Recent advancements in computer technology have put the term ‘personal computer’ back into the lexicon of tech consumers. Considering many of us wrote off personal computers in favor of mobile devices and cloud clients, it’s refreshing to see the mini PC market is revitalizing the desktop computer world.
Cutting-edge hardware and manufacturing have us at a point where the power required for most business and personal computing needs fits into a form factor no bigger than your hand. Nevertheless, since the technology relatively new, finding the best mini PC for your needs can be tricky.
How to Choose the Best Mini PC
Here are a few tips for anyone in the market for a new mini PC.
First, we need to determine if your ideal mini PC is barebones or ready-to-go. Put simply, if you’re looking for a quick and easy setup, ready-to-go is your best bet. Otherwise, if you prefer to periodically add, improve, and upgrade your own hardware, namely memory and storage, you’ll want a barebones PC.
To be clear, many ready-to-go mini PC manufacturers do allow improvements and upgrades. The primary difference between barebones and ready to go is in the initial setup, not necessarily upgradeability.
Compared to desktop PCs of yesteryear, today’s mini PCs are microscopic. You can literally stack a dozen or more mini PCs inside the tower of an old desktop computer. Such a huge size reduction affords more freedom in terms of portability and how your workspace is utilized. Typically speaking, mini PCs span a size range from 4 x 4 x .5-inches to 8 x 8 x 2.5-inches. (W x L x H)
What are you using your machine for?
For example, mini PCs designed to handle cutting-edge video games and A/V editing can be outfitted with the latest Windows OS, 32GB (or more) of RAM, blazing fast SSDs, and state-of-the-art graphics technology that fully supports VR, 4K UHD, 7.1 surround sound. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a simple device to stream movies, you can get by just fine with 2GB of RAM, less than 16GB of storage, and Android OS.
The upgradability of your machine can also be a factor. If your mini PC is meant to be an entertainment device, upgradeability may be important to you. As technology continues to progress and cheapen, you may want to outfit your PC with improved, more up-to-date parts.
Features / Capabilities
Lastly, you’ll want to consider what features are required to get the most out of your machine. For example, do you need USB 3.1, or will USB 3.0 work? How many USB ports do you need? Would you like to connect a Thunderbolt device or two (or more)? Would you like the ability to install your own OS? Do you know the maximum amount of memory you’ll need?
All-in-all, there’s a ton of options. Continue reading to find out which mini PC is best for you.
1. Azulle Access Plus
The Azulle Access Plus is a mini stick PC available in several different configurations. There’s an entry level model which is equipped with 2GB of DDR3L RAM and 32GB of storage. There’s also a more advanced model that offers 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage. Each Access Plus is powered by Intel’s 1.44GHz Atom Z8300.
While those specs fall short of spectacular, in the age of Netflix, YouTube TV, Hulu, HBO GO, and other streaming platforms it’s more than enough.
- Great for streaming movie / TV
- Wired or wireless connection
- Only powerful enough for light gaming apps
- Slightly bulky compared to other mini PCs
2. ZOTAC ZBOX CI660 Nano Plus Silent Mini PC
This Mini PC features very powerful 8th generation Intel Core i7-8550U with 4 cores ranging from 1.8 to 4GHz. Along with that comes pretty decent Intel Ultra HD Graphics 620, with Dual Display option and 4K working at 60Hz, as well as HDMI 2.0 and Display Port 1.2 support.
As for options to connect the device to the internet and other devices, there is support for 802.11AC Wi-Fi, Dual Gigabit LAN and Bluetooth 4.2. Along with that comes 2 USB 3.1 Type-C and 5 USB 3.0 ports, so you will always be able to connect to everything you need to.
As for the prolonged performance, this mini PC doesn’t have any fans, which makes it very quiet. To enhance the performance any further, there is a passive cooling feature and this PC is VESA mountable.
- Powerful 8th generation i7 processor
- Very good Ultra HD graphics
- Multiple connectivity options
- Quiet performance
- Can overheat quite a bit
3. Apple Mac Mini
This latest model Apple Mac Mini is a premium-looking beautifully-designed power-house, boasting the latest gen quad-core I3 CPU (or hexa-core i5 8th-Generation Intel Core Processor, depending on the configuration), 8 GB of DDR4 and a 128 GB/256 GB SSD. On top of that, you’ll benefit from stellar connectivity, courtesy of 4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type C) ports for all your Apple gear, 1 HDMI 2.0 and 2x USB 3 ports.
Everything in this mini PC is about premium look, feel and sheer performance, bound together into an unholy package. And by that, we refer to this little monster’s price-tag. But you already know that quality doesn’t come cheap, especially with Apple products, right? However, if you’re looking for the best mini PC money can buy, the Apple Mini should rank high on your shopping list.
- high performance in a small form-factor
- stellar build quality
- premium look and feel, compact design
- powerful, small and quiet
- easy to set up, everything runs flawlessly out of the box
- 4 Thunderbolt ports
- Apple’s cheapest computer
- perfect desktop replacement
- the SSD is soldered to the MOBO
- entry level GPU is not so great
4. Intel Compute Stick CS125
The Intel Compute Stick CS125 is the best “computer on a stick” currently available. Coming in a form factor that’s only slightly larger than your typical USB flash drive, this Compute Stick is more than capable of performing most of your personal computing tasks.
Whether you use the internet to surf, learn, tweet, or play, the Compute Stick from Intel has you covered. Virtually any display with an HDMI input can be converted into a Windows 10 PC by using this unique device.
The Compute Stick is powered by Intel’s Atom x5 Quad-Core processor, 2GB memory, and 32GB of flash storage.
With that said, the Compute Stick is a great mini PC for anyone looking for an ultra-compact plug-and-play Windows 10 device.
- Plugs into any HDMI socket
- 32GB of flash memory
- Not upgradeable / customizable
- Only good for simple, nonintensive gaming
5. HP ProDesk 400 Micro Desktop
The HP ProDesk 400 Micro Desktop can be described as a workstation of sorts in a very small form factor. The best thing about the ProDesk 400 is that it will provide you with lots of power in a very convenient package, and by convenient we mean cheap, reliable and compact.
If you’re looking for an affordable and snappy PC for office work and even light gaming (the Integrated Intel HD Graphics 530 is pretty good), the HP ProDesk 400 has your name on it, i.e. for “peanut money” you’ll get a dual-core i3-6100T CPU, 4 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD and Win 10 Pro 64-bit pre-installed and ready to roll.
- very fast
- convenient small form factor
- lots of connectivity options
- comes with Keyboard and Mouse included
- noticeably faster and cheaper than a similarly configured laptop
- 4GB of RAM is not enough for modern-day computing (consider a RAM upgrade)
6. ACEPC T11
ACEPC T11 Mini PC features Intel Atop x5-Z8350 1.44GHz CPU with 4 cores, which can be overclocked to work on 1.92GHz. Along with that comes 4GB of RAM, with the maximum support of 64GB eMMC, which is pretty decent for mini PC.
It is equipped with 2.4G+5G Dual-Band Wi-Fi, as well as LAN of 1000Mbps and Bluetooth 4.2, which gives it a pretty good amount of options for connectivity. Apart from that, this mini PC comes with already installed Windows 10 Pro 64-bit version and Auto-on feature.
ACEPC T11 comes with 64GB eMMC, as said above. However, it can be expanded up to 128GB, by using Micro SD card, or by simply using USB external HDD/SSD up to 2TB, with 2.5” port.
It features an integrated Intel HD Graphic card, with which you can watch 4K videos and even connect a projector to make a home cinema or use it in educational purposes if you use this mini PC in schools. It doesn’t have any fans, which means it will run as quietly as possible.
- Very good connectivity options
- Multiple storage options
- Graphic card good for watching 4K videos and educational purposes
- Fan-less design, quiet
- Not good for advanced tasks
7. Dell CFC5C OptiPlex 3050
Next in line, we have a Dell CFC5C OptiPlex 3050, a machine which boasts almost legendary status. This Dell is basically a 7th Gen Intel I5 powered micro form-factor desktop PC, running on Windows 10 Pro or Linux, depending on one’s personal preference. Besides the powerful quad-core I5-7500T CPU, this Dell boasts 8 GB of RAM (up to 32 GB supported) and a 256 GB SSD.
Basically, if you’re looking for sheer desktop-like power in a smaller form-factor, this Dell OptiPlex would cut it for you, provided you’re not discouraged by the price-tag, which is a little bit steep for what this machine really is. The main argument for getting an OptiPlex, besides Dell’s legendary reliability and industry-leading security and manageability I mean, is its compact form-factor, which uses 60% less surface area compared to a regular desktop computer.
business grade performance in an incredibly small form-factorvery quietexcellent Dell Command Suite software keeps your system up to date, i.e. easy and seamless software/firmware updateslegendary reliability and stabilitycomes with both DisplayPort and HDMI Portbuilt-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- more USB ports would’ve been nice
8. ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U
The ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U is an entry-level (hence affordable) mini PC, which comes with the latest-gen Intel Celeron 3865U Processor under the hood, seconded by 4 GB of RAM, along with a Gigabit LAN card, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a 32GB M.2 SATA SSD, i.e. the basics required for surfing the interwebz and performing light office duties and things of that nature. Furthermore, the integrated GPU is 4K capable and can support 2 monitors via Display Port/Type C and HDMI connectors.
This cool mini PC comes pre-loaded with Chrome OS, which means it’s fully compatible with thousands of Android apps available on both Chrome Web Store and Google Play. There’s also built-in antivirus protection, so you won’t have to waste your time and resources on security software and, on top of that, you’ll get instant access to your files from basically any location.
The “Power Delivery” over USB type C feature in this Asus Chromebox mini PC helps you deliver power to mobile devices, projector or monitors sans additional cables, so it will help with minimizing cable clutter. If you can’t afford an Apple product and you want “out” of Windows’ ecosystem, Chrome OS may be the answer.
- ideal balance of desktop performance with connectivity and portability
- multiple display support
- you can seamlessly stream 4K content via Wi-Fi or LAN
- full support of thousands of Android apps
- USB 3.1 Type-C
- amazing value for money
- touch screen support
- excellent “minimalist desktop” alternative to both Windows and Mac OS gear
- incredibly easy to set up and to use
- completely silent, works flawlessly
- if you want to stream Live TV in UHD, you should go for a better CPU, like an i3 or i5
9. Intel NUC 8 Mainstream Kit
The Intel NUC 8 Mainstream Kit is yet another tiny yet powerful mini PC, running on an Intel Core i3 8th gen CPU, which features Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655. On top of that, you have a M.2 22×42/80 slot for PCIe NVMe or SATA SSD, a 2.5″ SSD/HDD bay and support for up to 32 GB of DDR 4 Dual channel DDR4-2400 SODIMM RAM. In terms of connectivity, you’ll get dual-band wireless, Bluetooth 5.0, SATA 3 support, Thunderbolt, USB 3.1/USB Type C, along with 7.1 channel surround sound, dual-array microphone, and HDMI.
As an interesting factoid, the Intel Iris Plus graphics 655 GPU supports up to three 4K displays, so if you’re looking for a small and silent machine to perform usual tasks, like office work, watching YouTube/video-stream and things of that nature, the Intel NUC 8 Mainstream Kit will do the job with flying colors.
Despite being a barebones mini Tower PC, the Intel NUC 8 Mainstream kit is everything about upgradability, versatility and affordability in a professionally designed miniature form-factor. If you’re looking for a cheap no-nonsense all in one mini PC, this NUC 8 kit may be the answer.
- fast and quiet
- improved cooling system over previous generations
- lots of connectivity options
- amazing value for money
- expandable memory/storage
- includes Wireless and Bluetooth connectivity out of the box
- additional components (memory, storage) required, so you’ll have to spend extra-money
10. MINIX NEO N42C-4
The MINIX Neo N42C-4 is a great choice if you’re simply looking to stream. The ability to browse the web, play breathtaking ultra HD content, access KODI, Skype and more is packed inside a 5-inch square that’s less than 1-inch tall!
The Neo has been painstakingly designed to provide the most stunning home cinema experience possible. Powered by Windows 10, the Neo is capable of outputting crystal clear 4K @ 60 Hz. Going a step further, the engineers at MINIK have embedded a proprietary suite of technologies that improve upon the 4K standard and further enhance the already ultra-sharp images.
All these cutting-edge enhancements, however, would be worthless without robust connectivity. A spotty connection can easily ruin an otherwise pleasant streaming experience. No corners were cut when it comes to the high-tech antenna architecture found in the MINIX Neo N42C-4. The designers have used the latest 802.11ac technology. An array of dual-band antennas covers 2.5GHz and 5.0GHz resulting in lightning-fast and highly-stable connections.
- Easily customizable
- Great price
- 4K UHD @ 60Hz
- Some users reported it to be dead on arrival
11. HP 600 G2 Micro Computer
The HP 600 G2 is a very affordable mini-tower PC, powered by an Intel I3 dual-core 6100T CPU. Even if the CPU performance is not stellar, this little fellow comes loaded with additional “goodies”, the likes of 16 GB of RAM, a 256 GB solid state drive and Windows 10 Pro. As far as specs are concerned, the HP 600 G2 offers strong performance and solid hardware at an unbeatable price, thus playing in the best bang for the buck category, and winning by a long shot.
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense business-centric mini-PC, the HP 600 G2 will get the job done with flying colors.
- amazing value for money
- 6th generation dual-core Skylake CPU
- lots of power in a compact form-factor
- perfect for office/editing duties
- very quiet even under heavy load
- none really at this price
12. Intel NUC 8 Performance-G Kit (NUC8i7HVK)
As its name (and the glowing skull) suggests, the Intel NUC 8 Performance G-Kit is the most powerful mini PC that was ever produced by Intel. During development, this beast was codenamed “Hades Canyon”, and that says a lot. Also, it’s worth mentioning that this little monster harbors a very special quad-core processor under its cool chassis, the Intel Core i7-8809G respectively. This is some kind of a hybrid, as it was developed in a historic (first ever) partnership between the world’s two bitter rivals, AMD and Intel respectively.
Basically, this state of the art processor binds together into an unholy union an Intel Core CPU with an on-chip AMD GPU, the Radeon RX Vega M GH respectively. Yes, you read that right: Intel and AMD are joining hands on the same processor. The Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU comes with 4 GB of HBM2 (high bandwidth) memory and it’s VR ready, which means that besides seamless gaming, you’ll also benefit from an immersive VR experience if that’s your cup of tea obviously.
In case you were wondering about Intel joining hands with AMD, this move is aimed at mitigating the inherent problems of Intel’s in-house HD Graphics GPU, which is not powerful enough to offer gaming aficionados a smooth experience. The new hybrid chips made by Intel and AMD are claimed to be equivalent to a GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU, which is kind of awesome.
On top of “peak performance”, the Intel NUC 8 G-Kit will support up to six 4K displays, featuring front/read HDMI ports, 2x mini display ports, 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports and no less than 7 USB ports.
- sheer power due to -overclockable 100W Core i7-8809G CPU
- small footprint i.e. 8.7 by 5.6 inches (HWD), weighs 2.4 pounds
- you can install up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM
- plethora of connectivity options
- VR Ready
- quiet operation
- solidly built
- looks awesome
- ideal for live streamers due to its dual Thunderbolt 3 ports
- barebones kit, i.e. you’ll have to spend extra money on storage/memory