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The past few years have seen the rise of a new form factor in personal computers: the mini PC. Moore’s Law and the miniaturization of motherboards What Makes Mini PCs so Small? And, the Best Mini PCs You Can Buy Today What Makes Mini PCs so Small? And, the Best Mini PCs You Can Buy Today A new generation of mini PCs is making its way into our homes and offices now. Read More have made computers smaller than ever before. And it’s slowly replacing the good old beige box.

Rightly so, when you consider that mini-PCs today are powerful enough to serve the needs of most users. Both Intel and AMD have powerful APUs What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the last five or more years, there have been a number of different terms swirling around to describe computer hardware. Some of those terms include but aren’t limited to APU, CPU, and GPU. But... Read More now that take care of the graphics requirements for any non-gamer, and hard drives and SSDs are cheaper than ever.

In case you’re looking to buy a new desktop, or perhaps build an HTPC for cheap, you should first check out some of these awesome mini PCs. They might just be a better deal. But before you take the plunge, consider the limitations of Mini-PCs 10 Things About Mini PCs You Should Consider Before Buying 10 Things About Mini PCs You Should Consider Before Buying If you're in the market for a new desktop PC, it makes sense to consider the new line of mini PCs over a giant tower. Read More .

Dell Inspiron i3050 ($189) [UK]

Often, you’ll need to account for the price of buying Windows for your mini PC and adding a keyboard and mouse. So when we looked for the cheapest mini PC option, the Inspiron i3050 edged out our previous favorite, the HP Stream Mini, due to Dell’s much-liked aftersales service. It comes preloaded with Windows 10, although that limited 32GB of storage is going to be used up by the operating system itself. And it includes a wired keyboard and mouse.

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Don’t worry though, with four USB ports (one of which supports USB 3.0) you’ll be able to add external hard drives quickly. Ready to go out-of-the-box, the onboard graphics and 2GB of RAM should offer sufficient horsepower to play HD videos, but 4K might be a problem. But more than anything else, this is the perfect solution for anyone looking to build an HTPC or cord cutters who want a PC Cord Cutters: Ignore Set Top Boxes & Use A PC Instead Cord Cutters: Ignore Set Top Boxes & Use A PC Instead Ditching cable? Stay away from dedicated media center devices. Your spare PC makes for an excellent alternative because it's cheap to set up, more powerful, and forever flexible. Read More .

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Dell Inspiron i3050-3000BLK Desktop (Intel Celeron, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB SSD) Dell Inspiron i3050-3000BLK Desktop (Intel Celeron, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB SSD) Intel Dual Core Celeron J1800 2.41 GHz Processor Buy Now At Amazon $150.45

HP Pavilion 300-220 Mini ($318) [UK]

While the Stream Mini didn’t make our list, its more powerful sibling is a good “ready to go” choice. The Pavilion 300-220 Mini is surprisingly small for the hardware that comes inside, which includes a 500GB hard disk drive preloaded with Windows 10.

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Keeping your costs down further, HP’s mini PC also ships with a wireless keyboard and mouse, which isn’t something you see often in this range of devices. Its Pentium processor is surprisingly decent, although not as powerful as a Core i3 Intel Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7: Which One Do You Really Need? Intel Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7: Which One Do You Really Need? Shopping for a new computer but confused by whether to get an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor? Here's everything you need to know in layman's terms. Read More . Still, coupled with the 4GB of RAM, it should easily handle day-to-day computing. You should be able to use it for Microsoft Office or browsing the Internet, as well as multimedia requirements like watching HD videos. Don’t count on 4K support, though.

HP Pavilion 300-230 Mini Desktop (Intel Core i3, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD) HP Pavilion 300-230 Mini Desktop (Intel Core i3, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD) Intel Core i3-5005U 2.0 GHz Processor Buy Now At Amazon

Intel NUC5i5RYK ($390) [UK]

Intel has been leading the mini PC bandwagon with its desirable Next Unit of Computer (NUC) series What's a NUC and Why Would You Want One? What's a NUC and Why Would You Want One? NUCs can best be described as barebones, small form-factor PCs -- and they're pretty awesome under the right circumstances. Read More . These small form factor devices look great and offer easy hardware upgrades. Intel publishes official guides on how to replace or add parts, and the Internet is full of forums that have detailed instructions you can follow.

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The NUC5i5RYK is the best model of the lot, as it comes with a powerful Core i5 dual-core processor and the Intel HD 6000 graphics chip. It’s not a complete system, though, and requires the installation of a laptop hard drive 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD The world of home computing is moving towards solid state drives for storage. Should you buy one? Read More and laptop RAM — not a bad deal since you can buy these for cheap according to your needs. For example, you can get a 2.5-inch SSD for faster performance. For those interested in high-performance, check out Intel’s $650 Skull Canyon NUC kit, which offers a combination of quad-cores and Intel’s Iris Pro integrated GPU.

Intel NUC NUC5i5RYK with Intel Core i5 Processor 2.7 GHz (BOXNUC5I5RYK) Intel NUC NUC5i5RYK with Intel Core i5 Processor 2.7 GHz (BOXNUC5I5RYK) 5th Generation Intel Core i5-5250U Processor Buy Now At Amazon $359.99

CompuLab fit-PC4 Pro Linux ($489)

If you aren’t hung up about Windows 10 or can install it yourself if need be, then the CompuLab fit-PC4 Pro is a wonderful cheap Linux PC you can buy 5 Cheap Linux Computers You Can Buy Today 5 Cheap Linux Computers You Can Buy Today Let's take a look at five computers that you can order today for under $500 that come preinstalled with a popular, well-supported Linux distro. Read More . The quad-core AMD processor and the Radeon HD4800E graphics processor will combine to deliver some oomph to your multimedia needs, as well as allow you to play some basic games without much problem. The 4GB of RAM can seem limiting, but this is one of the few mini PCs to come with two DDR3 DIMM slots for your memory, so you can expand the RAM as you see fit.

More than anything, it’s the connectivity options that make it a hit. CompuLab has thrown in six USB 2.0 ports and two more USB 3.0 ports, along with an mSATA connector, and topped it with two HDMI ports and a memory card slot. So yeah, you can set up dual monitors for productivity How to Be More Productive with Dual Monitors How to Be More Productive with Dual Monitors You need space for several documents, to get an overview and swiftly shift between tasks. What's true for your desk also applies to your virtual workspace. We show you how it matters. Read More , connect it to a monitor as well as a TV, turn it into a media hub, or whatever else you want.

You could even get the $379 barebones fit-PC4 Pro, and add your own SSD and RAM to it. But again, that will mean you’ll have to buy and install Windows or any other operating system.

CompuLab fit-PC4 Pro Linux CompuLab fit-PC4 Pro Linux AMD GX-420CA System-on-Chip 2GHz quad core, Installed 4GB RAM Buy Now At Amazon $489.00

Origin Chronos ($1500)

Yes, most mini PCs are not meant for gamers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any at all. Of the current options, the Origin Chronos stands out from the crowd for its customizability, size, and cooling.

The most basic version of the Chronos comes with a 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 6500 processor, 8GB of DDR4 RAM (2666MHz), 120GB SSD, and a discrete 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 graphics card. And that will set you back by approximately $1500. All of these specifications can be upgraded, with even the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card available as an option.

This would mean you can play pretty much any game out there. As CNET notes in its review, the Chronos is also a capable virtual reality gaming machine 9 Virtual Reality Games You Absolutely Must Play in 2016 9 Virtual Reality Games You Absolutely Must Play in 2016 Three VR devices -- and possibly more -- are launcing in 2016. Here are some of the most impressive VR games that you'll be able to play this year! Read More . The custom cooling system is important for this tiny PC to remain cool, but apparently that results in the fans making a lot of noise, unlike those silent fanless mini PCs 5 Silent Fanless Mini PCs That Will Save You Money 5 Silent Fanless Mini PCs That Will Save You Money Miniaturization continues to shrink the size of the average PC. What once required several rooms can now fit in your pocket. There's a new category, fanless Mini PCs, that's becoming popular. Read More . Overall though, there is nothing out there which is as compact and powerful as the Chronos.

Customize and order your own Chronos at the official site.

Don’t Buy a Mac Mini Right Now

For a long time, the Mac Mini has been one of the best small computers you can purchase. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article (June 2016), we can’t recommend buying one. It’s just not the right time to buy a Mac Mini Is There a Right Time to Buy a New Mac, iPhone, or iPad? Is There a Right Time to Buy a New Mac, iPhone, or iPad? Apple is known for sticking to fairly rigid release schedules, which leads many to believe there are right and wrong times to buy Apple products — and it's easy to see why. Read More , according to MacRumors’ Buyer’s Guide.

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The current Mac Mini was released in 2014 and hasn’t got an update since then. It’s also difficult to upgrade the Mac Mini Want to Get More from Your Mac Mini? Start With These Upgrade Tips Want to Get More from Your Mac Mini? Start With These Upgrade Tips If you've just picked up a Mac Mini, here are some tips on what to upgrade and how to do it. Read More when compared to other mini PCs. Instead, wait till Apple launches a new version (hopefully later this year) and buy that.

Also, we do not recommend buying an NUC or other mini PC to make a Hackintosh PC How To Build Your Own Hackintosh How To Build Your Own Hackintosh This "How to Hackintosh" guide outlines what you need to do in order to build a power PC Hackintosh. This guide shows you the way. Read More . Several hardware errors have been noted over popular mini PCs such as the Intel NUC, Gigabyte’s Brix, and Zotac’s ZBox, with Wi-Fi, NFC, and HDMI audio usually not working well.

Sticks and Portables

The next trend in the miniaturization of PCs seems to be in the form of stick PCs like the Intel Compute Stick Buying an Intel Compute Stick? 7 Pros and Cons You Must Know Buying an Intel Compute Stick? 7 Pros and Cons You Must Know The Intel Compute Stick wants to be a truly portable PC in your pocket. Read More , or portable pocket-sized PCs like the Kangaroo PC.

What’s your take on Mini-PCs? Do you think they’ll replace your desktop?

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 30, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      I love the Zbox series. IMO, the *best* design. And the 970 grpahics card is a sweet addition.

  1. HildyJ
    June 22, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    I only wish that two SSDs and mirrored RAID were an option. It would make a great NAS.

    • Clio
      June 23, 2016 at 1:12 am

      Look at the mini PC options from ASUS. Some models have those options.

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 30, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      I agree, but compact-ness is valued more here. I'm a little more inclined towards an external RAID myself though

  2. Andrew
    June 22, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Honestly, a Raspberry Pi 3 for doing really light browsing around, writing, email and stuff is drop-dead cheap, the size of a pack of Marlboros, and with a fast MicroSD - quick booting.

    Won't do everything of course, but on a REALLY tight budget, they're quite nice.

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 30, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Yup, we're big fans of Pi3 here at MUO. These are just a little more powerful and fill the Windows requirement that most of our readers have.

  3. RehabEng
    June 22, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Infocus Kangaroo? Not only is it tiny but it has an internal battery that will run
    for a few hours. Ideal for sticking to the back of a TV.

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 30, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      I haven't heard good things about the Kangaroo from fellow reviewers. To stick to the back of a PC, you're again going to need its dock. At that price point, you can get good NUCs.

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