Back in the day, if you wanted to get a computer that you could carry around, the go-to options were laptops. Even though laptops are fine, they may come up short when it comes down to power. If we were to compare a similarly-priced mini PC and a laptop, a mini PC would almost always offer a better value in terms of specs.
If you don’t really use your computer on the go and only need it at work, school, or home, then a mini PC could be just right for you. Most mini PCs are significantly smaller than laptops so they’re also easier to carry around while being more powerful as well. They also have more ports than an average laptop so a mini PC can also end your struggle of carrying around dongles.
But, as gamers, what good is a piece of tech if you can’t run games on it? Initially, most mini PCs were being marketed as productivity machines. But there are some exceptions to this.
Even though most of these PCs may not be able to run the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield games on ultra settings, most are more than powerful enough to run games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and CS:GO with a smooth frame rate.
The competition in the mini PC market is intense. Finding the right one for your specific needs may take hours. If your primary objective is to get some work done on these machines while being able to play some games, then our list should save you some time.
It’s no surprise that Zotac, a company known for its mini graphics cards, is also one of the pioneers of the mini PC industry.
Its Magnus series aims to satisfy the needs of a heavy gamer, wherever they may go. Most Magnus models share the same dimensions: 8.27 inches by 7.99 inches by 2.45 inches. It’s smaller than a PS4 and the base model packs a GTX 1660 alongside up to 32 GB RAM and i5-9300H.
There are a dozen iterations of the Magnus. Some even rock a top-tier RTX 2080 or an RTX 2070 Super graphics card. But keep in mind that the models labeled as “barebone” come without storage and RAM. If you’re planning to go down that route, make sure that what you’re planning to use fits your model.
Business meetings tend to get intense. Tons of Excel files alongside a conference call may require some specs to back it up. Well, those specs can also be used for gaming when you’re at home.
The HP Elite Slice is being marketed as a productivity machine but should really be considered a decent all-around system. It has a form that resembles a headphone case and only weighs 2.31 pounds.
Though the Elite Slice doesn’t come with a GTX graphics card, it features an i5-6500T and 16GB of RAM (upgradable to 32GB) and a 128GB SSD alongside a 1TB HDD.
The Intel HD Graphics 530 graphics card inside is more than enough to satisfy your low to mid-level gaming needs.
Gaming on a Mac used to be a nightmare—not because Apple’s products were lacking in hardware, necessarily. But because most games simply weren’t optimized for it.
Game designers have come a long way since then, though. Most of the popular games out there, like League of Legends and Fortnite, are fully optimized and take advantage of your hardware completely.
The updated base version of the Mac mini features an eighth-gen i3-8100B alongside an Intel UHD Graphics 630 graphics card. In terms of specs, the upgraded version only comes with a noticeably better eighth-generation Intel Core i5 processor with more storage options.
Its body has that industrial, slick look while only weighing 2.9 pounds. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, you can definitely consider the Mac mini.
With its NUC Gaming Kits, Intel aims to deliver a great gaming experience in the size of a console. It also has a great cover that lets everyone know that it’s packing killer specs.
The kits are compact and weigh around two to 2.2 pounds. Keep in mind that some models come without RAM and storage.
The base Extreme Kit model features an i9-9980HK processor alongside an Intel UHD Graphics 630 graphics card and 16 GB of RAM. The RAM is upgradeable to 64 GB.
Though it doesn’t feature a dedicated graphics card, NUC’s performance should be more than enough to get smooth frame rates in less demanding games.
If the Extreme kits were too powerful for your needs, the Home kits might be a home run for you.
The possibilities are almost endless with the Intel NUC Home series. You can either build your customized kit or order one of the prebuilt ones featuring an i3, i5, or i7 processor. They’re quite compact and easy to carry around.
While the Home series should be enough for anything work-related and are also VR ready, they might struggle if you decide to crank up the settings to medium or higher.
Mobile gaming is now bigger than PC gaming and mobile users also need desktop solutions to get their things in order.
Most mobile gamers invest in tablets to give themselves the advantage of a bigger screen. Combined with a decently-sized screen, chromeboxes can turn into a gigantic advantage in mobile games.
Acer Chromebox CXI3 comes with an i5-8250U and 8GB of RAM. It’s essentially cheaper than any Windows equipped machine that shares the same specs since it comes with ChromeOS.
If you’re a PC gamer, getting a chrome device won’t be able to satisfy your gaming needs. But they should be enough for anything work-related. If you find yourself spending more time on mobile games, then the CXI3 may be the choice for you.
Dell CF5C Micro Form Factor Desktop Computer
As its name suggests, the CF5C is one of the most compact options out there when considering its specs. Its form resembles a console and it only weighs 6.1 pounds. The CF5C isn’t customizable and is the top micro PC that Dell has to offer.
The CF5C packs an i5-7500T, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 graphics card. In terms of specs, it’s more than capable of doing anything work and media related.
You can definitely consider this mini PC if you aren’t a hardcore gamer. The integrated graphics card should be enough to satisfy your low to medium gaming needs.
Sacrificing a good GPU is just the price we have to pay for a smaller form factor and a lighter weight.
Shrinking in size means reducing the workload capability of a mini PC. While this statement is true for most of the market, the HP Z2 Mini G4 could be one of the few examples that goes against it. It’s almost impossible to feel any signs of strain while performing day-to-day tasks with this little devil.
The HP Z2 Mini G4 comes in what can potentially be the most minimalistic case for a mini PC. Its sleek design allows it to blend in with the environment, and it’s also quite hard to tell that it’s a PC from a distance.
The model we tested came with an I5-8500 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Combined with an NVIDIA Quadro P600 graphics, the HP Z2 Mini G4 could run indie games and emulator titles without a sweat.
There are a handful of versions of the Z2 Mini G4, each rocking a different spec sheet. The cooling system inside the box does a great job of keeping the temperatures in check. It could get a bit loud in there when the system’s under load, but the noise isn’t close enough to be annoyingly loud. It could be a deal-breaker, however, if you’re looking for that completely silent experience.
Almost all the mini PCs on our list could easily fit into your backpack, but it’s highly unlikely that you can throw them into your pockets. You may have heard about thumb drive PCs before, but considering most of them struggle with the simplest tasks like turning on, the Azulle Access3 was nothing but a breath of fresh air.
The Azulle Access3 does a pretty good job of stuffing the best hardware inside a stick. The Intel Celeron N4100 processor inside is less than ideal for gaming, but it’s enough for casual content consumption and performing simple tasks like working with documents. What makes this stick PC unique is that it even comes with an Ethernet port, in addition to two USB 3.0 ports, which just goes to show how serious it’s to become your daily driver.
You’ll be getting 4GB of RAM, which may make you say, “hey, my phone has more RAM than that.” But it’s the sweet spot for this little device to perform everything it was designed to do. There aren’t any fans inside, and the Access3 relies on a passive cooling system. This cooling system distributes the heat around quite well, but it can still struggle when it’s pushed to limits. If it gets a bit too hot to handle while streaming videos or other hardware-dependent tasks, you don’t have to worry since the components inside were designed to handle the most extreme temperatures.
Despite featuring USB 3.0, the data transfer speeds were slightly lower than what should have been, but it’s quite hard to complain about that when you can carry around your PC inside a tight jean pocket.
Though Azulle Access3 can handle the lightest of indie games and atari titles, it’s hard to recommend this one to a hardcore gamer. You can pull the trigger on this one if you’re looking to consume more gaming-related content than playing, however, since it was designed to do just that.
Though connecting your PC to your router with an Ethernet cable is the best way to eliminate ping and lag, sometimes it may just not be possible. If your router is downstairs and you don’t want to drill a hole through your ceiling, going wireless will be the only option. Most mini PCs come with Wi-Fi adapters inside, but it’s hard to match the quality of the one inside of Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M720q Tiny.
Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M720q Tiny owes most of its wireless connection quality to the antenna slot it has on the back. You should find a small antenna inside its packaging, which you can simply screw in. This antenna increases your mini PC’s Wi-Fi range alongside bettering the overall connection quality.
There’s a lot to consider when picking your ThinkCentre M720q since there countless options when it comes to the internals it stores. The RAM options vary from eight to 16GB, while you can choose from different i3, i5, and i7 processors. You could also decide to bump its storage with a 1TB hard drive or with a larger SSD. All models come with an integrated graphics solution, however, which decreases M720q’s gaming potential.
This compact PC is still enough for users with light gaming habits, and it handles any productivity task like it’s a walk in the park.
SkyTech Legacy Mini
Compared to all the tiny PCs on our list, SkyTech Legacy Mini could look like a giant. Though it’ll almost be impossible to fit it in a backpack, it’s still compact enough to move it around easily. SkyTech Legacy Mini made it into the list because it didn’t feel complete without an option for hardcore gamers. Most mini PCs lack a dedicated graphics card and cooling system to play resource-hungry games, which leaves competitive gamers empty-handed.
You’ll get to choose from processors like AMD Ryen 7 1700 and 2700 to go with your Legacy mini, alongside graphics card options such as NVIDIA’s RTX 2060 and 2070. Like most mini PCs, this gaming beast also comes with a Wi-Fi antenna that further increases its portability. You’ll be able to set it up anywhere around your house, and you should be good to go if you have a strong enough Wi-Fi signal.
SkyTech also issues a year-long warranty for all of your parts in addition to what they already have, doubling the available protection. The rig’s standard cooling setup ensures a decent airflow, but you can opt-in for water cooling as well. Considering the limited space inside the case, water cooling does wonders to keep the temperatures low.
Alternative solution: External GPUs
EGPUs are basically graphics cards that are housed inside specially designed panels. Configuring them is quite easy since you only need to plug them into your laptop or your gaming machine via a Thunderbolt 3 or any advised type of port to get them running. Most have a quite straight forward installation process since your system should detect them, but some may require you to install additional drivers.
A laptop with decent-enough specs to match a mini PC should already be good enough for light gaming. It’s quite difficult to get a high-tier gaming performance out of a mini PC without paying the big bucks, making the external GPUs an excellent form of power boost for your laptop.
The portability side of things will obviously be worse, but an eGPU can be the difference between getting smooth frame rates in a triple-A title and being able to run it.
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