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 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 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.
Cheapest Barebones Intel Mini PC: Intel NUC5CPYH
When you want to keep the budget as low as possible, a barebones mini-PC is your best bet. “Barebones” refers to what the package comes with: a processor fit into a case, and nothing else. This means you will have to add a hard drive and RAM of your own.
Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) series of mini-PCs are quite good. The NUC5CPYH is powered by an Intel Celeron N3050 processor. Installing the drive and RAM is easy. Plus, Intel’s NUCs have great support on technology forums, in case you need any help.
It’s not the fastest CPU out there, but it’s good enough for basic computing. In case you need a boost, consider one of the fastest SSDs you can buy. Heck, even as a basic media player for your TV, it supports 4K resolution output. Still, if you need more power, there’s another option.
Best Barebones Intel Mini PC: Intel NUC7i5BNK
For a little more money, you get a far more powerful CPU in an Intel NUC box. Meet the NUC7i5BNK (tall version), with a 7th generation Core i5-7260U processor.
The big deal about this is not only that it’s faster, but its graphics chipset is much better. The i5-7260U boasts of an Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, which is enough even for basic Photoshop.
Since this is the tall version of a NUC, you also get two slots for RAM instead of the default one. That means you can add up to 16GB of memory, not just eight. And add a hard drive or SSD in the bay for it.
Customize the PC however you want, install your parts, and you’re good to go. But if you don’t want to tinker at all, then look for a non-barebones model like those below.
Cheap, Ready-To-Use MSI Mini PC: MSI Cube
Without installing anything, the old MSI Cube is a solid mini PC that gets the job done. It’s good enough for basic office work and internet browsing, but don’t expect to run games or edit movies here.
The Pentium N3710 processor is decent, aided by the 4GB of RAM. Thankfully, MSI has gone in with hybrid hard drive. There’s a 32GB solid-state drive for the preinstalled Windows 10 operating system, slightly boosting the speed. And then there’s the 500GB drive for all your storage.
It’s a simple, no-nonsense box to run Windows without any hassle. And boy, is it tiny!
Best HP Mini PC on a Budget: HP Pavilion Wave
Compared to media streaming sticks and other devices, an HTPC (Home Theater PC) offers much more. Sure, you could make one with a Raspberry Pi, but that mess of wires and connected drives never looks good in the living room. Instead, check out the HP Pavilion Wave.
It’s a gorgeous mini PC that can sit proudly in your living room, while people ask you what it is. And you’ll explain how it comes with Bang and Olufsen audio, and is powered by an Intel Core i3 processor with 8GB of RAM. Oh yes, you can store all your movies and shows on the 1TB hard drive.
The Pavilion Wave even has a USB Type-C port to go with three other regular USB ports. And HP has thrown in a wireless keyboard and mouse too. This Windows mini PC meets all the requirements of a nice HTPC, except for an optical drive. Would a Blu-ray drive have killed you, HP?
All-Rounder Mini PC With Gaming: Asus VivoMini VM65N-G063Z
The Asus VivoMini is another excellent contender for an HTPC, as well as a good mini PC in general. It also adds a dedicated graphics card to boost gaming performance.
The Core i5-7200U processor and 8GB of RAM handle everything you throw at it. There’s a 1TB hard drive for all your storage needs. The Nvidia GeForce GT 930M graphics card should handle basic gaming needs, as well as photo and video editing.
And it’s all put together in a tiny package. The VivoMini doesn’t make much sound. It’s among those tiny, silent, and green PCs too, using only 90W of power. Not bad at all.
Mini Gaming PCs with VR: Zotac ZBox Magnus EN1060K
If you’re part of the “PC Master Race” and believe you need a gaming PC instead of a video game console, you’re in luck. Zotac has built a couple of fantastic mini PCs for gaming.
The Zbox Magnus EN1060K packs a Core i5-7500T processor, 8GB RAM, 120GB SSD, and a 1TB hard drive. For gaming, there is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB RAM, which is also ready for virtual reality games.
Despite this heavy hardware, the ZBox is surprisingly quiet when it’s running. It could happily sit in your home entertainment system without any fuss.
The Big Boy Gaming Mini PC: Zotac ZBox Magnus EN1080K
If price is not a factor, get the Zotac ZBox Magnus EN1080K. It’s the best mini PC on the planet right now.
Zotac has upgraded the EN1060K with the powerful Intel Core i7-7700 processor. And the graphics card is the top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080. It will play every game at the highest settings without any stutters.
Such hardware usually causes a lot of heating, which in turn causes a lot noise with its fans. To keep things cool and quiet, Zotac has added liquid cooling to the mini PC. This beast is flawless.
Best Chrome Mini PC or Chromebox: Asus Chromebox 2 G013U
On these mini PCs, Windows isn’t always the best choice. Due to the limited hardware, you’re better off running a lighter operating system. If Chrome OS suits you, then get the Asus Chromebox 2 G013U.
It’s important to note the model number here. There are several variants of the Chromebox with different specifications. What you want is the G013U with an Intel Core i3 5010U processor and 4GB of RAM. Anything less and your Chrome OS won’t be able to handle the demands of being used like a desktop PC.
Note that the Chromebox 2 has only 16GB of memory. You’re likely to need a portable hard drive to go with it, if you plan on storing anything at all.
Best Android Mini PC: Jide Remix Mini
Can you use Android as a desktop operating system (OS)? Sure, if you’re ready for a little customization. Meet the Remix Jide Mini, the only Android mini PC to turn the mobile OS into something usable on desktops.
Remix OS has changed the look and feel of Android almost to a point where you won’t be able to recognize it. On top of that, you get several original apps that help make Android more usable with a keyboard and mouse. It’s actually a viable alternative to Windows.
With support for almost all the apps on the Play Store, the Jide Mini is one of the best mini PCs under $100. But Android updates at a faster rate than what Remix OS does, so remember, you’ll be a little behind the curve at all times. Furthermore, Jide discontinued the consumer version of their operating system — meaning, no more updates. However, future versions of the desktop-optimized Phoenix OS Android operating system might work on the Remix Mini. (Remix OS can install on PC hardware.)
Best Apple: Mac Mini
It has been three years since Apple updated the Mac Mini. While Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly mentioned future update plans, who knows how long it will be till we see a new model? Which is why the Mac Mini is still a solid mini PC for anyone who doesn’t want Windows.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say that pound for pound, the Mac Mini would come out on top in its price range. If you’re considering a Windows mini PC in the same price bracket as the Mac Mini, take a bite of the Apple.
Even in terms of specifications, there is a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. And it’s easy to make it faster too.
Sticks and Portables
What’s your take on Mini-PCs? Do you think they’ll replace your desktop?