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Small Form Factor PCs: 5 Space-Saving Advantages
Dwight Pavlovic & Cecily Whiteside
September 30, 2020
In today’s changing marketplace, you need to adapt your work environment to the space you have available. From the home office to the corporate office, every square inch counts. A small form factor (SFF) PC can help you maximize your output no matter how limited your desk area.
Despite their increasing popularity, there is still some inconsistency from manufacturer to manufacturer when it comes to describing a small form factor desktop computer. Let’s dive into what makes a PC a “small form factor,” then get to why one may be the perfect fit for you.
What is a small form factor PC?
A small form factor PC has a smaller configuration than a typical tower PC, but has the computing power of its full-sized tower cousin. Unlike traditionally compact devices such as smartphones and tablets, an SFF PC does everything a standard PC does, with smaller components and a minimal footprint.
What are the form factors of desktop computers?
These days, the size and shape of your PC can vary quite a bit. Your first decision is between a laptop and desktop PC. Once you settle on a desktop computer, your next decision is between three desktop PC form factors.
1. Tower desktop PC: The large box-shaped computer that you traditionally think of when you say “desktop.” While they come in a variety of sizes, these are your largest PC option. There is plenty of interior space for multiple CPUs, GPU, storage, and power supply, along with the fan or liquid cooling components that help them run at full capacity. You will need to buy the display, mouse, and keyboard separately.
2. All-in-One PC: The All-in-One (AiO) comes as a complete PC setup. The components are housed in the display for a more streamlined experience. An AiO is generally not as powerful as a tower desktop, since there is limited room for cooling fans to keep more powerful components from overheating. These are easy to set up and offer convenience. And as powerful components get more efficient, AiOs have become more powerful as well.
3. Small form factor PCs: These small but powerful PCs let you keep your desktop clutter-free. As with the tower computers, you will need to shop for your display, mouse, and keyboard separately. SFFs come in two configurations: micro PCs (also called microtowers) designed to stand upright on your desk, similar to towers, but scaled down in size, and mini computers, designed to lay flat or mount behind a monitor or under the desk.
Can an SFF PC design really make a difference for me?
The smaller design – exterior and interior – of an SFF is geared toward efficiency, intended to help reduce clutter. 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 working with the same range of familiar components; it’s just in a smaller package.
Fortunately for consumers, 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 potential for savings is substantial, too. And that extends to more than just money. You can save time, space, energy, and effort with an SFF computer customized for your individual needs.
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.
Advantages of owning an SFF 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 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.
A great example is the HP EliteDesk 800 G5 customizable SFF. Start with 4GB of memory and 500GB hard disk drive (HDD) storage, and you can increase it up to a whopping 128GB of DIMM memory and 2TB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. You can also customize your CPU and add a discrete GPU, as well as choose which ports you need.
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. Though a small form factor design is tailored for efficiency, many configurations can offer robust specs at a competitive price.
Take a look at the HP t530 Thin Client desktop PC. With many ENERGY STAR configurations to choose from, you're sure to find a thin client that fits your work and lifestyle.
3. Lower the risk of incidental damage while you’re working
Often, your dedicated workspace ends up serving as a multipurpose area, especially if you work out of a home office. 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 on or under a desk are exposed to a lot of unnecessary activity. Any activity is too much, really, when you consider how important they are to anyone depending on it for work. Since it’s compact enough to store unconventionally, the SFF faces no such risk.
Try mounting the powerful HP Z2 Mini workstation under your desk, knowing that it's safe from bumps and spills. Enjoy both peace of mind and an unparalleled computing experience.
4. Easily keep your PC clean (and cool)
For many dedicated 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.
Tower desktops are notorious for collecting dust and pet dander inside the case, especially if they are stored under your desk. Given SFFs’ smaller configuration, you’ll have more leeway to figure out your own safe solutions like behind the monitor, on a high shelf, or even in a drawer. Since dust buildup is one of the major contributors to overheating components, an SFF’s ability to tuck into dust-free spots off the carpet is ideal for ventilation.
5. Work with everything you need, even in a small space
With the advent of integrated space-saving solutions like cloud storage, an SFF PC can streamline your workflow. It’s easy to make 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.
The HP ProDesk 600 Mini packs a computing punch. Mount it behind your display for a big solution in a small package.
Is smaller right for me?
HP® offers many small form factor and thin client PC designs, but you may be wondering if their streamlined configuration is totally right for you. That boils down to a couple of questions:
How much power and performance do you really need?
Would the extra room in your workspace add value to your experience?
When is a small form factor PC not for me?
One of the drawbacks of a small form factor PC is the lack of expandability, which can be a concern for more hands-on DIY users.
If you plan to upgrade to more than one storage solution – perhaps a hybrid HDD and SSD is in your future – a tower PC will better provide the room you need. Also if you have your eye on adding liquid cooling or additional graphics cards or processors, you’ll need the wide-open spaces of a tower.
The SFF configuration emphasizes size and convenience; this means that the extra space you may find in traditional layouts, such as expansion and memory slots, is usually sacrificed to provide a slimmer profile.
Cost, performance, and portability with an SFF
When shopping for a new compact PC, we all want a comfortable balance between cost, performance, and portability. Fortunately, the rapid advances in technology have made comparing SFF and traditional PC configurations easier, giving you the ability to choose the best configuration for your needs.
While SFF PCs may offer less room for DIY upgrades, they offer substantial advantages in space without sacrificing power.
The range encompasses a bit of everything. You’ll find highly affordable options for customers who want to save money on initial investments, 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 smaller size. No matter what your needs, there is an SFF from HP® to fit them.
About the Authors: Dwight Pavlovic and Cecily Whiteside are contributing writers for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia. Cecily is a California-based technology, parenting, and lifestyle writer.
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