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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  • Midian191 - Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - link

    The latest bios version of the 210P has voltage control and bios control of the fan speed.
  • OrSin - Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - link

    If you want smaller review a mini-itz systems.
    They are pretty weak, but it depends what you want to use them for.

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