Small Form Factor Gaming

Several months ago I set a challenge for myself: build a small form factor system (SFF) with a low wattage power supply to play modern game titles at decent video settings. The goals were to use a low profile video card, modern components, and keep things as quiet as possible. After looking around the internet for parts I settled on the items I've listed below.

Chassis  Antec ISK 300-150
Power Supply  150W PSU (included with case)
Motherboard ASUS P8H77-I
Processor Intel Core-i5 3350P
CPU Cooler Intel Stock Heatsink w/ copper core
RAM 2x Samsung 4GB DDR3
Video Card Sapphire Radeon HD 7750 LP
Hard Drive Intel 180GB 335 SSD
Hard Drive Western Digital 250GB Scorpio Blue
Optical Samsung Slim DVD-RW
Misc Cooling Antec 80mm DBB adjustable fans


I picked the ISK 300-150 not because it is a case that Puget Systems carries, but because it has features that made it stand out from other small form factor cases. One example is the included power supply (PSU) that is provided from Antec. It is still a SFF PSU but it has a unique housing for an 80mm fan to cool the internal components of the PSU, rather than the more common 40mm fan size. What does this mean? Less noise from the fan since the fan is larger and it also moves more air through the PSU itself. The case also allows for 80mm chassis fans to be used instead of the more commonly seen 60mm fans for system cooling. So it's mostly just a noise factor.

The motherboard I chose was for a couple of personal reasons. First and foremost I like ASUS motherboards. Mainly, though, I like the board because it's not cluttered with extra bells and whistles and built-in features. My philosophy: the less stuff there is to break the more stable the system will be. The CPU is an Ivy Bridge quad-core without integrated graphics, as I really have no use for the integrated graphics.


The rest of the components are pretty self-explanatory. The main thing I was concerned about was not exceeding the 150W threshold of the PSU while the system was under load.


Enough back story, lets get down to hard facts and numbers! After the system was assembled with a clean installation of Windows 7, personal OS optimizations, and games with benchmarks as well as a standalone benchmark application installed the system was ready to go. I ran tests both at 1680×1050 and 1920×1080 on separate monitors, each supporting the native resolution, and used a Kill-A-Watt meter to monitor how much power the system was drawing from the wall.  Here are the results:



Dirt 3

  • Ambient Occlusion – High
  • Multisampling – 4x MSAA
  • All other settings at max
Frames Per Second (FPS)
1920 x 1080  1680 x 1050
Avg – 42 Avg – 47
Min – 36  Min – 40



Batman Arkham City 

  • First scene from benchmark only
  • DX11 Features – On
  • Tesselation – High
  • Multisampling – FXAA High
  • All other settings at max
Frames Per Second (FPS)
1920 x 1080  1680 x 1050
Avg – 42 Avg – 45
Min – 36 Min – 39
Max – 48 Max – 55



Unigine Heaven 4.0

  • Multisampling – 8x MSAA
  • All other settings at Max
Frames Per Second (FPS)
1920 x 1080  1680 x 1050
Avg – 10.6 Avg – 11.9
Min – 5.1 Min – 5.8
Max – 21.9  Max – 25.4



To clarify, only the first scene from the Batman benchmark was recorded as there is a very noticeable FPS spike when transitioning to the second scene – messing with the overall score. I knew it was not a problem with the system itself because a quick internet search shows multiple people experiencing the same issue. Moving on…


In terms of game play both titles handled well with the settings cranked up and allowed for smooth gaming outside of the included benchmark utilities. I ran a few other games on this system which don't give me a way to accurately record the FPS, so I just played those by sight and adjusted the settings as needed. Battlefield 3 for example is set to medium quality for smooth game play online. Other titles like MechWarrior Online and Hawken I played at mixed settings, but generally gravitated toward the middle of the quality spectrum for smooth game play.


I have kept the system hooked up to the 1680 x 1050 monitor since the tests show a ten to fifteen percent gain in FPS over the 1920 x 1080 resolution. Plus the 1680 x 1050 resolution has a 16:10 aspect ratio so you have more vertical sight while in game! Not very useful in some games, but a definite plus in an RTS style game. Here is a comparison from Hawken between these aspect ratios:


1920 x 1080 (16:9) 1680 x 1050 (16:10)
Max Settings Medium Settings


I don't think the system is primed and ready to handle every title out there at max settings, though games still look good at medium settings and games that are not as graphically intense can easily be maxed out. That is particularly true of games that are developed for both PCs and consoles. Since the system itself is practically ten times smaller than my main computer it's also a good substitute to take to a LAN party.



Power Draw


1920 x 1080

  • System Idle Load – 42W
  • GPU 100% Load – 116W
  • CPU 100% Load – 98W
  • GPU + CPU 100% Load – 171W


1680 x 1050

  • System Idle Load – 40W
  • GPU 100% Load – 115W
  • CPU 100% Load – 86W
  • GPU + CPU 100% Load – 160W


As for the power draw, I was surprised to see the system pull a little more from the wall when set to 1920 x 1080 – and more so from the CPU than the GPU. I ran the test multiple times to make sure that it just wasn't a spoof run on both resolutions, and the results were pretty consistent. Another surprising result was when the system was run at 100% CPU and GPU loads. Exceeding the rated PSU amount was troubling, but I know I will never be stressing the system at 100% capacity. In games the Kill-A-Watt meter never went over 125W even during the most stressful graphical environments.





I am well aware that for the amount of money invested in this SFF system I could have easily built a bigger system with more raw power, but that's not the point. I have a PC roughly the size of a Sony PS2 that draws a fourth of the power that my main PC does when it is under load. Sure, I don't have amazing graphics in all my games like my main PC does with its GTX 680, but the Radeon 7750 still does an decent job of making current titles look good and play smooth. In terms of computing power it's not far behind what I'm running in my main system at this time.


I'm looking forward to nVidia's 700 series cards, as well as AMD's non-rebranded 8000 series cards, to see if they release anything with a 75W TDP that is also low profile to use as an upgrade for this SFF system. I can see myself just sticking with a SFF PC, as I appreciate more floor/desk space for other ridiculous things I may want to purchase in the future!