Reactions to the Small Form Factor

Depending on whom you ask, what happened next is up for debate. Either the SFF was a colossal success, or else we simply have a case of "monkey see, monkey do." Whatever the reason, the reaction of the industry was clear: SFF became a hot topic, and virtually every motherboard manufacturer came out with their own design.

As is often the case, the quality of the derivative efforts varied. Some were better in certain areas and worse in others; other designs were cheap, quick copies that failed in nearly every aspect, but few and far between were the designs that wholly improved on the original. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but flattery isn't worth much in the business world - just ask Xerox how much money that they had earned off the "flattery" of both Apple and Microsoft.

(Those who follow computer games have witnessed a similar phenomenon with the "revolutionary" genres: Wolfenstein 3D created the first-person shooter, and in a short while, there were dozens of knock-offs. Then it happened again with Doom and Quake; Dune II and Warcraft spawned the real-time strategy genre, and there followed a slew of clones of varying quality.)

Meanwhile, it's difficult to say what actually happened in the computer community. For all the reviews that have been written on the emerging world of SFFs, they don't seem to be that common. This is a personal view, but I have never been asked to service a computer that was in a SFF case, I've never been asked to build a SFF system for someone, and I never really gave the subject that much thought. With all the choices out there, what did people buy? I think a lot of people simply felt overwhelmed and went with what they knew: the old, reliable ATX case.

Why would all these companies put so much effort into this market when it doesn't seem to be all that popular at retail? Perhaps the manufacturers like creating a complete system, with a power supply and case that they approve for use with their motherboard. They might even be able to make more money off the sales - case manufacturers have to make money to survive, as do the power supply manufacturers; combining all three would give you all the profits, assuming the margins make it worth the effort. It could also be that the cases are actually selling very well and I simply don't run in the same circles as the typical SFF purchaser.

Regardless of the explanation, the fact remains that until recently, I had read plenty about SFF cases, but I had never actually touched one. Why would anyone want to spend more money for a system that had less expansion possibilities? I certainly couldn't see a reason for it! After all, if a new CPU socket came out, your case would now need to be replaced along with your motherboard and CPU.

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  • henan - Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - link

    I liked your article, even if it is something I would not buy unless I had lots of money to spare and wanted an extra toy. I like having the possibilities and as many of us I often install or just play around with a device, wich would not be as easy with an SFF.

    About that LPT port, as some suggest shuttle offers the addons. Another option would simply be to use a USB to LPT converter. About 20 dollars here in sweden. Why not a printserver? Many do have a home network setup. Of course you could spend that on a new printer, but why not use a printer that works? The converter will make it last until it finally brakes down (the enviroment issue...). Call me old fashioned, but I still use one!

    /Henrik of Stockholm
    Reply
  • willndowed - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    I've got a shuttle SN45G system w/ a Athlon2800+, 1G of Ram... it was one with the 8X AGP port and I've got a 128M ATI 9600 video card in it.

    It's getting a little on the aged side, about a year old or so, but I've had nothing but good luck with it. It's been a great little machine. It's pretty good on overclocking, it' lets me OC the CPU to 3200+. It's got the ICE heat pipes that does a pretty darned good job of keep it cool.

    I've done a few things to it, put a couple small 12v headlight tinting lights into it for case l ights and put a clear acrylic case on it. I've also put Battlefield on the front behind the acrylic front which gives it a little of a 3d look to it.

    The real plus to this system is LAN parties. It's got a bag that fits it, so instead of making 3 or 4 trips hauling a 20 pound case huge monitor and a ton of other stuff... I load it into a bag, strap the keyboard and mouse to it, grab my monitor and go.

    For the last year it's been a great machine...

    ... though I am going to build me a huge monster, this little system I'm going to keep it around.
    Reply
  • RedWolf - Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - link

    Nice article, Jarred. I completely understand about the little ones and the need to put the pc on the desk. I acquired an Antec Aria a month ago (traded a lanboy/mobo on the forums for it) and have been trying to make it better for high-end gaming.

    After lots of modding I got a BFG 6800 OC. Well, the 6800 was pretty loud, even at 50% speed. I bought an Artic Cooling VGA Silencer and it doesn't quite fit.

    So, I gave up on the Aria as a high-end gaming case and will be moving my wifes component's into it.

    I am looking into smaller atx cases now that have 120mm fans AND have a locking door on the front. That should keep little fingers away from the reset and power buttons. I guess I should have just taken my Lanboy and put it on my desk.

    Anyway, I look forward to the SFF roundup you guys are doing. Don't forget to include the Aria and maybe even the Hornet.
    Reply
  • flachschippe - Monday, December 13, 2004 - link

    Talking about trends going to and fro:
    The Apple II of about 1978 *had* expansion slots. There was an enormous number of different cards available. It was said that the IBM PC's design
    copied this aspect. Surprisingly, the first Apple Macintosh, of about 1984, was not user-upgradeable at all.
    Reply
  • Phantronius - Monday, December 13, 2004 - link

    As nice as SFF are, they simply just won't work for me. As frequently as I upgrade my equipment, my overhead costs and assache to upgrade using SFF would be a nightmare.

    I use Shuttle as workstations at work and build them for clients but for my gaming stations, I'll stick with ATX for a good long time.
    Reply
  • flachschippe - Monday, December 13, 2004 - link

    Talking about trends going to and fro:
    The Apple II of about 1978 *had* expansion slots. There was an enormous number of different cards available. It was said that the IBM PC's design
    copied this aspect. Surprisingly, the first Apple Macintosh, of about 1984, was not user-upgradeable at all.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, December 12, 2004 - link

    Gioron - I just didn't want to be too hard on Shuttle when I haven't tried all of the other cases. The ASUS didn't give me any trouble, but maybe that was just luck, as I was using a different drive in that unit. I figure that many of the models with the drive covers are going to have some issues, and while Lian Li may have gotten it right, I haven't ever used one of their cases so I can't speak from personal experience.

    Anyway, it was about 10 minutes of work to get the drive positioned where it needed to be, so while annoying at the time it isn't a problem after assembly. Frequent upgraders would really have issues with most of the SFFs I've tried.
    Reply
  • Gioron - Sunday, December 12, 2004 - link

    err, correction: "adjusting the screws with the case open _and the computer turned on_" Reply
  • Gioron - Sunday, December 12, 2004 - link

    Since I have an sn95g5 the one thing I was looking for (and found) in your article was mention of that dang CD drive button. I had the same problems getting the drive properly aligned, and personally feel that the tolerance is actually much less than 1/16" (though that might vary with the model of drive that you're installing). I eventually resorted to adjusting the screws with the case open, which is not exactly a good thing.

    In regards to your "there is no perfect solution" line about this, go find a lian-li case and one of its universal drive covers. The button is _under_ the drive plate, giving direct pressure to the CD's button and a much longer travel length and tolerance for misajustment. I see no reason (well, aside from possible patents or something) that Shuttle couldn't have coppied the same basic layout and put the drive button below and eliminated the funky lever system thats eating up most of the button travel distance and making the drive placement so difficult.

    Of course, aside from that one minor pet peeve I'm happy with my SFF case, and feel the advantages are more than worth the limitations.
    Reply
  • IceWindius - Saturday, December 11, 2004 - link

    #35

    You gain some, and you loose some. Either use the onboard sound or stick with ATX.
    Reply

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