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Computer Form Factors: A Buying Guide

Computer Form Factors: A Buying Guide

Dwight Pavlovic
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Computer form factor and terms like it are used to describe the size, specification, or use of your device’s physical case. With most desktop PCs, the form factor is defined by size in comparison to a traditional tower, so you’ll see terms like microtower, slim, and mini. Other terms, like the “small form factor,” emphasize a focus on minimized footprint rather than compact builds.
Speaking in the strictest terms, a computer form factor refers to motherboard specifications and it encompasses features like physical dimensions, including unique power and mounting configurations.
Over time and through the development of smaller PC case dimensions and specialized builds, consumers and manufacturers have used “form factor” to distinguish new “desktop” computer options from traditional desktop towers.
In this guide, we’ll break down the varying PC tower sizes and computer case sizes available, as well as the different laptop types you should know before shopping for your next desktop computer.

What is a computer case?

A computer case is the physical container for your PC’s critical components. In typical desktop PC configurations, the computer case is distinct from peripheral hardware like your keyboard, mouse, and display.
How a manufacturer chooses to build its computer case determines the form factor. And to distinguish the case by size, you’ll see an indication of the variation in its name (like microtower, for example).
Given the integrated components of a laptop, the term “computer case” is less applicable, so you’ll see it used less often. If you do come across it, it’s likely only in reference to the external shell or the underside of the device where critical components are stored. When describing a laptop form factor, the emphasis shifts to use, which is why you’ll see terms like “mobile workstation” and “convertible notebook.”

Most popular desktop form factors

In this section, we’ll focus on popular PC case form factors. Power users and DIY builders may want to stick to traditional towers for their primary PC. However, there are plenty of useful, alternative configurations to help you adapt to smaller workspaces and unique routines.
Smaller form factors are flexible and often more accommodating to certain budgets. They’re also more portable, making them ideal for professionals with multiple job sites, as well as companies looking to streamline their office workspaces.

1. Desktop PC tower

Designed for performance and expandability, the traditional tower configuration offers the most space for components and expansions. They help guarantee long-term performance and can even help to spread out costs if you plan to upgrade down the line. With a tower PC, you can buy what fits your budget now, then add components or higher-end hardware in the future.
For general use, the HP ENVY desktop PC (TE01-1150xt) is a great example of a traditional tower. It features a slim and attractive profile compared to older designs, with brushed thermal vents that don’t just look good, they also reduce noise and improve airflow. Choose the base configuration and upgrade over time, or configure with up to 32GB of RAM and 4TB of storage.
Towers are especially suited to gaming computers, with dedicated lines optimized for the most efficient cooling and maintenance access. The HP OMEN 25L desktop PC (GT12-0235se), for example, boasts a sleek design and transparent access panel, making it easy to visualize, upgrade, and maintain. It also includes a dedicated NVIDIA® GeForce® RTX 2060 SUPER™ graphics card and advanced cooling.
Of course, as tech gets smaller and smaller, the average tower case is also shrinking. This trend is actually responsible for the new range of compact and more fully integrated PCs we’ll cover below. While these may have less room to expand over time, smaller cases have plenty of unique advantages and a growing baseline for performance.

2. Microtower

HP offers a variety of different form factors, including several intermediate configurations like the microtower. Primarily designed to provide advantages similar to a traditional tower case, it has a reduced physical footprint but still has plenty of room to customize or upgrade.
This class centers on the customizable HP ProDesk 600 G6 microtower PC, which has a compact build and myriad ways to make it your own. It’s powered by the latest 10th Generation Intel® Core™ processors, and you can add up to 128GB of RAM and up to 6TB of storage. Plus, you can choose integrated or discrete graphics.

3. Slim form factor

The slim form factor is also an intermediate configuration, and you can find it among HP’s traditional tower selection. Compared to the microtower, the slim form factor offers an even smaller physical footprint. While this may limit your options for expansion, you still have the same ease of access that comes with a standard tower, perfect for connectivity and quick upgrades.
Measuring in at under 12 inches tall and less than 4 inches from side to side, the HP Slim (S01-pF1048xt) desktop PC is a standout from the slim category. It’s powered by the 10th Generation Intel Core processor, and boasts the speed and ease-of-use of hybrid HDD and SSD storage.

4. All-in-One desktop PC

The All-in-One (AiO) desktop PC is perhaps the best way to consolidate your work space, because it shifts a desktop PC’s hardware into the display unit. This means no separate tower, so you don’t have to sacrifice legroom or space in your work area to fit your brand-new PC.
The HP 24 (dp0140z) AiO PC is a popular choice with a streamlined physical build and a competitive price tag. It features a quad-core AMD Ryzen™ 5 processor and integrated AMD Radeon™ Vega 8 Graphics, plus a touch screen display and versatile hybrid storage. It’s also designed for easy access via the rear panel, which is ideal for basic maintenance.
For other options, check the full HP AiO selection. These PCs save space and provide solid performance, though they don’t have much room (if any) for expansion.

5. Mini PC

Among the most compact and lightweight options on our list, HP Mini PCs are comparable in size to some laptops. Most are under 2 inches thick and weigh less than 3 lbs, making them easy to transport across work sites or to mount behind a compatible display.
The HP ProDesk 600 G5 desktop Mini PC boasts strong base hardware specs and plenty of options to customize. It supports up to the 9th Generation Intel Core i7 processor and maxes out at 128GB of RAM, and you can choose from up to 1TB of SSD storage or 2TBs in HDD configurations. And yes, it’s still a proper Mini at under 2 inches thick and 2.75 lbs.

6. Small form factor

HP small form factor (SFF) PCs are generally designed for enterprise applications, providing an expandable and secure option for businesses. They aren’t always the smallest option available, but they do offer a comparatively small footprint given the performance they can support. Plus, there are even some SFF clients, like the HP t430 thin client, that weigh less than 2 lbs.
For a standard-sized SFF, the HP EliteDesk 800 G5 small form factor PC offers a high ceiling for performance and expandability. Choose between integrated and discrete graphics, an optional optical drive, and up to a 9th Generation Intel Core i9 processor. And if you want to upgrade it, you can use one of the 4 bays and 4 half-height slots available.

Laptop form factors

Unlike the variety of computer case form factors for desktops, laptops must store their most critical components in the lower portion of the device. And while most use a traditional format with an integrated keyboard and hinged displays, manufacturers like HP began to experiment with other formats we’ll cover in this part of our guide.

7. Traditional laptop and notebook

Laptops and notebooks add a layer of flexibility to your routine with their portable designs. They may not be as compact as a smartphone, for example, but some newer laptop models weigh well under 5 lbs and are a breeze to carry.
HP has a wide selection of traditional laptops and notebooks, and the customizable HP laptop - 17z-ca100 is a solid mid-range choice with an accessible price. It features an AMD Ryzen 5 processor and AMD Radeon Vega 8 Graphics, and up to 16GB of RAM and a 1TB of SSD. It’s also available in three finishes and boasts an estimated 8 hours of battery life.

8. Mobile workstations

While they may feature the same structural properties as a conventional laptop, mobile workstations provide an increased level of performance. They’re a great choice for users who want the most processing power and the best hardware available with the mobility of a laptop. Be aware, though, this will come at a higher price.
The HP ZBook Fury 17 G7 mobile workstation is our favorite for this section, providing top configurations that easily rival most desktop PCs. It supports up to a high-powered Intel Xeon® processor and a massive 8TB SSD storage capacity. With up to 128GBs of RAM, it’s hard to beat. And it measures just over 1-inch thick and includes a long-life battery. You can check out the rest of HP’s mobile workstation selection for more options, many of which are customizable so you can get exactly what you need without anything you don’t.

9. Convertible x360 laptop-tablet

Designed to support a bigger range of work styles, the convertible x360 laptop is a growing segment of the HP laptop selection. Built with a strong and adjustable hinge, you can use a convertible like a traditional laptop or you can fold it over to use it as a tablet. Touch screen displays and comfortable builds make this form factor incredibly flexible and useful for creative and remote-working professionals.
The HP ENVY x360 convertible laptop is an affordable standout from the HP lineup, with your choice of an AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 processor and a maximum of 16GB of RAM. It’s also extremely portable, weighing less than 5 lbs and measuring under just 0.76 inches in thickness. It comes with a stellar multimedia outlay including WLED-backlighting, Audio by Bang & Olufsen, quad speakers, and HP Audio Boost.

10. Notebooks and Chromebooks

The term notebook is used with some flexibility, but it’s generally used to describe a compact laptop. Chromebook is a newer term used to describe a laptop that uses Google’s Chrome OS, like HP’s Chromebook line. Aside from Chrome OS and some other functionality, a Chromebook is close in size and usage to a traditional laptop. For more information, check out our article What is a Chromebook?

Summary

There are many computer form factors to consider with varying uses, sizes, and potential. But when it comes to who should buy what, there are some important things to keep in mind as you shop.
For professionals, you’ll want to balance your work requirements against performance and cost – just like home users. Enterprise users may want to focus on powerful options like the small form factor series or the HP ZBook line for scale and performance, but there’s no shortage of intermediate options to explore.
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.

Popular HP Computer Form Factors

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