The best mini PCs show how far technology has come, packing the power for web browsing and streaming into tiny packages. Small enough to hide behind a monitor or even slip into a bag or pocket to take on the go, mini PCs offer desktop-grade power in ultra-small designs. We've tested and reviewed several, and found the best mini PCs for everything from home entertainment to gaming and professional workstations.
We test each mini PC we review to get a clear picture of how well it performs, what uses it's best suited to and what sort of capability you get for the price. These tests include synthetic benchmarks to measure system speed and graphics capability, as well as number crunching with large data sets to measure processing power in a way that can be easily compared across a wide variety of mini PC systems.
- Want something bigger? Check out the best all-in-one computers
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From storage speed to gaming chops, we test every aspect of a mini PC's performance to tell you exactly what it can do, and what it does well. Most importantly, we use each mini PC for several hours, trying out its unique features and any preloaded software.
And mini PCs are regularly announced and updated, like the recently upgraded 8GB Raspberry Pi 4, which now comes with more RAM than some laptops for just $75. Or there's the potential redesign for the Microsoft Surface Studio 3 that turns the powerful all-in-one into a standalone monitor and mini PC.
What are the best mini PCs?
Of the dozen or so mini PCs we've reviewed in recent months, several stand out as the cream of the crop. Whether you want a general use desktop, a gaming rig that can be taken on the go, or a powerful system that can still be stowed out of sight, we've got the mini PC for you.
Our favorite mini PC overall is the Apple Mac mini, the latest version of the system that helped define the mini PC category. It's even been updated recently, outfitted with twice as much RAM for the same price.
The gaming oriented Intel Hades Canyon NUC proves that even AAA games and VR can be handled by a well-designed mini PC. The Azulle Access3 is the best stick PC, with a pocketable design that can be used with any monitor or TV with an HDMI port, while the HP Z2 Mini G4 delivers powerful workstation-grade capabilities in a deceptively small design.
The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B offers a barebones system that's perfect for tinkering and projects, and only costs $35. For the office, there's the work-friendly Lenovo ThinkCentre M710q Tiny, our favorite office mini PC. And the Acer Chromebox CXI3 puts Google's Chrome OS into a tiny desktop that can be hidden almost anywhere.
Some big changes are coming to our favorite Mac mini, however. Apple has recently announced that it is transitioning all Macs to Apple Silicon by 2022, replacing the current Intel processors with Apple-designed chips that use the same ARM processor architecture as iPhone and iPad. As part of this transition, the newly announced macOS Big Sur is also introducing major changes to support the upcoming shift away from Intel. Due to this change, Mac mini devices from before 2014 will not be supported by the latest version of macOS.
The best mini PCs to buy now
Apple took its sweet time updating the smallest of Macs, but the Mac mini (2018) was well worth the wait. The latest Mac mini has a slick new look with it's darker space grey anodized finish, despite retaining the same dimensions and unibody design as the previous model. It also picks up some improvements, like a speedy collection of ports, including four Thunderbolt 3 ports for connecting displays, storage and anything else. It even offers (a bit) of upgradability, with traditional SO-DIMM slots for adding memory, though other hardware and storage are not user-serviceable.
Despite rocking an older 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, the littlest Mac managed to put up numbers that bested better-equipped systems, and offers a surprising amount of power in a pleasantly compact design. Based on our testing, it's the best mini PC overall, delivering excellent power and value in a compact package.
Since our initial review, Apple has actually doubled the amount of storage offered in basic configurations, for the same price. Because other hardware remains the same, we expect performance to be relatively unchanged, and our recommendation stands.
Read our full Apple Mac mini (2018) review.
The Azulle Access3 takes our favorite tiny stick PC and makes it even better. With a compact design that's almost small enough to put on a keychain, and flexible enough to be used with any monitor or TV, the Access3 gets a faster processor, speedier USB 3.0 ports and adds Gigabit Ethernet for better performance and connectivity than any other stick PC we've reviewed. The zippy performance even supports 4K video output, making it great for streaming.
Whether it's for use in your home theater, powering digital signage or just giving you a way to watch Netflix on your hotel TV, the Access3 presses forward in a form-factor that larger manufacturers have largely forgotten. The Azulle Access3 is our new favorite stick PC, and the best mini PC you can slip into your pocket.
Read our full Azulle Access3 review.
Intel’s Hades Canyon NUC is a mini PC that delivers desktop-gaming-grade performance in a chassis that's about the size of a book. Thanks to its Intel Core i7-8009G/AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH hybrid chip, which combines processing and discrete graphics on a single chip, the Hades Canyon NUC can handle AAA games and VR in a small, black brick that can be tucked into a backpack or added to a home entertainment center.
Despite its small size, the Hades Canyon NUC is loaded with ports, including Thunderbolt 3 ports and HDMI output. If you buy the barebones kit, you’ll need to provide memory and storage, and your own installation of Windows, but this pint-sized gaming machine can go toe-to-toe with an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti-powered gaming tower, and it even handled a bit of VR. It's the best mini PC you can get for gaming without compromise.
Read our full Intel Hades Canyon NUC review.
The HP Z2 Mini G4 is an ultrasmall workstation PC, cramming workstation-level components and ISV-certified graphics into a desktop PC that's smaller than some books. It's got stylish looks and a surprisingly accessible (and upgradable) interior, but the real draw is the high-powered processing and graphics options. It's also the best mini PC you can get for workstation performance while maintaining that compact size.
Equipped with a beefy 6-core Intel Xeon E-2176G processor, 32GB of RAM and Nvidia Quadro P1000 graphics, the Z2 Mini easily handles workloads that other mini PCs struggle with, and is certified to work with a variety of mission-critical programs, from vendors like Autodesk, Avid, Siemens, Solidworks and Vectorworks. If you're an engineer or designer that wants a workstation desktop that won't take up your whole desk, this is the powerful mini PC we recommend.
Read our full HP Z2 Mini G4 review.
The Lenovo ThinkCentre M710q Tiny desktop puts full-sized, business-grade productivity into a compact package that’s smaller than a paperback book. It offers all sorts of business-friendly features into it’s small, square chassis, with plenty of ports, speedy Wi-Fi, and options to add an optical drive or even transform the mini PC into an All-in-One desktop using Lenovo’s Tiny-in-One monitors.
Our review unit offered solid performance thanks to an Intel Core i5-7500T processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB Opal-compliant solid-state drive. With decent performance and plenty of flexibility, it's the best mini PC for most office users. The small size belies the capabilities inside, with configurations that offer up to an Intel Core i7 processor, as much as 32GB of memory, choices of HDD or SSD storage (with Opal-compliant options), and accessories for added functionality.
Read our full Lenovo ThinkCentre M710q Tiny review.
The Acer Chromebox CXI3 may be the best desktop version of Chrome OS available. Made for use in the classroom or in the office, the Chromebox CXI3 delivers everything that’s great about Chrome – ease of use, simple security, and all the online capability you want – in a mini PC that boasts great features and performance.
The compact Chromebox can be mounted almost anywhere, and boasts plenty of ports, including several USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output and a USB-C port. Our model was outfitted with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD, combining to offer speedy performance and easy multitasking. Plus, it’s cheaper than any similarly equipped Windows machine. For one of the best mini PC designs without the bloat of Windows, there's no beating the Acer Chromebox CXI3.
Read our full Acer Chromebox CXI3 review.
The Raspberry Pi ushered in a new era of DIY tech, and the latest model, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, pushes that to new heights with a more powerful processor, 4K video output and an improved part selection. The latest model, the $35 Raspberry Pi 4 Model B offers enormous value for projects ranging from simple to complex, from its enhanced processing and graphics to offering broad compatibility with older accessories.
If you want to do something different with your technology, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is the best mini PC for tinkering and experimenting. Whether you buy it alone or in a kit, the Raspberry Pi is hard to beat.
Since our review, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B has been updated with a new model that has 8GB of RAM, significantly improving on the 2GB memory of the base model.
Read our full Raspberry Pi 4 Model B review.
How to choose the best mini PC for you
Mini PCs range from small project PCs for under $50 (£50/AU$75) to compact desktops that can cost $1,000 or more. Stick PCs are the most versatile, and generally cost between $100 (£100/AU$150) and $200 (£200/$AU300), and will work with most TVs or monitors. Mini PC prices vary considerably based on hardware.
Finding the right mini PC for you starts with knowing what you're looking for. Do you want something small enough to tuck behind a TV as a dedicated streaming box, or are you looking for something with gaming capability? Do you want a basic internet-browsing machine, or do you need serious processing and graphics capability? Our best picks above do a good job of highlighting the use-cases different systems are best-suited to.
Then there's the question of form factor. Mini PCs are all small, but within the category there are a range of options, from stick PCs small enough to slip in your pocket to desktop towers that are still compact enough to stow out of sight. You'll sacrifice power for a smaller system, but you can still get a capable desktop that's small enough to carry in a backpack, even if you're after gaming capability or workstation performance.
Finally, you want to look at configuration options and upgradability. Many mini PCs have two or three configuration options, which can change everything from the amount of included storage to the presence of high-end processors and discrete graphics cards. There's also the question of upgrades. Many of the smallest mini PCs leave no room for future hardware changes, but others are designed to let you add memory or storage, or even outfitted with ports that allow for an external GPU for expanded capability. When in doubt, check our reviews, which include configuration details and will discuss the potential for future upgrades.
How we test mini PCs
We test every mini PC we review goes through a number of benchmark tests and real-world uses to get the clearest picture we can of how well it performs, what uses it's best suited to, and what sort of capability you get for the price.
For performance, we use the Geekbench processor test to measure a system's overall processing capabilities. We run custom spreadsheets to see how long it takes to handle large data sets and number crunching tasks. We also test the file transfer speeds, copying large files to see how long a system takes to copy multimedia files, documents and other content.
To test the graphics capability, we run a number of benchmark tests from 3DMark. When a system has the capability, we'll also run individual game tests and the SteamVR performance test to see how capable a system is at handling the demands of modern gaming.
Most importantly, we spend a ton of time simply using each mini PC for everyday activities. We watch movies, do work, play games, and blast music on the speakers, all to get a better sense of which ones are worth your money.