The Small Form Factor (SFF) trend is a bandwagon worthy of hopping upon, as it combines high-end, state-of-the-art hardware compatibility, in a case that is only a fraction of the size of traditional desktop computers. With an SFF build, one can utilize the full power of a workstation, with the ability to easily transfer the device between studios or offices; with limited desk space being no issue at all. Gamers also have the opportunity to make a high-end gaming device which they can install in their leaving room, or take to their friends’ houses for LAN parties, as SFF cases can even be smaller than current-generation consoles. This, paired with the fact that most cases can holster a full-sized GPU, one can be assured that no sacrifices will be made in regards to their overall gaming, or working, PC experience.
Finding the right case for the right purpose is no easy task, as SFF cases (as well as all hardware components therein) must be planned to the letter, to ensure that all components will fit and work harmoniously within, and though the space is limited, the possibilities are nearly endless in regards to the combinations of hardware you can assemble to tightly pack within these cases. A PC case, and the cooling within, are very underrated in terms of their importance to the overall PC-build. As hardware components come and go, cases and cooling will potentially stay, even when upgrading, so it is good to invest in them properly.
To assist you in this journey of creating the perfect low-profile build for your needs, we have prepared a list of the best SFF cases currently available in the market for your consideration. In this list we will have two, a bit more expensive, high-end models, and two entry-to-mid end models with respective low-to-mid end budgets – together with one HTPC-optimized option.
Best Mini-ITX Cases – My Recommendations
1. Dancase A4-SFX v4.1 (7.25L)
First introduced via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, the Dancase A4-SFX is perhaps the best SFX case one can buy for its price. With dimensions of 115W x 100H x 317D millimetres, this case has a volume of just 7.25 liters, and can still hold a full-sized GPU of up to 295mm in length. In other words, you can have the full power of a desktop PC, at only the size of a standard shoebox. The case is assembled using 1.5mm thick aluminum, manufactured by Lian Li in Taiwan.
In regards to its thermal design, it relies on having the hot air generated from the hardware components move to the top and outside of the case, without the need for extra, and excessive, fans. It uses round air holes over a large surface area in unison with elongated holes on the bottom of the case to ensure the resupply of fresh air. That being said, it does allow for 92mm fans: one being on the bottom of the case (under the motherboard) to assist with this thermal concept; while even a 120mm AIO radiator setup is possible. This all depends, of course, on the other hardware components, as each piece will significantly affect the overall setup, and therefore needs to be carefully planned to fit within the SFF build.
Now, what’s also great with the Dancase A4 are the regular updates to its model. The current 2020 model is the A4-SFX V4.1, which comes with some significant upgrades to the A4-SFX V4 model. Firstly, the front panel of the case now features a USB 3.2 gen2 Type-C with an internal Key-A connector. Next, and more importantly, it features Gen4 PCIe x16 support via the use of a PCIe extender manufactured by 3M. With this extender, one can connect their GPU behind the motherboard, allowing for a hardware “sandwich” type build. Also, depending on the power supply (the case can hold SFX or SFX-L), two 2.5” HDD or SSDs can be mounted in the drive bay; with even a third 2.5” drive possibly being mounted behind the front cover.
The case itself is not inexpensive, as it does come at around the $250-range, but for a high-end SFF build, this case is second-to-none, and is well worth the investment.
2. LOUQE Ghost S1 MkII (8.2L)
Another favorite of SFF enthusiasts and also launched via a successful crowdfunding campaign, the LOUQE Ghost S1 is a highly customizable, sturdy, and quality-focused case that is a bit larger than the aforementioned Dancase A4, coming in at 8.2 liters, but it allows for more creative setups.
Its key feature is the stand-alone “spine” it features, running down the middle of the case, allowing for open component access from multiple angles, while giving the case extra flexibility and rigidity. In terms of the quality of the case, it features glass blasted anodized aluminum milled from solid blocks, ensuring a high standard of quality.
In terms of airflow, it features a similar design with the Dancase, though its slightly larger size allows for a 240mm AIO radiation of 31.5 thickness, and a CPU heatsink of up to 66 millimeters. It can also hold a total of three 2.5” SSDs, together with an M.2 SSD. The case also includes an armored, and shielded, Twin-Axial 300mm PCIe x16 rise, though currently, this is a Gen3 and not Gen4 riser.
The Ghost S1 also offers “top hats” which come in three sizes, ranging from small to large, allowing for additional components depending on the extra size these top hats would give; including extra storage, larger case fans, or anything else one would like to apply onto their setup. You can currently find the LOUQE Ghost S1 MKII case for $269, which again is not cheap, but with the customizability it allows, and the quality of its build, it is definitely worth the extra cost.
3. Fractal Design Node 202 (10.2L)
Probably the most fit design for an HTPC, the Fractal Design Node 202 both looks, and fits, the role.
This case has a thermal design which separates motherboard and GPU chambers while including well-places dust filters. It also includes an Integra SFX 450W PSU, so you don’t have to worry about finding a PSU to fit the case. In addition, you can add 120mm x 56mm fans for the extra airflow.
For the graphics card, you can fit a 3-slot, 310mm GPU, so pretty much most full-sized GPUs will fit. The front panel comes with two USB 3.0 slots, as well as audio jacks, and the case can lay either flat, or upright.
Given that you can find this case in the $80 range, it is a great value option for living-room gaming setups or HTPCs.
4. Cougar QBX
Coming in at just under the 20L requirement to be called an SFF case, the Cougar QBX is a great budget-level case that can hold a ton of hardware.
It can hold a GPU of up to 350mm in length, a full sized PS2 ATX PSU, and up to five storage devices: one 3.5” HDD, and four 2.5” HDD/SDDs. In regards to cooling, it can hold up to seven fans: it can hold one 80mm fan in the front, two 120mm on the top, one 90mm on the rear (which is preinstalled) and one 120mm on the left side. In terms of water cooling, it can hold a 240mm radiator with a 120mm fan on the left. It also comes with two filters, one on the front, one on the bottom (preinstalled), and can additionally carry a CPU cooler of up to 105mm height.
All this for only $55 may seem too good to be true… and in some respect it is. The case is made of plastic, instead of aluminum, and when you pair this with the fact that the overall ventilation design is not the greatest as there is plenty of material covering the fan slots, this case can get overheated quick. It is recommended more-so as an entry-level, low-to-mid end SFF build, as mid-to-high-end will likely face temperature issues. That being said, for an introductory, or budget, SFF case, it is a great deal for its $55 price.
5. NZXT H200i
If you’re a fan of NZXT but aren’t looking to allocate much of your budget on the case (see NZXT H1), then the NZXT H200i is a great middle-ground for ITX enthusiasts; and even more so for gamers. Mind you, that this case is not technically considered an SFF case, as it does come at a volume of 26.1 liters (20L being the cutoff), but it is still an ITX case, and definitely worth mentioning despite its slightly larger size.
Though not aluminum, it is not plastic either. This case has an all-steel construction, which is a good middle-ground between the two. It also has a full tempered glass side panel, and built-in channels and straps for easy cable management. Also included, this case comes with two preinstalled Aer F120 case-fans, RGB LED strips, and an RGB and digital fan controller, which is powered by NZCT’s CAM software, enabling HUE+ and GRID+ V3 digital controllers. Its I/O includes two USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, and an audio-mic jack combo. In terms of hardware, it can hold a GPU of 325mm length, a CPU cooler of up to 165mm, a PSU of 311mm length, and up to four fans for cooling: two 120/140mm in the front, one 120mm on top and one 120mm in the rear, both of which of the former being included with the purchase. If you want to go for liquid cooling, it can hold a 240mm radiator, and custom loops are also available. For storage, it can hold three 2.5” drives, as well as one 3.5” HDD/SSD.
If you don’t mind the slightly larger size, this case is a great option that you can find for only $99, and it comes in four different colors for you to choose from. Definitely a great case to look into, especially for gamers that enjoy RGB lighting displays.
6. NZXT H1
The newest entry to the list, and one that took many ITX builders by surprise, is the NZXT H1. A premium, enthusiast-grade SFF enclosure set to take on the likes of the Ghost S1 and the A4-SFX, this mITX chassis is equipped with an onboard 650W SFX modular PSU, as well as built-in 140mm AIO cooling – streamlining the process for many builders and offering a compact, almost do-it-all solution. Priced at $349, yes, the NZXT H1 isn’t cheap, but when you factor in its insane level to detail, build quality, design and its included PSU and AIO cooler, it starts to become quite the deal for those looking to build with an ITX enclosure in 2020.