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.
12 Best Mini PCs to Buy in 2018
The Best Barebones Mini PC
The Intel NUC6i7KYK (NUC 6) delivers the most bang for your buck when it comes to barebones kits. Revolving around a 6th generation Core i7 6770HQ, this 8 x 4.5 x 1-inch mini PC has enough power to handle all of your entertainment needs.
The NUC 6 is one of the best mini PCs for your living or gaming room. That’s because the engineers at Intel labored tirelessly in perfecting the state-of-the-art Iris Pro Graphics system. Iris Pro enables the NUC 6 to deliver a crisper, more detailed 4K experience. With this box, you can enjoy YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu like never before. Via its HDMI or DisplayPort, this mini PC can connect to a wide array of flat-screen displays.
These miniature desktop computers are sold as barebones machines. In your package, you’ll receive an interchangeable case and your processor. You’re responsible for purchasing and installing your memory, storage, and OS.
- Customizable case
- Supports Windows 7, 8 and 10
- Technically challenging setup
- Rather expensive for a barebones kit
The Best All-in-one Mini PC
If you’re in the market for an all-in-one mini PC, look no further. The HP Elite Slice easily takes the cake when it comes to functionality, upgradability, and capabilities. This 6.5-inch square that’s less than 1.5-inches tall is designed as a modular personal computer.
So far, a majority of the modules provided by HP are geared toward business users. There’s a conference sound bar, wireless phone charger, optical drive, and VESA mount module. Therefore, you can add modules to enhance the functionality of your HP Elite Slice.
- Perfect for business task and personal use
- Elegant design
The Best Mini PC for Kodi
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
VR Ready Mini PC For Tech Enthusiasts
The Intel NUC 7 Home is the ready-to-go “big brother” to the NUC 6. This 4.5 x 4.3 x 2-inch machine arrives at your door with an Intel i3, i5, or i7, a 1TB drive, and 4GBs (or more) of DDR4 RAM. The ultra-sharp Intel Graphics 650 chipset delivers 4K video via its HDMI 2.0 or Thunderbolt 3 port.
Interestingly, the NUC 7’s Thunderbolt port can daisy-chain devices. Up to 6 separate external storage drives, monitors, graphics cards, etc. can be powered by one port! Built-in Bluetooth 4.2 makes for hassle-free keyboard, mouse, and speaker connections.
As far as networking, the NUC 7 comes equipped with the 802.11ac for Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet port for wired connections.
Only once your NUC 7 is connected to the web do you really get an appreciation for its features and capabilities. Hardcore gamers will especially appreciate the technical abilities of the NUC 7.
The new and improved DirectX12 is now powerful enough to take full advantage of today’s sophisticated multi-core technology. For example, if your machine uses the optional 3.5GHz Intel i7, when a performance boost is needed, each core will run at speeds up to 4.0GHz! And to take things one step further, NUC 7 features native support for VR headsets such as Samsung Odyssey, Lenovo Explorer, Dell Visor, and Oculus Rift.
- Out-of-box support for VR
- Works with M.2 and 2.5-inch drives
- Thunderport daisy-chain
- Noise, compared to others
Reliable Mini PC for Casual Users
If you’re looking for a smooth introduction to the world of mini PCs, you should consider the Asus Chromebox 2. Powered by Google’s Chrome OS, the Chromebox 2 delivers all the advantages of more advanced mini PCs while keeping the price low.
On the inside, the board is powered by the Intel Celeron 3215U processor, which is accompanied by 2GB of RAM and a 16GB M.2 instant-boot SSD.
The Asus Chromebox 2 is designed to be plug and play. Once this miniature, 5-inch x 5-inch x 1.6-inch desktop arrives, all you need to do is plug in your TV or monitor, and connect the PC to your access point. The connection is made via Ethernet or dual-band Wi-Fi.
When compared to some other mini PCs on our list, the Chromebox 2 does have a few shortcomings. Namely, this mini PC can leave users wanting for more when it comes to online gaming. Nevertheless, despite it not being a good mini PC for gaming, the Chromebox 2 is good choice for casual buyers who are looking for a simple streaming/web browsing experience.
- Easy initial setup
- Perfect for beginners
- Won’t handle advanced games
The Best Mini PC for College Students
Powered by a 2.4 GHz Intel Dual Core Celeron, 2GB SDRAM, and a 32GB SSD, the Inspiron i3050 has our vote when it comes to the best mini PC for college students.
Each i3050 comes with Windows 10 pre-installed as well as a Dell KB216 keyboard and MS116 mouse. One downside that “hands-on” owners may find disappointing is the lack of upgradability. Essentially, what you see is what you get. In other words, storage is limited and you’re stuck with a maximum of 2GB of RAM.
Despite its shortcomings, the Inspiron i3050 has everything college students need to successfully complete their assignments.
- Comes ready to use out-of-box
- Ships with keyboard and mouse
- Limited memory and storage
- Not upgradable
Quiet Multipurpose Mini PC
No matter if it’s in a cubical, conference room, home office, kids room, or entertainment room, you’ll find the Asus VivoMini PC to be a great mini PC in terms of multipurpose functionality.
The VivoMini PC has enough power to smoothly stream UHD content, run intensive video games, browse the internet, compile reports, presentations, documents and perform any other personal or business task.
If we take a look inside this 7.5-inch x 7.5-inch x 2.2-inch mini PC, we’ll find a 6th generation i5-7200U, 8GB of DDR, and 1TB of storage. When it comes to graphics, the VivoMini uses the powerful yet compact NVIDIA GeForce GT 930M graphics card, which makes 4K playback effortless and intensive gaming possible. On the outside, there are two USB 3.1 ports, four USB 3.0 as well as a port for HDMI and DisplayPort.
All things considered, the VivoMini PC is one of the best mini PCs for TV and gaming.
- Perfect for entertainment
- Relatively expensive
Great Mini PC for Small Businesses
If you are a small business owner on the hunt for a good mini PC for business, you should consider the HP ProDesk 400. Different configurations of this mini PC include a 7th generation i3/i5/i7 processor, up to 32GB of RAM, and a solid-state drive or your choosing.
There are eight USB ports, surely more than enough to handle all your devices, as well as Bluetooth for your wireless I/O devices.
HP is no stranger when it comes to adding proprietary features on their products. Pro Desk 400 G4 utilizes HP’s Client Security Suite. In short, this suite of consumer protection tools is made up of multi-factor authentication, a device access manager, a password manager, and other tools to keep your data protected.
The HP ProDesk 400 has been engineered to work seamlessly with Windows 10, however, it’ll have no issues running alternative operating systems.
- Your choice of OS
- Advanced data protection
- Somewhat pricey
The Best Mini PC Stick
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
The BEst Mini PC for Gaming
Arriving in an 11 x 3 x 11-inch form factor, the Asus GR8 II-6GT024Z is a bit larger than some of the other mini PCs on our list. Although it’s technically classified as a mini PC, there’s nothing miniature about its beastly performance. Asus GR8 is the undisputed best mini PC for gaming created thus far.
The Asus GR8 uses an i7-7700, up to 32GB DDR4 RAM, and an M.2 SSD or SATA HD of your choosing. This revolutionary gaming system has been designed to work smoothly with mainstream VR headsets. Windows 10 comes pre-installed.
- Great for gaming
Mini PC With an 8K Support
The Zotac ZBOX is another bleeding-edge gaming system to make our list. While it’s not as small as Intel’s NUC 7 or as beautiful as the Asus GR8, the Zotac ZBOX is certainly capable of holding its own when compared to the best gaming PCs on the market.
While, in our humble opinion, the Asus GR8 takes the crown for best mini pc for gaming, the ZBOX is certainly nothing to balk at. If you’re looking for the most immersive, life-like gaming experience, the ZBOX should be seriously considered.
As far as specs, the ZBOX can be powered by Core i3/i5/i7 processors, supports up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM and M.2 as well as SATA drives. It can run upwards of 4 monitors via HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.3. Even cooler, most mini PCs are tapped out at 4K UHD, but the ZBOX can do up to 8K!
- Extremely quiet
- Support for 8k
- Slightly bulky compared to other mini PCs
Great Mini PC for TV
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