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Miniaturization continues to shrink the size of the average PC. What once required several rooms can now fit in your pocket. And while most people think of smartphones or tablets as examples of small, modern electronics, desktops also deserve mention.

There’s a new category, the mini-PC, that’s becoming popular. Early variants, like the Apple Mac Mini and Inspiron Zino HD, have been well received, but now the formula has been improved with the introduction of fanless systems. Tiny, silent and often inexpensive, these miniature wonders save space without eating into your bank account.

Compulab / Tiny Green PC Fit-PC4

fanless-mini-pc-fit-pc4-compulab

Compulab, sold under the name Tiny Green PC in Europe, makes a broad range of small, fanless computers. The company’s mainstream product is the Fit-PC4, which is only 37 millimeters thick and no larger than 190 millimeters in any other dimension, which makes it one of the smallest fanless PCs around.

Several variants are available, but all run AMD processors What You Need To Know About AMD’s New Trinity Laptop APU [MakeUseOf Explains] What You Need To Know About AMD’s New Trinity Laptop APU [MakeUseOf Explains] Intel has just released its new line of laptop and desktop processors, but they’re not the only ones working on a new product. AMD has also been working hard to improve its laptop APUs and... Read More with 16 gigabytes of RAM, and most have a 500GB hard drive paired with an M.2 Solid State Drive (what’s an SSD? 101 Guide To Solid State Drives 101 Guide To Solid State Drives Solid State Drives (SSDs) have really taken the mid-range to high end computing world by storm. But what are they? Read More ). This gives the Fit-PC4 more power than an Atom-equipped nettop and a Radeon integrated graphics core than can play older 3D games at respectable framerates. Other features include eight USB ports, 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0.

A basic, Ubuntu-equipped version of the Fit-PC4 sells for about $490. If you drop Ubuntu and the hard disk, you can purchase the diskless system for just $380. Compulab also sells an entry-level barebones unit called the Fitlet, which can be purchased for $275.

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Compulab Airtop

airtop-amazon-compulab

Compulab also sells the most powerful fanless mini PC ever created: the Airtop. A $1,472 barebones Airtop sells on Amazon, but if you want a fully configurable version, you must get it from their website. The Airtop can be configured to include either a 65-watt Xeon CPU or a 65-watt Broadwell Core i7 CPU. The discrete processor, like the CPU, can also vary. Options include either an NVIDIA GTX 950 or an NVIDIA Quadro M4000 GPU.

Cappuccino PC SlimPRO SP675FP

You may not have heard of Cappuccino PC, but they’ve been making small, silent computers for over a decade. The SlimPRO is just one of several models they have available, but an Intel Pentium processor and $724 base MSRP (or $615, if you buy it without Windows) makes the SlimPro SP675FP the company’s most attractive model.

While the Pentium lacks advanced features like Hyper-Threading What Is Hyper-Threading? [Technology Explained] What Is Hyper-Threading? [Technology Explained] Read More and Turbo-Boost How Intel Turbo Boost Works How Intel Turbo Boost Works Intel's Turbo Boost feature is quite useful but may not be so easy to understand for those who have never used it. Here's what you need to know. Read More , it serves up two cores clocked at 2 GHz, which is more than enough for most tasks. Those looking for a bit more grunt can pay $50 for a 2.1 GHz Intel Celeron. Only two gigabytes of RAM come standard, but upgrades are reasonable priced; you can move up to 4GB for $21. A 320GB mechanical hard drive is standard but, again, a variety of upgrades, including solid state drives, can be purchased. And there’s even room for an optional second hard drive or an optional DVD drive.

cappuccinopc

The base model includes four USB 3.0 ports, Why You Should Upgrade To USB 3.0 Why You Should Upgrade To USB 3.0 It’s been quite a while since USB 3.0 has been included in motherboards, but now we've come to the point where most devices and computers come with the new and improved ports. We all know... Read More two USB 2.0 ports, audio jacks, Ethernet, and VGA. A variety of options are available to expand connectivity or fit the system in tight spaces.

As you might have guessed, the powerful SlimPro is not as small as some other options. Still, at only ten inches long, six inches wide two inches tall, it’s just slightly larger than a 3.5-inch hard drive enclosure. If you’re looking for a fanless PC that’s powerful, affordable and will cut down your power bill, the SlimPro SP675FP is a good choice.

Shuttle DX30 Mini PC

The newly announced Shuttle DX30 isn’t yet available but will be in a matter of weeks. Its probable price tag will place it somewhere around $200 — inexpensive for its specs. Shuttle advertises the DX30 as capable of streaming 4k signals to all manner of digital signage. That’s because it uses Intel’s latest low-power processor: Apollo Lake.

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The price is low because the processor, a dual-core based on the Atom architecture, doesn’t cost much. Atom processors are not quick, and they have an outdated graphics solution that can’t handle any remotely modern 3D game. Even so, the DX30 should offer solid performance for digital signage, web browsing, document editing, and other simple tasks. It also supports up to 8GB of RAM.

Though only 43mm thick, and 190mm long, the Shuttle offers room for two additional M.2 drives (which are not included in the barebones kit). A stand can be used to hold the system vertically, decreasing its footprint, or the PC can be mounted to the back of a VESA-compatible monitor. The port selection includes four USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, Ethernet and VGA.

MITXPC D2500CEE

Another option for those who want an inexpensive, low-power fanless PC is the D2500CEE by MITXPC. While the name’s not great, the specifications are impressive; an Intel Atom D2500 1.86 GHz processor with two gigabytes of RAM for just $219.

mitxpc-minipc

The system’s exterior dimensions are similar to the Shuttle, though the D2500CEE is thicker at 2.5 inches. The increase in girth does not allow for an optical drive, but it does include an impressive array of ports that includes Serial, PS/2, six USB, Ethernet, DVI, VGA and audio jacks both front and back. There are some full-size desktops with fewer connections! The system is also VESA mount compatible.

Like the Shuttle, this is a barebones system, so it does not ship with a hard drive or an operating system. The less expensive Shuttle rig looks a better value, but the D2500CE’s processor slightly is quicker, and its connectivity is more robust.

Stealth LPC-630F

stealthpc

While the picks listed so far are inexpensive, they’re also not that powerful, which may leave enthusiasts wanting more. Fear not; there is a fanless PC that can satisfy your inner geek, and it’s called the Stealth LPC-630F.

Boasting an Intel Core i7-3520M processor, four gigabytes of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive, the Stealth obviously leaves everything else on this list for dead. Other features include gigabit Ethernet, two DVI ports, four USB ports and an optional 802.11b/g/n WiFi Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Setting up a Wi-Fi network should be an easy prospect, shouldn't it? I mean, a house is a closed-in box, and you'd think when you place a device that transmits wireless signals in all directions... Read More . If you want even more performance you can expand RAM to sixteen gigabytes or upgrade to a 480GB solid state drive. An internal optical drive is not available.

You might expect such serious hardware to increase the Stealth’s size, but the system measures only 8 inches on a side and 2.5 inches tall, which means it’s smaller than the MITXPC D2500CEE or Cappuccino PC SlimPRO. The real price you pay is, well, the price, which starts at $2,190 with Windows installed. So, this one isn’t going to save you money. But its performance will save you time!

Conclusion

You’ll note that none of these PCs are from major manufacturers. While there are mini PCs from companies like Dell and ASUS, they usually aren’t fanless designs, even if equipped with an Atom processor. Fanless is growing, but still a niche.

That doesn’t mean you should be afraid of these systems, however. While they do target a more knowledgeable consumer, and have less robust support, the warranty is often better than what large companies provide. The Fit-PC, for example, has a five year warranty.

What do you think of these systems? Is silence golden, or would you rather have a larger, louder, more powerful rig? Let us know in the comments.

  1. sam
    February 20, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    What about the Zotac CI series?

  2. heinz
    December 24, 2014 at 7:51 am

    The ultrabox from LeviCato is missing.

  3. James V
    March 2, 2014 at 2:44 am

    Mint box: http://www.linuxmint.com/store_mintbox.php
    Cheap one is under $400, still kinda high

  4. Jacob
    February 20, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    I wonder how well a fanless mini-pc stands up to a hotter climate like in Brazil, where I live. I have really wanted to buy one for about a year now but I have to consider the temperature here.

  5. Jacob
    February 20, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    What about the Linux mini-pcs? There is the MintBox which comes with Linux Mint and there are others. I just thought they deserve to be mentioned.

    • Vit Jan
      September 21, 2015 at 9:44 am

      i agree, what about Android mini PC like Rikomagic MK802IV + 15W monitor (they are quite budget). Mini PC=$50, Monitor=$150

    • dgrb
      June 6, 2016 at 3:51 am

      Well, the MintBox *is* a Fit-PC, albeit one with Mint preloaded (I have one).

      Could have been mentioned in passing though.

  6. Michael Massey
    February 20, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Shawn,

    I am using a stock Raspberry Pi (Model B) and an 8 GB SD card I got at MCM Electronics and it is in a Black case I got from Chicago Electronic Distributors. I had a spare IR Media Center remote that has worked flawlessly with it. I downloaded the most recent version of OpenELEC (as of Dec. 14th, 2013) and installed it on the SD card (Note: I used the installer for this on a Linux PC. The Windows installer was not working for me). I server up my media on a spare Windows computer running XPMC for the UPnP service. Both are hard wired to my home network. The only hack I did was to add a reset button to the Raspberry Pi. I did this mainly so I can turn it back on without unplugging and re-plugging in the power cord.

  7. igrewold
    February 19, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    RPI -> RasPi -> Raspberry Pi comes in two models A and B. And they are way cheaper than anything you have ever imagined. I think they cost under 50 dollars shipped. You just have to add the rest of the stuff which is keyboard, mouse, usb hub, SD card with free Linux OS, and speakers. Plus whatever else you want like Bluetooth or WiFi...etc. Also you might need a power adapter microUSB and a Rasberry Pi case. Most of the stuff can be found on Amazon. There is also a package that has most of the aforementioned things.

  8. John
    February 19, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    Er, they might be fanless, but you can cook sausages on the heatsinks of some of them. You can't seal them up in a confined space or they will shut down. There's an easy cure for fan noise - buy a bigger stereo! Finally, if you can still hear the fans when you're playing a game, you're not playing hard enough!

  9. Niall
    February 19, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    How about the Tango Super PC - http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tango-super-pc-worlds-most-powerful-pocketable-gameable-officeable-pc? Pretty awesome and good price too!

  10. Anonymous
    February 19, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Erp! I don't suffer from that degree of obsession, thank heaven. I'd have to go with the Stealth for the power that I'd need (video editing), and a number of small form factor systems have fans so quiet that you barely notice them. I'll spend my money on graphics, RAM and storage.

  11. Anonymous
    February 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Hate to appear stupid, but how does a fan-less PC stay cool, as we know most all electronics generate heat ?

    • Anonymous
      February 19, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      The whole thing is basically designed as a heat sink.

  12. Kannon Y
    February 19, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Excellent roundup. I really like the CompuLab builds. It's a shame that no one is using the Core i7-4765 (Haswell). It's 35-watts and runs up to 3 GHz.

    I built a passively cooled system using it and it's fantastic. It's about the size of a set-top box and uses a HD-Plex H1.s (the only mITX case with passive cooling that's readily available in the United States).

    http://www.hd-plex.com/hdplex-h1.s-fanless-computer-case.html

    Something else - I built the system for less than $1,000. It's strange that many of these companies are charging so much for builds with much weaker specs. I guess that's the price you pay for low production runs.

  13. TinyPuter
    February 18, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    It's a shame that they're all so ugly. I like the Intel NUC's though.

  14. fusob
    February 18, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    I was wondering what you thought of the Compulab Utilite series. HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet strting around $100 seems interesting.

  15. Ed
    February 18, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    I've recently been playing around with an Odroid-U3 from Hardkernel.
    It is just as tiny as a Raspberry Pi, but has the guts of a Samsung Galaxy S3 with a quad core cpu running at 1.7GHz and 2GB RAM. You can boot from microSD or buy one of their emmc storage cards. I bought the 16GB emmc storage, power supply, case, and U3 board. With $25 shipping from S. Korea it was $132. If you throw in a wireless keyboard and micro HDMI cable, you have yourself a full pc for about $150.

    The raspberry pi with HDMI cable, case, keyboard and wifi is about $90, but the U3 has 2GB RAM, ethernet, and can handle half a dozen linux distros and various Android 4.x builds.

    XBMC playback using a Debian Jessie Linux build is extremely useable for 720/1080p content as long as the system resolution is set to 720p. Under Android, your monitor resolution can be 1080p - and it handles XBMC like a dream.

    Linux boots up in about 10 seconds, and the overall desktop feel has you feeling as if you were on an Intel/AMD PC.

    • Tinkicker
      February 20, 2014 at 3:27 am

      That Odroid looks pretty good...I'm gonna have to get me one.

  16. Michael Massey
    February 18, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I switched from an ASUS media PC to the Raspberry Pi with OpenELEC/XBMC on it. It is rock solid and does everything I want it to do.

    • Shawn
      February 18, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      Michael,

      I am looking to do something similar. Mind posting the specs/items in your config?

      Thanks,
      Shawn

  17. Rodolfo L
    February 18, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    I'm looking for the cheapest mini pc that can handle 3d bluray iso without a problem. Any ideas?

  18. Diana
    February 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    I'm interested in one of these for my husband since he's due now for a new PC (tower at least, no monitor needed). Are the graphics in the Fit-PC3 (or any others) good for World of Warcraft? I really love that it has such a long warranty period. That is the only thing he plays so our best financial option for WOW is what we want. I appreciate any feedback on these. Thanks!

    • Matt S
      February 18, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      I wouldn't use any of these for gaming. The default graphics might run WoW at some mediocre resolution / detail combination, but it's a risk. A budget gaming tower would be a better choice.

    • chillo
      February 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      forget it, -almost- none of the above little barebones would suite for WoW or such. it's the form factor that fixes their price and the lack of upgradeability . You ll notice they either put small processors and average graphic cards, to keep the pricing low, and keep up with just video and browser or medium gaming.
      Or you can have them all at about the price of a used motorbike, in the case of Stealth LPC.
      Just find a standard ATX sized PC on the price of your pick , (those above are micro atx) , and be free to upgrade anytime your graphic card, processor or memory capacity

  19. Santiago
    February 18, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Raspberry Pi is missing.

  20. Chris Beacham
    February 18, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    For a little bit more the Shuttle DS47 is a big step up from the Shuttle XS35V2. Much faster and better compatibility with Linux. Put in a ssd and it is really quite fast. Also has USB 3.0 and ports galore. I'm very pleased with mine.

  21. Kristopher H
    February 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    $2,190? Wow! That is quite the price tag there. Yes, the specs are smoking but I can't imagine paying that much just for the small form factor when you could get the same specs in a larger form factor for less than half the price. There must be a very specific niche for this type of tiny powerhouse. Does anyone know what that might be?

    • Matt S
      February 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      Some people just hate fan noise. I'm sympathetic to that, as while I don't mind some noise, too much really does get on my nerves. I also can see the appeal of having a system so small, you can mount it behind your monitor.

      These are also useful for enterprise applications. Point-of-service terminals, cash registers, inventory computers, etc...fanless computers can be mounted just about anywhere, so they're great for businesses.

    • Anonymous
      February 19, 2014 at 5:59 pm

      We use similar units to these for some of the exhibits at the museum where I work. It's amazing how much noise can be generated just from cooling fans when they're stuck into a hollow piece of cabinetry. It's one of the factors I'm responsible for keeping an eye on as it affects the user experience negatively when they're trying to listen to content.

    • Ettercap
      February 27, 2015 at 9:17 pm

      You are looking at the rudimentary factor of it being SFF and not the fact that all of these computers are sealed meaning dust and other floating particulates will not enter into the system you will only have to clean the outside case which will act as the heatsink. You are correct however that you will pay a heavy price for what may only seem advantageous in an industrial setting where the environment may not be clean but they wish the computers to have longevity. From my perspective if the parts inside are not quality items you may still run into trouble it doesn't matter much how clean the insides are if the capacitors blow or other motherboard components fail unrelated to uncleanliness.

    • Buck
      March 9, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      @ Kristopher H.

      The fanless computers have a real purpose in industrial and some office environments. Aside from being quiet, they are less prone to accumulating dust which makes them potentially last longer.

      With the size of some of these, they can be tucked back behind a monitor to make up an all-in-one. Also they can be tucked in a closet so the box is not in the same room as the user.

      For my purpose, running three of them powered by 12 volts makes for a great computer network in my motorhome.

  22. Reggie Bomb
    February 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    From the major suppliers you forgot the Lenovo M Series Tiny (m73/m93). Available fanless from Pentium G upto Core i7. And Zotac have been making ZBox devices for a few years already at the low end.

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