Small Form Factor Reviewing MethodologyThe first topic that we want to address is how we conduct our SFF reviews. You may want to refer back to our 478/754 roundup for more detail, but we've updated our testing methodology a bit. We feel that the SFF market is something of an exclusive market, very similar in some ways to the Apple market. People are willing to pay a bit more for the overall design and aesthetic value of a SFF system. Anyone can put parts into a large ATX case, and many of us do just that. However, some people would prefer a case that is more attractive to look at and less intrusive in the audio spectrum. What we have come up with is a list of items to look at in our SFF reviews, ranked roughly in order of decreasing importance.
- Aesthetic value
- Noise levels
- Construction, durability, and portability
- Ease of use (i.e. upgrading)
It is of course possible to build your own system that is still silent and attractive without resorting to the SFF market. Different power supplies, fans, cases, etc. can help reduce noise levels, but all of that requires a decent amount of effort. By the time that you get a quiet desktop system, the difference in cost between it and a SFF is often relatively small. Appearance is something that is difficult to judge, as what one person likes may be entirely different than what others like. We'll provide our own opinions on the outward appearance of the models, but look at the images and judge for yourselves. What remains is a difference in expandability and size, two items that go hand in hand.
Due to the complexity of reviewing a SFF system, this is going to be a long article. It's really separate, condensed reviews of the five systems followed by some benchmarks comparing and contrasting them. So, grab yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and sit back for a long read if you have the time. Otherwise, skip forward to page 13