The Best Mini PC Computer Models for 2021

Mini PCs offer a compact alternative to traditional desktop computers. As long as you have the right peripherals available, you can move mini PCs around to wherever you want, plugging them into available monitors or TVs for immediate availability. That makes them useful for flexible work situations, traveling presentations, LAN parties, and a variety of other tasks. Here are our favorite mini PCs of the year so far.

If you want to go even smaller, consider taking a look at our list of the best stick PCs as well.

Best mini PCs

Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit

If you don’t want to deal with a heavy gaming laptop but do like the idea of a more portable gaming PC that you can move around when necessary, this mini PC could be for you. The Intel NUC 9 is a “barebone” kit, which means you’ll need to mod it with your preferred amount of storage, RAM, GPU type, and so on to get the specs you want, but when complete, it can serve as a powerful gaming machine in a compact package.

The NUC 9 Extreme kit comes with an eight-core, ninth-gen Intel i9-9980HK processor and a Wi-Fi 6 card. It supports up to 64GB of RAM and includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports, along with an HDMI 2.0a port. It supports Intel Optane solid-state drives and Intel Optane Memory M10/H10 when you are ready to add RAM. It may take some investment, but this is one of the best ways to get a compact and transportable gaming PC that can keep up with the action.

Mac Mini (M1 version)

The long-awaited update to the Mac Mini did not disappoint. Apple upgraded the Mini with its new eight-core M1 processor, which offers a sizable boost in performance and allows the Mini to outperform even other M1 devices like the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. In other words, you don’t have to worry if the Mac Mini is capable enough for your work.

While you do have a number of customization options, the Mac Mini is probably one of your most affordable choices for this kind of performance. Buyers can choose between 8GB or 16GB of RAM, 256GB to 2TB of SSD storage, and Gigabit Ethernet or 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Professionals may also want to add pre-installed software like Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro. If you’re looking for something that’s ready to work right out of the box, this is one of the best mini PC options — just make sure you have a collection of peripherals ready to use with it.

HP Z2 Mini G5 Workstation

HP’s own mini Workstations are the definition of capable. Without wowing us in any specific way, they are simply very competent and compact PCs designed to be workhorses in offices with more flexible layouts and for workers who may want authorization to take their computers home for a bit of remote work from time to time.

While several different models are available, we prefer the more powerful specs on the Mini G5 Workstation. The eight-core, 10th-generation Intel i7-10700 processor is backed up by 16GB of RAM, plus memory slots for expanding the PC’s capabilities. There’s also 512GB of PCIe NVME SSD storage and a discrete Nvidia Quadro P620 graphics card. Two USB-A and two USB-C ports are included, as well as DisplayPort 1.4, and the PC is Wi-Fi 6 capable.

Lenovo ThinkCentre M70q Tiny Desktop

Lenovo’s entry in the mini-PC market is an excellent pick for affordability, especially if the HP Workstations look too pricey and you don’t need a ton of performance, just a compact computer. The PC offers a two-core, 10th-gen Intel Pentium Gold G6400T processor, plus 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD. Graphics are handled by the integrated Intel UHD hardware, while ports include USB-C, USB-A 3.2, DisplayPort, and HDMI.

There is room for upgrades on this ThinkCentre PC, included expansion slots for an SSD, adding Wi-Fi, installing new ports, and so on — adding some much-needed versatility to this inexpensive PC. It can make a strong alternative to a laptop if you prefer to work with larger monitors.

Acer Chromebox CXI3-UA91

A Chromebox offers the advantages of a Chromebook — great affordability, the easy-to-use Chrome OS, speedy startup, etc. — but with the option to use it with the monitor of your choice instead of being stuck with a particular laptop screen. This model offers an Intel Celeron 3867u processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD; more storage space than you usually find in a Chromebook at an equivalent cost.

As a bonus, this Acer Chromebox comes with a keyboard, mouse, and a VESA mounting kit if you find a monitor you like and want to mount it to a wall. Connections include a USB-C with DisplayPort over USB-C support, three USB-A 3.1 ports, two USB-A 2.0 ports, and an HDMI port. If you’re comfortable using Chrome OS and want to save money, this mini PC is a great pick and can be quickly connected to any nearby monitor or TV.

Azulle Byte4 Pro

Azulle produces some very competitive stick PCs, so it’s no surprise that the brand’s mini PC is also an excellent choice for those who want a very compact model and don’t need a ton of power to get the job done. It comes with a quad-core Intel Gemini Lake 41 Series processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage, plus an SD card for expanding storage options when necessary.

While small, the Byte4 Pro still manages to include built-in dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity as well as a Gigabit Ethernet port. There are also four USB-A 3.0 ports and a USB-C port for a variety of connections. This type of mini PC works best to help add streaming capabilities to an entertainment center or serve as a portable, easy option for holding presentation data when you aren’t sure what peripherals you will be working with at all times.

Zotac Zbox CI622

The Zotac Zbox is another versatile kit that can easily serve as a desktop replacement or anything else you might need. The sleek design is made for effective passive cooling, while inside, you’ll find a dual-core, 10th-gen Intel Core i3-10110U processor. The kit is also packed with ports, including six USB-A 3.1 ports, two USB-C ports, HDMI 2.0, and DisplayPort 1.2.

Like some of our other picks, this Zotac Zbox is barebones, and PC builders will need to install their own memory and storage. Fortunately, the Zbox makes that customization extra-simple to complete, and buyers can choose the specs they want to support anything from gaming to a dedicated machine for editing or design. We chose a relatively affordable processor option for this pick, but multiple CPUs are available, including an Intel Core i7 model for a significant power boost.

Waveshare Raspberry Pi 400

Raspberry Pi is synonymous with smaller, independent computer projects, and Waveshare has done an excellent job of converting the Raspberry Pi 4 into a capable mini PC at a cost that’s accessible for nearly any buyer. The friendly design includes thermal features made to keep the computer cool no matter what you are doing, and specs include the quad-core, 64-bit processor, 4GB of RAM, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, and two micro HDMI ports  (plus USB for power). You will need a microSD card to support the OS and storage, but a keyboard is included.

The Waveshare Raspberry Pi kit is an excellent choice for a tiny computer you can take anywhere with you on your travels and plug into any available TV. It also works well as an introduction to PCs for kids or even an alternative PC to test out software in an environment more isolated from your primary computer.

Research and buying FAQ

What is a mini PC?

These are PCs with a compact form that are made to easily fit in small spaces where a full PC tower couldn’t, as well as being easily transportable if you need to move around between different workspaces or rooms. However, they are designed to provide most if not all of the capabilities of a full desktop PC.

Note that this differs from a stick PC, which is a smaller device made to plug into TVs or monitors, and all-in-ones, which combine a desktop computer and monitor into one device.

Are mini PCs any good?

Mini PC specs can often soar as high as any desktop PC (although they aren’t as friendly for modding or upgrades), so they can be very good if you are willing to pay for a high-end version. However, mini PCs are also a strong choice if you want to save money on something simpler than the standard desktop PC, as our Asus Chromebox pick shows. This requires a compromise on specs like storage and RAM, though.

What should I look for in a mini PC?

Since mini PCs can vary significantly, start by thinking about your needs. Do you need something that can mimic a traditional desktop PC at work? HP’s Workstation option may be the best pick. Do you need compatibility with Apple devices? Apple’s latest M1-powered Mac Mini is the best choice. Do you want to save money and focus on portability? Something like Lenovo’s ThinkCentre or a Chromebox is a good choice. Focus on the specs that are most important to you, and look at all upgrade options before you make your choice.

What CPU should you look for in a mini PC?

This is another choice that will depend on your own needs. Powerful desktop alternatives like our Intel and HP picks use eight-core Intel processors and enough RAM to handle a range of more demanding tasks. The Asus Chromebox keeps things light with an Intel Celeron chip that’s great for Chrome OS but not the best pick for more complex software. Apple has upgraded the Mac Mini with its own M1 processor, a significant improvement to CPUs of the past that Apple fans should be happy with.

Can you use a mini PC for gaming?

You certainly can. Our first Intel NUC kit is designed specifically for gaming, as some gamers prefer a compact PC to take with them on the road for LAN gaming. Gamers may have to put in a little more work — and consider a higher budget — into outfitting a mini PC with their desired components, but it’s definitely possible.

What accessories are advisable for a mini PC?

First, look to see if the mini PC is bundled with anything. Some already include a mouse and keyboard. If not, that’s where you should start — our wireless keyboard guide can help.

If your workspace doesn’t already have a monitor ready for a PC, then you will also need to choose a monitor. A set of speakers may be a good idea for your workspace, too, and you may like to include an external hard drive for more expansive storage.

Editors’ Recommendations

Above article first published by . We curated and re-published.