Mini PCs fill a niche that meets unique home or office computing needs, especially where space saving is a priority. These highly versatile, mini-computers are known for their low power usage and ultra-quiet, or even fanless, noise profile.

Users might employ a mini PC to power their workstations, personal computers, home entertainment centers, gaming, or digital signs. 

While there’s no single best mini PC, the model you choose depends on your use case.

For example, the HP mini PC ProDesk 600 G5 is a great all-around performer with a Six-core Intel Core i5-9500T processor, 8 GB of memory, and plenty of ports.

Meanwhile, if you’re on a budget, the Zotac ZBOX Edge CI341 gives you a solid 1.1 GHz quad core processor, and its ultra-thin design tucks away nearly anywhere. 

What is a mini PC used for?

Mini PCs work perfectly for web browsing, document management, large spreadsheets, or running applications at a distance. You can even use them for basic photo and video editing work.

Their small size and versatility meet nearly any other need you can imagine.

Plus, for PC building, add ons and upgrades offer tons of flexibility if you want customized memory or storage. 

Another big advantage of these compact computers is multiport diversity.

This means you can plug into a keyboard, mouse, digital camera, and a few monitors at once. For example, it’s not uncommon for a mini PC to have up to 7 USB ports. This is why they make sense for office work as you can connect to a variety of devices without taking up much space. 

Mini PCs offer high-end performance packed into super tiny and versatile devices.

They can be installed in conference rooms to have permanent, immediate PC access for presentations or video conferencing.

The small size enables an adaptable setup that moves easily to the build site, shop floor, or data center.

Mini PCs can be mounted under a desk, or hidden behind a display to power digital signage systems.

In some ways, the only reason mini PCs have any size at all is to provide for multiple I/O ports which is a hallmark of the mini’s utility.

Even 3D responsiveness and fast render times are possible with top-grade Intel processors and graphics which you can either build in or buy installed. 

One of the fastest-growing use cases is mini PCs for digital signage.

Today, digital signs are highly integrated components of business communications in corporate offices, healthcare, government, and more. 

As messages change frequently, and graphics become more advanced, a mini PC is the perfect solution for any organization’s digital sign strategy. The combination of small size, low power use, low noise, and versatility give them the ability to pivot easily between powering digital signs or a workstation. 

Many businesses with extra mini PCs have smartly repurposed them for digital signage. 

Models like the Intel NUC or Zotac offer advantages like:

  • Sleek profile and ultra quiet
  • Full HD with up to 4k support
  • Reliable and robust technology 
  • Choice of digital signage software

Can they be used for gaming?

Originally, mini PCs were designed as workhorses and not so much for the gamer environment. With the continuous rise in gaming popularity, a mini PC gamer market sprouted as well.

As a mini PC pioneer, Zotac fills this niche nicely.

Most Zotac Magnus models have the same dimensions: 8.27 x 7.99 x 2.45 inches. This makes the Magnus line smaller than a PS4, and the base model packs a GTX 1660 and up to 32 GB RAM and i5-9300H.

Zotac’s Zbox Magnus carries dedicated GeForce graphics beefy enough for serious PC gaming at an acceptable resolution of 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels, AKA Full HD). There are several versions of the Magnus. Some even boast a top-tier RTX 2080 or an RTX 2070 Super graphics card.

Mini PC vs. Desktop PC vs. Laptop

You don’t need a limousine to get to the corner store when a bike is much more practical.

The same goes for different levels of computing power and configuration.

For example, the laptop is a complete and closed system, and some are powerful enough to tackle the most advanced gaming. However, laptop customization might be redundant, and it would be impractical to control a retail store’s wall screens with a mounted laptop.

The traditional PC offers the highest level of customization, and its computing power can’t be beat. Still, the PC tower and loud fan make it less than optimal for areas where space and silence are at a premium.  

Meanwhile, the mini PC can be built up exactly as you want it. Overall computing power might be less with the mini group. As everything gets smaller though, there are some mini PCs that can tolerate even fairly advanced game graphics.

How much do they cost?

This is the same as asking how much a car costs. Do you want a Ferrari or a Kia Rio? Several factors affect cost, such as size and computing power.

The cheapest mini PCs are less than $100, such as the Guzila Fanless mini PC. This low-cost model comes with Intel Atom CPU, Windows 10 OS, 1.92 GHz processor, and 2GB of memory. Plus, it’s WiFi and Bluetooth enabled out of the box.

At a size of 6.75 x 4.75 x 2.25 inches, you get a lot in a tiny package. However, if you need advanced graphics or are working with video and image editing, this model won’t cut it.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the MSI MPG Trident 3 which retails at $4,639.

This beast boasts a Windows 10 Pro OS, Intel Core i7 CPU, 2.9 GHz processor, 64GB DDR4 of RAM, and NVIDIA RTX 2060 Super 8GB GDDR6 Dedicated Graphics for VR Readiness.

That’s a powerful package for even advanced gamers, but there’s a catch. At 14 x 3 x 10 inches and 7 pounds, this model pushes the limit when it comes to the mini PC size category.

How to build a mini PC

Some mini PCs do not come fully kitted. They may be little more than a motherboard mounted onto a chassis. You’ll then need to install a storage drive (hard drive and/or a solid-state drive), RAM, and operating system to get it up and running as a full fledged PC. 

While building makes everything more customizable, it also requires careful planning to make sure the components fit into the tiny space. In many cases, the parts come from the laptop universe rather than traditional PC sized parts.

Mini devices equipped without drive, RAM, and OS components require adequate mini PC build knowledge, so do your homework before you buy. For highly technical enthusiasts, this is a dream come true.

Remember, you must consider specialized hardware and a Windows license (or go with Linux) into the total cost. Many small PCs are only compatible with DDR4 SO-DIMMs (laptop sized) RAM for their main memory.

Storage can get even more complex. Since mini PCs are super small, you may need a 2.5-inch drive or a super modern M.2 SSD. Again, advanced knowledge about interface and sizing will come into play here.

While many mini PCs do come with WiFi, make sure you check for this specifically before buying. If not, you’ll need to add on a WiFi card that fits your mini PC model. While you can always plug in a USB enabled WiFi antenna, purists will want to build it in, out of the way. 

The same goes for Bluetooth addons. Intel makes a Dual Band Wireless WiFi & Bluetooth Card which might fit the bill. Again, when you’re building your own mini computer, make sure every piece fits before you click buy.

With their small size and lightweight, mini PCs are perfect to piggyback onto a monitor mounted under a desk. The VESA Interface Standard is used for TV wall mounts and wall mounting systems, adapted by most TV brands.

By now, some home theater enthusiasts have already figured out that you can mount a mini PC to boost your television’s computing capability.    

The future

If you need computing power in tight spaces, the mini PC is a fantastic option. With a wide variety of models to choose from, you’re sure to satisfy your specific needs or interests. In the future, these mini-computers will be certain to grow in power and popularity… but not in size! 

Remember, your smartphone is really a mini PC. The lines between PC, handheld device, and mini PC will get even more blurred with time. Essentially, whatever your need is, you’ll be able to find a device that fits.