Small Form Factor PC Build considerations

I recently completed a Small Form Factor computer upgrade for a family member. We tried assembling a computer based on used parts, but alas, the used parts included a DOA motherboard, so I went to a surplus store and picked up a HP 6200 small form factor PC for 50 bucks. You can get them for 70 bucks off of Amazon or Newegg right now if you are interested, but I’d recommend picking up an HP 8200 with the core i7 processor if you want a more “future proof” baseline. The core i3 processor in the 6200 isn’t bad, dual core with hyperthreading for 4 logical cores, it won’t win any frame rate battles, but does a lot better than any budget AMD alternatives in the same price range.

Now, the biggest upgrade you can give almost any PC with onboard graphics is an actual graphics card. The 6200 comes with a first generation PCIEx16 slot (not 2.0, 2.1, or 3.0) so clearly there was no point going for an ultimate gaming experience (especially not on an older business oriented LGA 1155 processor board). The 6200 is a small form factor computer, so that limits the graphics card options a lot.

So, what to do? Well, there are now a lot more half height compact video cards than there used to be. Nvidia puts out the 710, 750, and 1030 in half height form factor. AMD puts out the Radeon RX 460, RX 550, and a few others in half height form factor. Plenty of are “budget” cards out there, but really the RX 460 and GT 1030 were what I considered as they cost less than a $100.00 US with good performance. So which one is “better”?

Performance wise, the RX 460 is better in terms of frame rates and gaming. However, the RX 460 comes with a pretty big power draw (90 watts on the reference board), and therefore heat load. In fact, the RX 460 has a similar advantage over the GT 1030 that the Geforce 750Ti did in terms of framerate, and the 750Ti has that performance with a 10 degree Celsius increase in GPU temps. An additional 10 degrees C going into a stock HP chassis with only a CPU exhaust fan to cool the internals seems like a poor choice to me.

The 30 watts on the GT 1030 look REALLY good, along with the passive cooling option available from MSI. So that’s what I put in my brothers build, along with an extra 4 gig of RAM for a total of 8 gig system memory (with the ability to add on another 8 gig). With the SSD the user experience is plenty “snappy” for lack of a more descriptive term using Windows. The 3 to 9 frame rates lost over the RX 460 are traded off with more consistent performance as there is a much reduced possibility of hitting “thermal throttling” during heavy processing loads, even with the stock fans.

Random issue, the HDMI port on the video card is really tight up against the case, so shaving some plastic off the HDMI connector on the cable would make for an easier install. It works as is, but the cable must be inserted “forcefully” as the side of the connector rubs against the case.

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