Reviewing a Small Form Factor System

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. How each individual evaluates particular features will vary, but this is how we will be approaching the SFF market. The key elements that we will be looking at are as follows:
  • Aesthetic value
  • Features
  • Noise levels
  • Construction, durability, and portability
  • Performance
  • Expandability
  • Ease of use (i.e. upgrading)
The first three are the primary considerations, while the last three are lesser considerations, and the construction and build quality are somewhere in between. This differs quite a bit from how desktop systems are evaluated. There are plenty of people who worry about how a desktop case looks as well as the noise levels and features, but they are not necessarily the most important considerations. If we were to rank a desktop configuration, the order of importance would be more like:
  • Features
  • Expandability
  • Aesthetics
  • Ease of use (i.e. upgrading)
  • Construction and durability
  • Noise Levels
  • Portability
Note that since a desktop system does not include a motherboard, performance is not a consideration. We might consider cooling performance as a separate criterion, but we're lumping that into the features category for now. We've also separated portability into its own category, as for most people, this is a non-issue. Unlike SFF units, any of these categories could be ranked as the most important feature, depending on the intended use.

To reiterate, the value that a person puts on each item is up to the individual. Some might feel that the aesthetics are the most important thing in any computer case, and people who do frequent upgrades would put a lot more emphasis on the ease of use. Our feeling, however, is that people who are into the SFF design are more likely to be - without any intended condescension - similar to iMac owners and case modders.

Some people - let's just call them "engineers" - couldn't care less about the outward appearance; it's all about performance and functionality. For others, price/performance is a major concern. These people probably aren't going to buy an SFF system. Very few people need a SFF system. You get it because you have a desire for something that's smaller, quieter, more attractive, etc. Price will play a role, of course, but it is not the first consideration. If you like a particular SFF a lot, spending an extra $100 or more is really not a deal breaker.

We will have some benchmarks later in the article that will focus on certain aspects of the system, but what we're really looking for is decent performance with some features and qualities that make a unit rise above the rest. Low noise levels will be very important, since we feel part of the goal in getting a SFF is to have an inconspicuous case, and loud fans really don't help in achieving that goal. Also, while we will have quite a few pictures included in the article text, we will be including links for a complete sequence of images that we have composed during the testing if you want to check out some of the finer details. Now, it's time to move on to the systems. As usual, we will proceed in alphabetical order.

Index Aopen XC Cube AV
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  • gerf - Thursday, March 24, 2005 - link

    I noticed! :D

    but i doubt that you will notice back anyway. Heh
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 6, 2005 - link

    Touche! And only 9 months late. LOL
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, February 23, 2005 - link

    UPDATE! I screwed up in comment 28 above and neglected to mention this in the article. The iDEQ 210P actually *CAN* use a two slot graphics card. That makes high-end cards like the 6800 Ultra an option, as well as quieter solutions like the Silencer GPU HSF. I'm not sure how many will actually notice this post, but it's one more point in favor of the 210P.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 18, 2005 - link

    Update: I inadvertently stated that the ASUS quick-boot mode supports MP3 CDs. It does not. Sorry for any confusion. The Aopen and Foxconn do support this feature, but my brain got a little scambled in the process of reviewing all five units.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 18, 2005 - link

    27 - at least for the units in this roundup, none of them could take a large two-slot graphics card. The AGP slots are all on the outside, so the HSF would end up outside the case. Clearance even with the X800 Pro used was tight on several of the cases and it required a bit of finagling to install. Any of the cards that use a large cooler like the Silencer would also not fit in the cases. I'll be sure to make note of any SFFs that could actually accept a two-slot GPU, though.
  • benjin - Friday, February 18, 2005 - link

    Excellent reviews, I appreciate all the hard work.

    Since noise is a big issue, it'd be nice to see how well some of the new, larger and passively cooled video cards fit, if at all.

    I could see that as being difficult since they'll all be different, but maybe future reviews could offer an idea of how much clearance would be available to work with.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 17, 2005 - link

    The Kloss is amoung the systems in the 775 roundup I'm working on. Do they have a 939 version as well?
  • Noli - Thursday, February 17, 2005 - link

    can you include the Trigem Kloss as well pls? Sounds and looks pretty cool.. (esp if they have an A64 version - anyone know?)

  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 17, 2005 - link

    23 - I've sent a request to Biostar for any additional units, particularly Athlon 64 units. The same goes for several other companies.
  • REMF - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    Biostar are are about to release an nForce4 SFF in their 300 series chassis. :D

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