View Full Version : Small Form Factor...

7th July 2004, 08:34 PM
At the moment I have to make do with an older PC to fill my linux needs. And like many on this forum, I get a bad case of NewPCitus from time to time. Because of financial obligations the dream of a new machine will have to do. But while dreaming, I've looked into some of the smaller machines offered, like Shuttle, Aopen, Soltek and others of that size. See http://www.sfftech.com/ . I know of some of the restrictions of the smaller form but still I'd like to get my hands on one. Since I'm not one to upgrade very often that would not be a problem. I get the impression that the SFF and minITX have a big following in Europe and Asia. The way I see it is if laptops can handle the job very well, why not the SFF or minITX? I'd like to know if anyone on this forum has had the chance to install Linux on one of these machines and what your experence were. If not, a general opinion would be welcomed. Opinions anyone? Thanks.

8th July 2004, 12:38 AM
Hey AliOoop,
I am currently running Fedora Core 2 on my Shuttle SN45G. It is a SFF. I have tried several different distros on it, but keep coming back to Fedora. I have packed an AMD XP2500+ w/2x512mb Mushkin Lvl1 PC3500, ATI 9700Pro, Samsung SP1614N 160gig hdd, & a Sony CRX320 DVD Combo drive in this little machine. Installation went flawless. Core 2 with it's 2.6.5 Kernel and sites like Freshrpms make installing programs very nice and compatible with my system. Although, driver's for my ATI card can be painful to install, but the guys in this forum and at Rage3d lessen the pain of install.

I have only two real issues with SFF. One is cooling. Because of their obvious size, heat becomes more of a factor. My next SFF will be based on Micro-ATX. I would suggest looking into the Antec Aria case with a Micro-ATX board. It has a better cooling solution and you are not stuck with a propriatary mobo and have better opportunity for upgrades. My second issue with the Shuttle is the placement of the AGP slot. For higher end grafix you are pretty much limited to ATI cards. The higher Nvidia cards and their two slot configuration don't really fit, unless you do some serious case modding.

If you do any travelling with your system for LAN parties or whatever, the SFF and Micro-ATX systems are the way to go.

8th July 2004, 12:59 AM
I recently went live with a new system, based on the Intel D865GLC microATX board. I looked at several form factors, including SFF. In the end, however, I went with a "vanilla" (no flashing lights/neon/lasers etc.) mid-tower case design. Why? Primarily, price and availability. My integrator (a guy who has built systems for my company for years) could have gotten me pretty much any one of the SFF cases - but it would have taken longer and cost as much as $175.00 more. As it is, with the uATX board, I can easily transplant in the future, should the fit take me.

As to the performance, running FC2 with a 2.8GHz P4/HT, 512MB DDR400 RAM, WD 'Caviar' 120GB HD and the Lite-On DVD/CD-R+W optical drive, I am (for now!) quite satisfied.

8th July 2004, 02:14 AM
I use a shuttle. It has a P4@2.4 gH, 1 gig of ram etc. it has firewire, sound (6 channel with digital out), ethernet and graphics (sis) builtin, I can add an AGP card if I want 3d acceleration. It has one (empty) PCI slot. The thing is rock solid. I have had no trouble installing the various distributions of linux I have used (all redhat or fedora) on it and all the builtin functions work. I never bothered installing a floppy drive, it has a CD burner. It has never booted windows

There is not alot of difference between a SFF and a regular computer, except fewer slots and fewer drive bays. With all the builtin capability, who needs cards anyway?

The great thing is how little space it takes and how quiet it is.


8th July 2004, 05:25 AM
Gotmonkey, glad you brought up the microATX. That is another form factor I've looked into. A smaller foot print is what I'm leaning toward.

Like anything that has a folllowing, or is considered a standard, the long in the tooth ATX is believed by some as the only way to go. It's not that I don't have the space for a full blown tower, it's that I don't want one. I believe that as components become smaller, the Small Form/microATX/miniITX will be given more then just a passing look by many.

Seeing how gamers have embraced the Small Form Factor as their own for lan parties gives it more than a passing grade for every day use. Who but gamers put their machines through that kind of hell? If it can go through that kind of rigorous testing it should be able to handle anything I can throw at it, which will be nothing by comparison.

Heat is one of the items of discussion. It is one of the subjects brought up in reviews and forum followups. But the kind of research going on seems to be addressing that concern. One of my concerns is the difficulty in replacement parts. As in PSU. Another is onboard video and sound. Any problems from forum users on these types of intergrated components and Linux?

8th July 2004, 05:35 AM
moved to hardware

10th July 2004, 12:59 AM
AliOop, for a long time mATX boards were crap, over the past couple odd years they have been getting much better with onboard components. A few years back, I would have never used onboard sound, video, or ethernet. Ok, I still don't use onboard video. I am a gamer and I play heavy with video editing and image manipulation, so a better video card is always in order. With the advancements in chipsets and memory controllers, the quality has improved greatly. As with everything, it depends on the need to what type of system to build. Yup, gamers typically torture their system more than the average user. Drivers for linux machines (Sound, Video, 1394, Chipsets, USB) are getting better. We are still living in a Windows predominant society and development under Linux is growing, just not as fast as some would like or prefer. Take this as an example. My shuttle uses a Nforce2-400 chipset. FC1 didn't really support it out of the box, to get everything working took a bit of work. In FC2, most everything worked at install. It's a growth thing. The open source community picks up where the oems drop the ball. Example ATI, ATI while making a great card, doesn't develop great drivers under linux. Their driver releases are not as timely in linux as they are with Windows and they typically have issues. When the do release a driver, there is typically a wait for an open source patch to get the driver working proper under linux. You can find forum threads all over that support this claim.

I have been playing with Linux for a few months now, so I won't claim to be some guru. Until distros work perfectly out of the box, Linux will remain an underground movement. From my point of view. FC2 has been the least painfull to install, get support, and make functional. Most end users have a hard time with linux because of the difficulties with installation. Yes, installation has gotten much easier, but component driver installation is still somewhat painfull. Another thing to look at is this. Most end-users want to use the same thing at home as they do at work. Lower learning curve. If businesses start converting to linux desktops, more end-users will want to use it at home, thus oems & software developers will strive to improve linux.

Heat can be an issue with mATX and ITX. My Shuttle SN45G typically runs hotter than I prefer. With the size of the form factor, cooling can be interesting with tighter space and lower airflow. Higher end components require more power, thus typically generate more heat and draw more power from the PSU, which generates more heat. To keep my Shuttle in a temp range that desire (45deg idle, 50deg load), I have to deal with a bit more fan noise.

As for PSU's, unlike towers, you are restricted to the options that you have. Shuttle Cases & alike use propriatary power supplies. SFF is still relatively a niche markety, I would like to see it grow and gain popularity. As popularity grows and more system builders develop SFF's, hopefully PSU makers like Antec, Enermax, & etc will develop power supplies alternatives to oem mfg'ers.