Last updated: September 6, 2020

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Mini PCs are a fantastic alternative to traditional desktop computers, especially when it comes to tasks that don’t require very powerful equipment. They are an exciting option for users looking to browse the Internet, perform basic office tasks, and, above all, have a multimedia center.

This is why it isn’t surprising to see that most computer manufacturers include these devices in their catalogs. If you’re thinking of purchasing your own mini PC, you have come to the right place. Throughout our guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about these affordable computers.

Key Facts

  • Mini PCs are compact, small-sized computers that only integrate hardware components that are essential for their operation.
  • These devices are generally used for office automation and as multimedia centers when connected to a TV. You can also install emulators in them to play older video games or use them as servers.
  • Ask yourself one question before you make your purchase: how do you want to use your mini PC? You should then evaluate its different technical specs and hardware components, such as the motherboard, the processor, the RAM, and, of course, the connectivity options available.

Our Selection: The Best Mini PCs on the U.S. Market

In the following section, you will discover our very own selection of the most popular mini PCs currently available out there. We have done our best to include models tailored to different user profiles – from social media lovers to working professionals. Have a look at their descriptions below, and you might just learn about features you never knew you needed!

 Best All-Round Mini PC

The ACEPC AK1 is a powerful little device that runs on Windows 10 Pro. Its hardware components include an Intel Celeron Apollo Lake J3455 Quad-Core processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and 64GB of storage. In addition, it has space to install an SSD if needed. This mini PC can stream 4K content, making it an excellent multimedia center. Connectivity-wise, it has four USB ports, two HDMI ports, and a microSD slot.

Most Powerful Mini PC

HP is a leader in the computer industry, and the EliteDesk 800 G3 is almost unrivaled in the world of mini PCs. This compact device comes with a powerful seventh-generation Intel Quad-Core i5-7500T processor that you can boost to 3.30 GHz. Add 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB SSD to that, and you have a pocket-sized beast of a machine. Running on Windows 10 Pro, this model has six USB and two DisplayPort connectors.

Best Budget-Friendly Mini PC

One of the most appealing aspects of nettops is their affordability, and it’s hard to match the Wintel Pro in that regard. Despite how cheap it is, it still offers a Quad-Core Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor and 2GB of RAM. If the 32GB hard drive seems small to you, you always have the option to expand the storage by up to 128GB with a MicroSD card. This mini PC comes with Windows 10 Pro, as well as two USB and an HDMI port.

Best Apple Model

A selection of the most popular computers is never complete without an Apple product, and the Mac Mini is quite simply one of the best devices available. It comes with a Quad-Core Intel i3 processor, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Running on macOS Mojave, it’s an incredibly stylish minicomputer that you can take anywhere with you. The Mac Mini has four Thunderbolt 3 ports and one HDMI connector, among others.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Mini PCs

When you buy a mini PC (or any computer, for that matter), you have to consider several critical aspects. After all, every model is different and offers its own set of characteristics. In the section below, we have answered the most frequently asked questions regarding these devices. That way, you will be fully ready to make an informed purchase.

Mini PCs are a fantastic alternative to traditional desktop computers, especially when it comes to tasks that don’t require very powerful equipment.
(Source: Gregoriosz: 8259199010/ 123rf.com)

What are mini PCs exactly?

Also called nettops, they are compact computers with much smaller dimensions than traditional desktop models. They generally integrate the essential hardware components only. While they certainly stand out for offering great connectivity options, mini PCs often give few possibilities for expansion.

They share many features with desktop computers, but their lack of power means that they are tailored to less demanding tasks. This is why many people use them as multimedia centers or for office and web browsing activities.

What are the advantages of mini PCs?

These small computers offer a wide range of benefits that more than make up for the limitations linked to their compact size. You can compare the pros and cons of mini PCs in the table below:

Advantages
  • They are more affordable than traditional desktop computers
  • You can save space on your desk
  • They allow you to transform your TV into a fully equipped multimedia center
  • You can transport them much more easily than standard computers
  • They are very energy efficient
  • They tend to be quieter
Disadvantages
  • Their performance rarely matches that of other desktop models
  • Most of them do not include a graphics card
  • Their expansion possibilities are reduced
  • Some models lack active cooling

For whom are mini PCs designed?

A wide range of reasons can lead you to want to purchase one of these devices. To begin with, they are a fantastic option for anyone with a limited budget. Their compact size also makes them particularly interesting to use in stores and offices. As we mentioned earlier, mini PCs are an excellent choice for anyone looking to turn their TV into a multimedia center.

What are the most common uses of mini PCs?

Today’s nettops have become increasingly versatile. Here is a list of their primary applications:

  • Multimedia: This is probably their most popular use. You can connect your mini PC to any television to turn it into a powerful smart TV that can double as a multimedia center.
  • Office automation: Nettops are also great for this type of tasks since programs like Microsoft Word or Excel do not require powerful specs. Besides, they allow you to take your office with you anywhere you go. All you have to do is connect your mini PC to a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse, and you’re ready to work.
  • Video game emulator: If you enjoy classic consoles like the PSX, the Super Nintendo, or the Sega Genesis, mini PCs are a great choice. You can install an emulator on them, connect your gamepad, and play your favorite games.
  • Server: Advanced users often turn their nettops into Apache, VPN, NAS, or DNS servers.

Today’s nettops have become increasingly versatile.
(Source: Brooke Cagle: nZp9JF-OyiE/ unsplash.com

What operating systems do Mini PCs run?

Depending on the model you purchase, it can come with different operating systems such as Windows 10, Mac OS, various versions of Linux, or even Android or Android TV Box. The latter is perhaps the easiest to use and the most suitable if you want to have a mini PC as a multimedia center. The other three are best for office tasks.

What is the difference between mini PCs and barebone computers?

Many people find it difficult to tell the difference between these two types of devices. Barebone computers are partially assembled platforms, sometimes only including the case and the motherboard. In other cases, they may also integrate the processor and the power supply. You can then choose the other hardware components you want to install.

In that sense, barebone computers are more affordable and customizable; you can tailor them to your personal needs. Mini PCs, on the other hand, are full devices that already integrate fundamental components like the motherboard, processor, RAM, and hard drive, among others.

Steve JobsCo-Founder of Apple

“Computers themselves, and software yet to be developed, will revolutionize the way we learn.”

Can I play video games on my mini PC?

As you can imagine, this will depend on the model you purchase and the games you want to play. But, as we briefly explained earlier, one of the primary applications of today’s mini PCs is as emulators of older generation video game consoles.

In fact, and unlike what many believe, you can find models designed for playing in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second (FPS) and with a decent performance in the latest games. That being said, keep in mind that this isn’t what mini PCs were initially designed for.

Why is cooling critical in mini PCs?

Since all the hardware components of the devices are so close together, there is little room for cooling. This means that heating elements are closer together and feed back into each other. Besides, some mini PCs lack active cooling, which can cause them to overheat.

This is partly compensated for by the fact that these devices integrate fewer components and are optimized to need less energy. Either way, the latest nettops come with a larger number of vents to ensure maximum cooling and prevent overheating.

You can transport mini PCs much more easily than standard desktop computers.
(Source: Malcolmseegers: 2851003767/ Flirck.com)

Buyer’s Guide

Our only goal is to make your purchasing process as smooth as possible. To do so, we have delved into the main shopping criteria that you should evaluate when you’re browsing the market for your new mini PC. You can learn all about these key aspects in the section below. We guarantee that you will be on the right track to find the perfect model for you once you analyze the following factors:

Personal Use

Are you looking to turn your TV into a multimedia center with the help of a mini PC? Then you’ll want to opt for a model with a decent graphics card and a quality sound card. If, on the other hand, you want a nettop to use as a generic but more compact computer, we recommend that you purchase one with a good processor and enough RAM.

In that regard, office automation tasks don’t require very high technical specifications. Use in stores and businesses rarely need demanding programs either. If you’re thinking of purchasing a mini PC to play video games, we strongly encourage you to opt for a more specific device. You can learn more about them in our guide on gaming PCs.

Mini PCs can run operating systems such as Windows 10, Mac OS, various versions of Linux, or even Android or Android TV Box.
(Source: -夜光-FirstDesign/ Flirck.com)

Operating System

The Android operating system should be your preferred option if your mini PC is destined to become a multimedia center. For any other type of task, you will want to focus on Windows or Mac OS models. In that regard, your decision will certainly be influenced by the ecosystem you prefer – either Microsoft or Apple.

Processor

While this is already a key hardware component in standard computers, it becomes absolutely fundamental in mini PCs. Two brands dominate the market: Intel and AMD. Both of these manufacturers offer a wide range of processor chips, so don’t hesitate to do more research about them before making your purchase.

Broadly speaking, nettops tend to integrate single or dual-core processors. But that number isn’t everything; you should also consider the frequency at which they work and whether or not they have multithreaded technology. The latter allows them to manage two processes for each core simultaneously.

Steve WozniakCo-Founder of Apple

“Our first computers were born not out of greed or ego, but in the revolutionary spirit of helping common people rise above the most powerful institutions.”

RAM

As you may know, the RAM is the most important hardware component of any computer, along with the processor. Today, you shouldn’t have anything inferior to 2GB. If you don’t want to end up with limitations performing specific tasks, however, we advise you to choose a mini PC with at least 4GB of RAM. You might also want to check whether or not the device offers expansion possibilities to increase its capacity in the future.

Storage Capacity

The storage capacity isn’t as important an aspect as it is for desktop computers. However, we still want to go over the two options available to you. On the one hand, you have traditional physical hard drives (HDDs); on the other, you find solid-state drives (SSDs). In addition, you can generally complement them with SD cards.

It could be a deciding factor in your purchase, so don’t forget to check if the device you’re interested in has an SD card slot, as well as its maximum capacity. If it does, a 64GB hard drive may be enough, depending on how you intend to use it. In any case, remember that SSDs allow you to boot the mini PC faster.

Mini PCs are a fantastic option for anyone with a limited budget.
(Source: Gregoriosz: 8258134733/Flirck.com)

Connectivity Options

Since these computers are so small, the connectivity options they offer are critical. You will want to have as many as possible. Start by checking how many USB ports your device features, as well as their type. The latest and fastest version is the USB Type-C.

But quantity isn’t everything; their location is also key. Having a couple of connectors on the front of the mini PC will come in handy. If you want to play content in resolutions superior to Full HD, you will need HDMI and/or DisplayPort connectivity. Last but not least, your nettop should allow you to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet port.

Summary

Technological advances are constantly bringing us more powerful and smaller electronic equipment. PCs are at the forefront of this trend. Nowadays, you can find mini PCs with high-quality features and dimensions that allow you to carry them with you in your backpack or even your pocket.

Besides, these devices are incredibly versatile. You can use them as home multimedia centers, for office automation, as video game emulators, and even as servers. This is why the use you will make of your nettop is even more important to consider than its technical specs.

Did you find our shopping guide on mini PCs helpful to make your purchase? We’d love to hear your opinion, so feel free to leave us a comment in the section below. You can also share this article on your social media for others to enjoy!

(Featured Image Source: Gregoriosz: 8258134733/ flirck.com)

Why you can trust me?

Brett Holmes Technology Geek
Brett is a keen observer of the latest technology trends and knows his way around the industry because he runs an electronics store. He writes about it in his spare time and wants to help others learn more about the technology industry.