Technology is growing more powerful and more compact. As a result, some manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to build small desktop PCs, known as mini PCs.
These compact machines have been around in one form or another for over a decade. Only in recent years has the price and performance of smaller components have made them a compelling alternative to mainstream desktop PCs and laptops.
The best mini PCs take advantage of powerful CPUs and motherboards that can take graphics processing in-house. These integrated graphics processing units (GPUs) mean that the mini PC can still produce incredible resolutions - some even topping out at 4K UHD. More compact and affordable storage has also followed a similar path. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are leaner and speedier than their chunky HDD ancestors, saving space while offering large storage capacities and rapid performance speeds.
Even though they are impressive, mini PCs are still a niche proposition, and thus the selection on offer is more limited than found with other compact tech devices, such as laptops and tablets.
Read on to see our picks for the best mini PCs available today.
What to look for when choosing a mini PC:
Knowing what you’re going to be using a mini PC for will help you avoid disappointment and pick an option with compatible specifications. For creative applications, such as Adobe Lightroom or Logic Pro, high-performing CPU, RAM and GPU are a must. An additional consideration is storage space or quick-transfer USB ports for external drives.
If you’re looking for a machine for internet browsing, emails and basic office suites, then you can aim for something much more modest.
Similar considerations to those around processing power are needed here. What are you using the mini PC for? Documents, family picture and MP3s aren’t going to require much space, meaning that smaller internal drives and cloud-based storage can be relied upon. If you’re working with large movie and image files, then space is going to get tight quickly. An external drive can help to expand available storage.
It’s important to note what format drive a mini PC is using. SSD (Solid State Drive) is much quicker than HDD (Hard Drive Disk) but typically is a little more expensive and lower in capacity. 4K movies, RAW photo files and working music files will perform best with an SSD, due to the amount of information that can be read and written. However, if you need storage for JPEG photos, a large database and general backup, an HDD will provide much higher storage volumes at a lower cost.
You will find some external storage options at the bottom of this article.
Do you have a specific monitor setup in mind? Checking the video interfaces available on a mini PC will help you work out whether it's suitable for your desired arrangement. It’s also worth paying attention to the power of the mini PC’s GPU and related parameters. It will help you get the right monitor (or even TV) and let the mini PC show you what it can do.
Just so you know, while we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this page, we never allow this to influence product selections.
The Best Mini PCs
Apple Mac mini
Lightning-quick performance | Efficient Apple M1 chip | Excellent GPU
If there’s one company that can be trusted to deliver big tech in tiny boxes, it’s Apple. Measuring under 20cm square and 4cm deep, and weighing only 1.2kg, the Apple Mac mini is diminutive, but its performance is anything but.
The Apple M1 CPU provides the Mac mini with its brains - this eight-core silicon divides into two tasks for improved performance. By using "four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores”, apps needing plenty of processing grunt aren’t bottlenecked by simple tasks, and simple tasks have space to zip through with ease. A 16-core Apple Neural Engine is here too for accelerated Machine Learning. This chip works with macOS Big Sur to optimise performance across all tasks.
Also boasting eight cores is the GPU, which is ideal for photographers and filmmakers. The Apple Mac mini is available with either 256GB or 512GB of memory - administrators, feel free to opt for the former. Anyone working with image, music and video files will want the larger size. Of course, the memory can be boosted by an external drive.
There were some compatibility issues between the M1 chip and apps built for Apple-Intel hardware at launch, but this has largely been resolved. Apple’s Rosetta app will translate Intel software to run on the new system with little-to-no detriment to performance. As we move further into the Apple M1 lifecycle, this minor flaw will surely disappear entirely.
The Mac mini doesn't have particularly impressive memory capacities, meaning that anyone working with large files will need an external SSD or HDD.
CPU: Apple M1
GPU: Eight-core GPU
Storage: 256GB, 512GB
Connections: WiFi, ethernet, Bluetooth 5.0, USB A x2, HDMI 2.0 x1, 3.5mm audio out, Thunderbolt / USB 4.0 x 2 (with support for DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 Gen 2, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and VGA)
Size: 19.7 x 19.7 x 3.9 cm | Weight: 1.9kg
Notes: USB support for HDMI, DVI and VGA requires an adapter
Intel NUC 10 Mini PC
Six-core Intel Core i7 | UHD resolution | Windows 10 preinstalled
The Intel NUC range of mini PCs brings the power of its CPUs to smaller form factors. The best in the range is the NUC 10, a mini PC carrying a tenth-generation Intel Core i7-10710U, which can power up to 4.7GHz. While the CU sits comfortably above average, the integrated Intel GPU provides 4K UHD resolution.
Those wanting to integrate the NUC 10 into a home entertainment centre will also be glad of the 7.1 audio support and the 1TB HDD.
The NUC 10 comes with Windows Home 10 preinstalled. The popularity of Microsoft's OS speaks for itself, and it will give easy access to a host of MS software and Windows-based apps. The versatility of Windows 10 and the 16GB RAM makes the NUC 10 a very versatile option. It's ideal for anyone wanting a station suitable for both work and recreation.
Though it provides a tonne of storage, using a mechanical HDD feels a little old school. The price also puts the NUC 10 in competition with the Apple Mac mini.
CPU: Intel i7-10710U
GPU: Intel UHD Graphics, integrated
OS: Windows 10 Home
Connections: WiFi, ethernet, HDMI 2.0a x1, Thunderbolt 3 x1, USB 3.1 x3, USB Type-C x1, SDXC Card Slot
Size: 11.2 x 11.7 x 5.1 cm | Weight: 1.3kg
Acer Chromebox CXI3
Chrome OS | Lightweight system | Neat shell
Leveraging the power of cloud-based computing, the Acer CX13 relies on the Google Chrome OS to deliver its helpful services. Though it’s not a powerhouse, the CXI3 is a well-conceived system with a nippy performance best suited to admin and cloud-based tasks.
Chrome OS offers a streamlined workplace ecosystem, with online and offline access to Google Drive and Google’s office apps: Docs, Slides and Sheets. The Google Play store, a well-stocked app library, is quick at hand, and comprehensive Google security features are at work to keep data transfers secure with encryption.
More powerful CPUs and larger SSDs are available through other models in the Acer Chromebox range. While these certainly have benefits, the modest 32GB version with Intel Celeron 3867U CPU keeps the price within reasonable parameters and stays true to the fuss-free spirit of cloud-based tech.
Though limited compared to macOS and Microsoft Windows, Chrome benefits from being a lean OS, allowing browsing and admin work to be carried out on the modest 1.8GHz CPU and 4GB RAM.
The CXI3 is an expensive way to access Chrome OS, especially when compared to Chromebook laptops. As a cloud-based system, a steady network connection is a must.
CPU: Intel Celeron 3867U
GPU: Intel HD Graphics 610, integrated
Storage: 32GB local
Connections: WiFi, ethernet, HDMI x1, USB Type-C x1, USB 3.0 x1, USB 2.0 x2, 3.5mm audio out
Size: 4 x 14.9 x 15 cm | Weight: 660g
Best external storage for mini PCs:
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