Forget about clearing off desk space for your next desktop PC. 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 or squeeze a media server into your entertainment center, there’s a mini PC made for you. Among the best mini PCs we’ve reviewed are the Apple Mac mini (2018) and the Azulle Access Plus.
See all of our recommendations below, and also check out our best gaming desktop PCs if you want more power.
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.
The Mac that helped introduce the mini PC is back and better than ever. The Apple Mac mini (2018) has a new look and excellent performance. The new design stays cooler, runs quieter, and offers more power, putting up impressive performance results despite using an 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor. Putting better-equipped systems to shame, the new Mac mini (2018) is a no-brainer for any Mac mini user looking to upgrade, and a smart choice for anyone else.
The Azulle Byte3 is a perfect fit for cord cutters and streaming fanatics, sinc ethe compact mini PC is small enough to add to an home theater system, but capable of streaming 4K video without hiccups. The fanless mini PC runs silent, the packs an Intel Apollo Lake Celeron processor (perfect for streaming, but not for multitasking productivity) and lets you add storage after purchase. It even comes with a slick remote control for easy control from the couch.
The Azulle Access Plus is the best we’ve seen with the stick PC design. The tiny PC has an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor, giving it the power to run your day-to-day apps and browse the web with capable comfort, and a built in micro SD card slot lets you bolster the included 32GB of eMMC storage. But small touches like a positionable Wi-Fi antenna and built-in Ethernet port make this one of the best mini PCs around, regardless of the design.
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 Acer Chromebox CXI3.
Want something for hardcore gaming? Check out the Intel Hades Canyon NUC because of its compact, console-like design; speedy performance; and support for the fastest solid-state drives. It’s its Intel Core i7-8009G/AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH hybrid chip is not only up for gaming, it can even handle VR.
For the office, there’s the Lenovo ThinkCentre M710q Tiny, which puts a whole lot of desktop hardware into its compact 7 x 7-inch chassis. The little work PC offers plenty of configuration options, several handy accessories and even the option to turn it into an All-in-One PC with Lenovo’s Tiny-in-One monitors.
If you need even more horsepower, the HP Z2 Mini G4 packs a workstation PC into a compact size. Built to support AutoCAD and other demanding applications, the Z2 Mini boasts an Intel Xeon processor and Vendor-certified Nvidia Quadro graphics. It’s the most powerful mini PC we’ve reviewed, and the smallest workstation we’ve seen.
The small size of the Byte3 (5.6 x 4 x 1.5 inches) will easily mount to the back of a TV or monitor. The compact design still offers options to upgrade after purchase, and the slick looks means that even though you can easily hide it away, you might not want to. If you want a great mini PC for home entertainment use, the Azulle Byte3 mini is our favorite.”>
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, where appropriate, the latest shipping version of Windows (currently Windows 10).
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