Computers have come a long way since the days when they took up an entire room or table. Today, you can get a powerful desktop PC the size of a peanut butter sandwich. Whether you're trying to save space at home, fit more computers into your office, create your own kiosk or squeeze a media server into your entertainment center, there's a mini PC made for you.
Latest News and Updates (Jan. 2018)
- At CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Digital Storm unveiled an impressively-small desktop named Project Spark. Even though Spark is smaller than a shoe box, Digital Storm still managed to fit high end CPUs and GPUs in its tiny frame.
- Also at CES, Intel revealed its latest mini PCs, including the VR-ready NUC8i7HVK, which will start at $999. Its more-modest NUC8i7HNK starts at $799 and can run mixed reality (MR) titles at lower settings. Both will be available this spring.
- New Chromebox models are on the way from both HP and Acer. These compact mini PCs are built to support Chrome OS, the same Google-centric operating system used on Chromebooks. These new models will have updated features like 802.11ac Wi-Fi, USB Type-C connectivity and more current processing hardware.
What Do Mini PCs Cost?
Mini PCs range from small project PCs for under $50 to compact desktops that can cost $1,000 or more. Stick PCs are the most versatile, and generally cost between $100 and $200, and will work with most TVs or monitors. Mini PC prices vary considerably based on hardware.
Our Favorite Mini PCs
The Kangaroo Mobile Desktop is currently our favorite mini PC overall, because it offers a wide range of unique features for less than $170. This half-pound Windows 10 PC includes a built-in battery for up to 2.5 hours of unplugged use, a fingerprint reader for quick logins, a removable ports dock and the ability to use an iPad as a screen. However, the Kangaroo is powered by an Atom processor with 4GB of RAM, which means it's not powerful enough to be your primary PC.
Want something for hardcore gaming? Check out the Alienware Alpha or Asus VivoPC X. If you don't mind bringing your own RAM, storage and OS, consider a bare bones mini PC like the Intel NUC because of its tiny, aluminum, cubelike design; speedy performance; and support for the fastest solid-state drives.
For the office, you'd do well to consider the HP Elite Slice, a modular mini PC designed for the workplace. This compact desktop isn't just small, it also boasts built in conference calling tools and expansion modules that make it easy to add an optical drive or speakers. It's one of the few mini PCs we've seen to come equipped with full fledged desktop hardware, making it quite capable, and the modular design means you get exactly as much PC as you need, and nothing more.
If you need even more horsepower, the HP Z2 Mini G3 packs a workstation PC into a compact size. Built to support AutoCAD and other demanding applications, the Z2 Mini boasts an Intel Core i7 processor and Vendor-certified Nvidia Quadro graphics. It's the most powerful mini PC we've reviewed, and the smallest workstation we've seen.
How We Test
We put each mini PC we review through a series of tests to determine how it performs. Synthetic benchmarks Geekbench 4 and 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited provide scores that represent overall system speed and graphics prowess, respectively.
Our real-world Spreadsheet Macro test matches 20,000 names with their addresses to demonstrate productivity performance, and our File Transfer Test measures the hard drive or SSD's capabilities by copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. To see how well a mini PC plays games, we run Dirt 3 and other relevant games at various resolutions, including 1080p, and record the frame rate.
Most importantly, we use each mini PC for several hours, trying out its unique features and any preloaded software. If a system is sold as bare-bones (i.e., lacking RAM, storage or OS), we install 8GB of memory, a compatible SSD and the latest shipping version of Windows (currently Windows 10).
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