While Chromebooks and netbooks are dominating the market for lightweight machines built for everyday needs, there’s an alternative that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. The mini PC – or “Nettop” PC – is designed to take up less space in your home or office, cost less money, and use less power than a desktop PC. If you spend most of your time browsing the web and watching videos or you’re looking to outfit an entire office with cost-effective solutions, a mini PC is one of the best choices.
Whether you’re new to the world of mini PCs or just looking to track down the best model after weeks of research, we can help. We’ve put together no-nonsense reviews for 10 of the best mini PC models and a full shopping guide.
Quick Look: 10 Best Mini PCs in 2020
- HP ProDesk 405 G4 Desktop Mini PC
- New Apple Mac mini
- ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U Mini PC
- SMALLRT Fanless Mini PC
- Acer Chromebox Mini PC
- HP Pavilion Wave Compact Desktop Computer
- Lenovo ThinkCentre M710q Tiny Mini PC
- Intel Hades Canyon Content Creation NUC
- Azulle Access3 Mini PC
- ZOTAC ZBOX CI325 Nano Fanless Mini PC
1. HP ProDesk 405 G4 Desktop Mini PC
Making the Most of the AMD Chipset
Anyone who's ever used a Hewlett Packard machine will be happy to know that their mini PCs can keep pace with their laptop and desktop PCs. It's also proof that if you need a mini PC on a budget, the use of AMD processors is a perfectly feasible choice. Both a Ryzen 5 CPU and a Radeon GPU are included for some pretty respectable workplace performance and the capabilities to even run some less power efficient software.
Best of all, this mini PC has an incredibly compact design. With a weight of less than two pounds and a maximum dimension of eight inches, it can easily be packed in your bag and hidden away from your desk. If you want an entry level mini PC that really bridges the gap between portability, price, and functionality, you could do worth than this mini PC.
2. New Apple Mac mini
Apple's Trademark Design, Just Smaller
When Apple releases a new device, you can be assured of two things: that it will offer some of the coolest design and smartest features around, and that it will cost quite a bit of money. Fortunately, the value you get with this mini PC is well worth it, and it's an especially strong choice for those who are used to running in the MacOS ecosystem but don't have the money to invest in a new MacBook.
The specs of this mini PC are built with creatives in mind above all else. And while it's not the most easy mini PC to upgrade, that shouldn't be a big deal. The quality of the specs on display here should last most users for a good few years to come. This is a mini PC built with creatives in mind first and foremost, and it has specs built to match.
3. ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N017U Mini PC
Making the Most of What Chrome Offers
With both focusing on the ability to provide quality performance with low pricing and portability in mind, Chromebooks and mini PCs seem like a match made in heaven. And if all of them were built like the ASUS Chromebox, they would be. The Celeron processor isn't the best we've ever seen, but it's very fair for the budget price range, and it's more than enough to handle most of the apps that can run on Chrome OS natively.
And while this mini PC uses an integrated graphics card, it's still capable enough of playing video in 4K UHD resolution. And with the Chrome OS interface, you can set up some very precise configurations. Whether you're looking to expand on your video editing rig, create a media server for your home, or create a kid accessible way to get on the internet and watch videos, all the tools are here.
4. SMALLRT Fanless Mini PC
Quiet but Meaningful Fanless Performance
For a lot of users, having a mini PC is all about getting the basic fundamentals of a PC without having to spend much money. The Guzila will fit that bill. Its lightweight specs means that it can maintain a tiny form factor, and it doesn't even need to use a fan, so you can count on it to run quietly and efficiently without the risk of overheating. But perhaps the best factor here is the fact that it retails for right around a hundred bucks.
And while the specs here are far from the best we've ever seen, Guzila has taken some smart steps to ensure that there's still room to grow without having to raise the price tag. The storage is a little light, but it's easy to expand upon it with a simple USB drive. It even comes with Windows Pro installed and ready to go.
5. Acer Chromebox Mini PC
A Beefier Approach to the Chrome OS
The Acer Chromebox is a model that runs on the Chrome OS, but unlike many other models that bear the "Chromebox" moniker, they're more about performance than about savings. The Core i7 chip goes well above the standards of even many of the best mini PC models, and if you really want to make the most of the specs here, running a dual boot of Linux is actually highly recommended here. It's actually a pretty beefy PC once you look past the self-made limitations.
That i7 processor also means this ranks among the best mini PC gaming models around, although it could get a little bottle-necked by the inclusion of an integrated rather than discrete graphics processor. The Chromebox is small enough to attach to the rear of your monitor and stay out of sight and fast and secure enough to serve as a dedicated office PC.
6. HP Pavilion Wave Compact Desktop Computer
A Smart Speaker and PC in One Package
The Pavilion series from HP has an expansive grip on the market, covering everything from gaming rigs to productivity machines, but the one thing all of these models (including the Pavilion Wave Compact) share is their overall quality. The design here is a far cry from most desktop PCs, and most mini PCs for that matter. Created to work as both a speaker and a PC, it operates admirably as both. And the understated form factor means that it will fit aesthetically in practically any space.
In short, you can think of this model as a supercharged alternative to a traditional voice assistant speaker like the Amazon Echo Dot. But the specs here go well beyond you'd expect from a home speaker. The i5 processor makes this a best choice for everyone from gamers to professionals, but it can also serve backup as a great media playing platform.
7. Lenovo ThinkCentre M710q Tiny Mini PC
A lot of mini PCs are designed to be small both in terms of size and performance power, but not the ThinkCentre. The ThinkCenter has the heart of a heavyweight desktop PC in the body of a featherweight mini PC. The Intel i5 processor is seventh gen, and it combines well with the middleweight performance of the Intel integrated graphics card. It's not the best performance for the size, but it's more than respectable.
Lenovo has gotten generous with compatibility too. In addition to a full six USB 3.0 ports, you'll also find a pair of microphone and headphone ports, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, and an antenna for wireless 802.11ac Wi-Fi support. Podcasters, content creators, and DJs and musicians will find this to be a reliably dedicated mini PC catered to their specific needs. This model comes with both a mouse and keyboard along with Windows 10 pre-installed.
8. Intel Hades Canyon Content Creation NUC
With a name like "Hades Canyon" and a neon skull emblazoned on the size, Intel's premium micro PC looks like a gaming rig through and through. But while the charged specs make it one of the best micro computers for gaming, it's also a powerhouse for content creators. Intel has made the interesting choice of pairing an Intel i7 CPU with a RX Vega graphics card, and it's a choice that offers far better performance than you'd get with Intel UHD graphics.
Content creators will be pleased with the readily accessible SD card port, and both they and gamers will benefit from the generous amount of USB ports - including one that's always on for more easily charging your other devices. This mini PC also makes use of a cutting edge cooling system that provides ruthless performance without making a whole lot of noise.
9. Azulle Access3 Mini PC
The Azulle Access3 isn't built like a traditional mini PC. Instead, it follows in the trend of stick-based streaming sticks like the Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. But an investment of just a little more will give you a stick PC that can serve as your entertainment hub and a way to browse the web and make use of common office documents directly on either your TV or your desktop monitor.
And since this is a stick PC that runs the full Windows 10 operating system, you can carry all of your entertainment or work related documents comfortably in your pocket. Unfortunately, the flash storage is a little tight, but it's easy to upgrade. All you need is an SDXC card to improve your capacity to over a quarter of a terabyte, and if you want to get involved in some light gaming, it can run 4K at decently high frame rates.
10. ZOTAC ZBOX CI325 Nano Fanless Mini PC
The honeycomb holes scattered across the Zotac Zbox lends it an interesting design, but it's a fundamentally practical choice. Thanks to the exceptional ventilation, this mini PC doesn't even need to rely on cooling fans. That also means its power usage is very low, so it's an especially appropriate choice for a small business that needs multiple PCs running at the same time. And when running on an SSD, this micro PC runs practically silent.
Despite that, it's a micro PC built with productivity in mind. The abundance of ports allows it to support up to three monitors at the same time, and it's capable of playing 4K content in its native resolution. The lightweight memory can be expanded by attaching any number of SD card formats, and there's a decent variety of outputs for connecting to a range of different displays.
Mini PC Buyer’s Guide
Even the best mini PCs are generally going to offer specs that are much lighter than the traditional PC or laptop. The advantage here is portability and price, and while that makes it very useful for a small segment of the population, it’s still a pretty niche audience. We’ll help you set your limitations by outlining the common specs below and help you understand if a mini PC is going to be the best choice for your home or office.
It’s also to keep in mind that the best mini PC models can be quite different from one another in terms of specs. Everything from the processors to the storage capacity can vary wildly even within the same price range, so you need to pay more attention than you might when shopping for desktop PCs to focus your attention on the mini PC specs that matter most to you.
Intel Core processors are the standard for most PCs for the desktop, and they continue to feature prominently on our best mini PCs list. An i3 processor represents entry level performance, while i5 is a heftier CPU that occupies the middle of the road and is appropriate for gaming and serious productivity. A few desktop PC models offer an i7: a serious piece of hardware that can usually run games at the highest settings and handle more serious software without loading and stuttering.
But the lightweight and low cost design standard of mini PCs means that many opt for more lightweight CPUs. The Intel Celeron and the Intel Atom series provide some super cheap performance that’s great for everyday work and perfectly suited to checking emails, writing in a word processor, and browsing the web.
Even the best mini PCs aren’t usually designed for serious gaming or running high end software, so the lack of serious graphical performance on mini PCs isn’t that big of a deal. Almost all mini PCs are going to come with an integrated graphics card. On the downside, these GPUs aren’t very powerful and have to share RAM with the CPU. On the upside, graphics cards aren’t that important except for gaming, so the best mini PC won’t suffer too much from the absence of serious performance.
Don’t get us wrong. Intel’s integrated graphics cards are okay for casual gaming, but these is an option if you’re a little more serious about gaming. AMD utilizes a technology called an APU that’s used in many mini PCs and split the difference between a discrete and an integrated graphics card. If you want the best mini PC for gaming, a pair of dual matched AMD chips is the best way to go.
You don’t need to worry too much about memory and storage on a desktop mini PC because upgrading them is pretty easy, but even the best mini PCs tend to be more lightweight on these specs than the alternative. The compact design of these mini PCs mean there’s less room for fitting in hardware, and usually the memory and hard drive are the first things to go when trying to cut corners.
In lieu of a traditional hard drive, many mini PCs utilize flash memory in place of a traditional SSD or HDD. That’s because these machines are built with the intention of saving most of your files and folders in the cloud. That said, they’re pretty easy to expand. A USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt 3 port can be used to connect an external drive, just as long as you don’t mind sacrificing some of the compact design that’s one of the best features of a mini PC.
Memory is equally as stripped down for the sake of keeping micro PCs at about 2.5-inch thickness. That said, most manufacturers are pretty good about making sure that the memory in their rigs are well balanced to the other hardware packed in. The models on our list actually cover a pretty wide variety in terms of RAM available. Models running on the Chrome operating system tend to be restricted to only two of four RAM, but the more beefy systems that run on Windows 10 can include up to 8 or even 16 GB.
Mini PCs are usually small enough to attach to the back of your monitor without having to sit on the desktop at your home or office, and that’s as much a limitation as the lower prices are in terms of packing in more hardware. Most will make use of a 2.5-inch drive, which is more commonly used in laptop than desktop machines.
In terms of the overall size, mini PCs can vary some. While most are small enough to be taken away from the desktop and in your pocket, the actual form factor can vary on. The differences between different models probably won’t be a deal for most users, but if you want a mini PC that can easily fit in your pocket, you should look for one with dimensions of roughly 5-inch by 2.5-inch dimensions.
The same operating systems that are prolific in desktop computers are common in mini PCs too. The same general rules apply. Windows 10 Pro is the most common desktop to run on, and MacOS is still only accessible on machines that are built by Apple. As always, Windows 10 or MacOS can be pretty easily replaced by Linux if you want an operating system that’s more open source.
As you might expect given the intentions of a mini PC, the Chrome operating system is pretty commonly for the mini PC market. This lightweight operating system really plays to the strengths of these machines. Since the Chrome operating system is a cloud based system, the lack of storage isn’t a big deal, and just a few gigabytes of RAM isn’t too restraining. These devices are often a great alternative for those who like the format and compatibility of Chromebooks but also want to be able to make use of larger and more traditional monitors.
Our hope is that even if you’ve never heard of a mini PC before coming to this guide, you’ll leave with all the confidence you need to shop for one with confidence. And if you decide you want something a little more serious, we encourage you to check out our guides to the best budget computers.