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 (April 2018)
- The Intel Hades Canyon NUC wowed us with its gaming prowess. This compact PC uses a potent Intel/AMD hybrid that combines 8th-Gen Intel Core i7 with Radeon RX Vega M graphics, for a single-chip solution that rivals an Nvidia 1050 Ti and puts VR-ready power into a chassis the size of a paperback book. But be ready to bring your own memory, storage and OS installation to this party, since it's a barebones kit.
- The Raspberry Pi Foundation just released its fastest computer yet: the Raspberry Pi 3B+. Available for $35, the 3B+ has a faster processor, better Wi-Fi and speedier Ethernet than its predecessor, the Pi 3B.
- New Chromebox models are on the way from major manufacturers like HP and Acer, as well as smaller companies like CTL, which focuses on education products. 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. New models should start selling in April, but some are already available for preorder.
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.
If you're more concerned with getting online than with having a full Windows experience, consider a Chromebox. Built around Google's Chrome operating system – the same OS used on Chromebooks – it uses web apps like Google Drive and Google Docs instead of traditional software. As an inexpensive way to get online and get things done, Chromeboxes are a great option. Our favorite is the Asus Chromebox, but new models are coming in 2018.
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 compact, console-like 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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