If this guide was being written even just six months earlier, there would be no SFF option. It is not that there are no SFF cases; there are lots of them. But most are not designed with quiet cooling in mind, and very few have room for more than a few hard drives. By few, we mean perhaps three.
All this changed with a single new case introduced in the last couple of months, the Lian Li PC-Q08. We reviewed the case a couple of weeks ago. It is a 21 liter case for a mini-ITX board with the capacity to fit six 3.5" hard drives, a 2.5" drive and a standard optical drive. On top of all that, it has room enough for a dual-slot video card and takes a standard ATX12V power supply. We found it to be a smartly built case with some clever design features, and certainly suitable for a very quiet system.
The only other mini-ITX case that we know of which comes even close to competing with the HDD capacity and low noise potential of the PC-Q08 is the Fractal Design Array Mini ITX NAS Case reviewed last spring. This 18 liter case has a similar form factor, but it is wider than the typical breadbox PC, making its footprint bigger than the slightly taller Lian Li. Its HDD cage is considerably worse in design, it's difficult to work in, and the whole unit has a greater tendency to noise and vibration. We do not actually recommend it.
Our ideal SFF home server case is...
- No bigger than ~20 liters, with good proportions (as far from a cube as possible).
- Handle six or more desktop drives
- Good cooling for all components (including discrete video card)
- Accepts mini-ITX or micro-ATX motherboard
- Not prone to amplifying vibration from HDDs
- Equipped with PCIe x16 port for greatest versatility (for video card or SATA expansion)
- Easy to work in
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