Sunday, 1 February 2015

Small Form Factor

Not sure what the useful life of a computer should be, but I have had a my laptop for a few years now.  I know some of my friends have cycled through three laptops in the space of same timespan!

In any case, it was getting to the point that I felt it was time to upgrade.  With file sizes and resource usage increasing it was time for some new hardware.  In terms of using the computer, I wanted it to be able to play some of the more recent games (though I have not really been a PC gamer much before), and be powerful enough to take on some of the more complex tasks required (whether it be for work or some video/photo processing).  Whilst I had really enjoyed my laptop, there were three main reasons why I decided to explore a desktop:
  1. Power vs cost: While the computing power in laptops has certainly been increasing, even the more basic video cards are on par with the more expensive mobile versions.  Furthermore, the smaller footprints make heat dispersion more challenging and currently places limits in terms of pushing the hardware.
  2. Upgrade and fixes:  the lack of ability to upgrade is also a bit of a problem.  Some vendors at least allow the simpler hardware to be upgraded (e.g. RAM, HDD) but changing the CPU, graphics cards etc are typically much more challenging.  Furthermore, to me at least, I don't have as much competency in fixing laptops!
  3. Static:  There was a time when I took my laptop around - trying to be hipster sitting in a cafe....  But seriously, that was prior to tablets and large screen phones.  For the most part, the general web surfing and videos can easily be satisfied through other more lightweight means, which leaves really only the intensive applications to the laptop.  The laptop had been confined to just sitting at home these days, so portability was less of a factor to my mind.

So the challenge for me was to build a PC which would not be a hulking beast, but something which would fit within a small space but still have be punchy enough to churn out things quickly.  Which led me to the space of small form factor (SFF).

I did some research in the area and used the very hand resources of PC Part Picker and the Whirlpool forums.  What I liked about PC Part Picker, was the fact that a lot of contributors posted photos of the their builds which gave me much better knowledge of what was possible (or not) and at least brace me for potential issues.  This is particularly important when it comes to SFF as one needs to be aware not only of parts compatibility, but also whether it would even fit into a particular space - and each SFF case would be slightly different!

I went with a case which is only 21cm high and 28cm deep!  The reason I chose this one is that it is small but with decent airflow the the front fan and supports a full sized power supply unit (which allows me to reuse and has more options).

It was definitely a tight squeeze in terms of fitting all the parts in there - it was like playing Tetris and I had to be very mindful of cable management (cable ties definitely came in handy).  All in all, I have been very pleased with the result which took almost two nights to complete (tip: I had troubles with the length of the video card which just fit).  I managed to cram a whole lot into it:
CPU: Intel i7
GPU: GTX750Ti 
HDD: 250GB SSD and 2TB HDD
PSU: 550W Modular ATX

I have been loving the fast boot up times, responsiveness and ability to have the more up to date software.  While there are still expansion slots, the space is so tight, I doubt there is even any room to add anything!