices made for the small form factor.
If you routinely use resource-intensive software or think you may need extra capacity soon, an SFF may not be right for you. But the lower cost, comfortable size, and potential for easy portability may be exactly what you need.
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About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.