Compact mini PCs have become increasingly popular for home use in recent years. Their small size takes up minimal desk space, yet they pack a surprising amount of computing power. Mini PCs are lightweight and portable, operate silently, and sip power compared to bulky desktop towers. With so many options on the market, it can be tricky to determine which mini PC is right for your needs and budget. This guide will showcase the top compact mini PCs available for home use and provide tips for choosing the perfect model to suit your lifestyle. Let’s dive in!
What Are Mini PCs?
First, what exactly are mini PCs? As the name implies, they are pint-sized personal computers that offer complete desktop-class or laptop-class computing in a tiny package. The smallest models are about the size of a paperback book or smaller. Despite their diminutive size, mini PCs squeeze in processors, memory, storage drives, wireless connectivity, a full suite of ports, and preloaded operating systems. They can handle common computing tasks like web browsing, media streaming, document editing, email, and more.
Mini PCs excel for home use because they:
- Take up very little space. Perfect for small apartments.
- Run silently and stay cool without noisy fans.
- Consume a fraction of the power of larger PCs.
- Connect seamlessly to any TV/monitor and peripherals.
- Weigh just a few pounds for easy mobility.
- Offer wireless connectivity for cable-free desks.
- Provide versatility to use anywhere in the home.
With so many advantages, it’s no wonder mini PCs are surging in home popularity. Now let’s look at some of the top models available in 2023.
Top 5 Compact Mini PCs for Home Use
Mini PC #1: Asus CHROMEBOX 3
The Asus CHROMEBOX 3 tops the list for its winning blend of affordability, performance, and simplicity. This miniature PC measures just 5.85 x 5.85 x 1.65 inches and weighs 1.2 pounds. It runs the Chrome OS operating system developed by Google that is optimized for web-based activities.
- Intel Core i3-10110U processor
- 8GB DDR4 RAM
- 64GB eMMC storage
- Intel UHD Graphics
- WiFi 5, Bluetooth 4.2
- 4 x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1 x USB-C 3.2, HDMI, headphone jack
- Extremely easy to set up and use
- Built-in virus protection and automatic updates
- Quick boot time and snappy performance
- Good for basic tasks like web browsing, streaming, simple games
- Affordable price point
- Limited local storage space
- Chrome OS not compatible with Windows/Mac software
- Mediocre benchmark performance scores
For simple plug-and-play functionality right out of the box, the Asus CHROMEBOX 3 is a top choice. The ample 8GB RAM keeps multitasking smooth. Built-in Google services like Gmail, Docs, and Drive complement the cloud-based Chrome OS seamlessly. Overall performance is snappy for casual use. While more demanding tasks like photo editing may be sluggish, it handles everyday internet activities without issue. Overall an excellent mini PC for home web-focused use.
Mini PC #2: HP ProDesk 400 G6 Microtower
Moving up a notch in performance brings us to the HP ProDesk 400 G6. This mini tower stands at a petite 9.5 x 9.5 x 3.95 inches but delivers desktop-grade power. It runs Windows 10 Pro for full Windows application support.
- 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor
- 8GB DDR4 RAM
- 256GB M.2 SSD
- Intel UHD Graphics 630
- WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
- 6 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB-C, HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, Ethernet, headphone jack
- Great performance for productivity and moderate gaming
- Supports dual 4K displays
- Plenty of ports for peripherals
- Toolless access for upgrades
- 3 year limited warranty
- Larger footprint than mini cube models
- No dedicated graphics card option
- Spinning HDD produces some noise
With its 10th gen i5 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and speedy 256GB solid-state drive, the HP ProDesk 400 handles demanding tasks easily. The ample selection of USB and display ports allows flexible setups. Integrated Intel UHD graphics provides decent 1080p gaming performance in a pinch. While not the most compact model, its excellent performance per dollar makes it a leading home mini PC choice.
Mini PC #3: Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit
If you need a powerful pint-sized PC, look no further than the Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit. This kit lets you customize and build your own mini PC that can rival full gaming desktops. The modular design supports upgradeable components.
- Intel Core i5 and i7 processor options
- Up to 64GB DDR4 RAM
- Space for dual M.2 SSDs
- Dual Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Infrared sensor, 2x GbE, 6x USB 3.2, HDMI, DisplayPort++, SD card reader
- Endless customization and upgrading
- Excellent processing and graphics performance
- Supports 3x 4K displays
- Super compact 5-liter chassis
- Liquid and air cooling options
- DIY kit requires assembly
- Very expensive when fully equipped
- Overkill for basic home use
While cost-prohibitive for many home users, the unmatched performance crammed into this tiny chassis make the Intel NUC 9 a dream machine for enthusiasts. It supports up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Mini discrete GPU and 64GB of RAM for bonkers full gaming and multimedia capabilities. Liquid cooling options let you overclock without overheating. If money is no object, this mighty mini PC can’t be beaten.
Mini PC #4: Minis Forum U820
Moving back down to more modestly priced options, we have the Minis Forum U820. This compact cube measures just 4.6 x 4.6 x 1.8 inches but comes fully loaded for everyday home computing. The brushed metal chassis looks great on any desk.
- 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor
- 16GB LPDDR4 RAM
- 512GB M.2 2280 PCIe SSD
- Intel Iris Xe graphics
- WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
- 2x HDMI, 3x USB 3.2, USB-C, Thunderbolt 4, MicroSD card reader, headphone jack
- Class-leading 16GB RAM for heavy multitasking
- Fast PCIe SSD storage
- Great performance for price
- Fanless design for silent operation
- Thunderbolt 4 support
- Limited upgradeability
- Only one HDMI port supports 4K
With its high-bandwidth 16GB RAM and speedy 512GB SSD, the Minis Forum U820 scoots through demanding home tasks with ease. The fanless design means no annoying fan whine when pushed hard. It’s no gaming rig, but the Iris Xe graphics can handle some lightweight games. Thunderbolt 4 support allows fast external storage expansion down the road. For a potent yet quiet home mini PC, the U820 hits the sweet spot.
Mini PC #5: Azulle Byte3
Finally, if you want a mini PC you can truly hide anywhere, check out the Azulle Byte3. At just 0.6 x 5.2 x 3.9 inches and 5.5 oz, this miniature PC is tiny. The sturdy metal case can be mounted anywhere with its VESA mount compatibility.
- Intel Celeron N4100 quad-core
- 8GB LPDDR4 RAM
- 128GB eMMC storage
- Intel UHD Graphics 600
- 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2
- 5 x USB 3.0, 2 x HDMI, MicroSD card reader, headset jack
- Extremely small footprint
- Fanless silent operation
- Excellent port selection for size
- VESA mounting options
- Great basic performance for lightweight tasks
- Underpowered for demanding programs
- No SSD option
- Tricky interior access for upgrades
If you want a fully functional PC that can disappear behind a monitor or TV, the Azulle Byte3 is it. The Celeron processor and 8GB of RAM provide good web browsing and video streaming performance. The metal case acts as a heatsink for fanless operation. With its VESA mount compatibility, you can attach it anywhere. Just plug in your peripherals and enjoy life with this mini mini PC.
How to Choose the Right Mini PC
With so many models and options on the market, it can be daunting to select the right mini PC for your needs. Here are some key factors to consider:
Consider Your Performance Needs
First, realistically consider what tasks you need your mini PC to handle. For very basic web browsing, email, and streaming media, an entry-level model with a Celeron or Pentium CPU will suffice. Those seeking solid productivity from Office apps, more tabs open at once, and moderate photo editing will want a Core i3 or equivalent AMD processor. Mini PCs with Core i5/i7 or Ryzen 5/7 chips provide extra muscle for more demanding tasks like video editing and AAA gaming. Match the CPU class to your needs.
Determine Connectivity Requirements
Many mini PCs only have one HDMI port, which limits your display options. If you want to run dual monitors, seek a model with two HDMI outputs or other ports like DisplayPort or VGA. Also examine available USB ports, making sure you have enough for peripherals like webcams, printers, and more. Some mini PCs only provide USB 2.0 ports which limit speeds. Prefer USB 3.0+ where possible. Also look for models with USB-C or Thunderbolt 3/4 ports for futureproofing.
Consider Size and Placement
While small size is appealing, tiny stick PCs can overheat under load. Make sure the form factor aligns with your space and cooling needs. Mini towers provide room for beefier components and access for upgrades later. Tiny cubes and sticks excel for covert placement behind monitors but sacrifice upgradeability. There are also all-in-one mini PCs that integrate the PC into the monitor for a clutter-free one-piece setup.
Examine Cooling Systems and Noise
Fanless mini PCs run silently but may throttle performance under extended heavy loads. Models with active cooling perform better but can get noticeably loud when pushed. Look at noise levels and cooling design—effective heat pipe placements and vents help dissipate heat so fans don’t have to work as hard. Well-designed cooling equals better sustained performance with lower noise.
Compare Warranties and Support
Mini PCs from bigger manufacturers like HP, Intel, and Asus often come with 1-3 year warranties and solid technical support. Lesser known brands may only offer shorter 90 day coverage. Extended warranties are recommended for expensive, customizable models to cover component failures down the road. Make sure your mini PC has safety nets when things go wrong.
Set a Budget
Mini PCs range from $100 entry-level models to $1000+ high-performance boxes. Set realistic spending expectations based on your needs. Budget mini PCs get the job done for basic tasks while premium models provide futureproof power for demanding applications. Find the sweet spot between needs and budget to maximize value.
Key Buying Considerations for Mini PCs
In addition to the factors above, keep these vital specs in mind when shopping for a mini PC:
CPU – The Engine of Performance
For solid home performance, look for Intel Core i3, i5, i7 or equivalent AMD Ryzen 3, 5, 7 processors. More cores and higher clock speeds equal better multitasking and responsiveness. Also check that cooling is adequate for maximum turbo boost velocities.
RAM – The Fuel for Multitasking
Mini PCs commonly have 4-8GB of RAM. This is enough for basic use, but more demanding users will want 16GB or higher. Make sure RAM is expandable in some models. For peak responsiveness when juggling many apps, maximize memory.
Storage – The Warehouse for Apps and Files
For best speed, get a mini PC with a solid state drive (SSD) rather than a spinning hard disk drive (HDD). Top SSD options are M.2 form factor using PCIe or NVMe interfaces. SATA SSDs are still much faster than HDDs if PCIe/NVMe drives are too costly. Also consider overall capacity needed for apps, media, and files.
Operating System – The Manager of Tasks
Most mini PCs run Windows 10 Home or Pro for full desktop app compatibility. Some models feature Linux-based OSs like Ubuntu for greater configurability. Chrome OS streamlines operation for web-focused use. Avoid outdated Windows versions that lack security updates.
Wireless – The Connector to the World
At minimum, any modern mini PC should have 802.11ac dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2. Opt for WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0/5.1 if possible for max futureproofing and speed. Make sure external antennas are well-positioned to optimize reception. Wired ethernet is also nice for lag-free networks.
Ports – The Doors to Peripherals
Look for at least 2-4 USB ports including faster USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1 or Gen 2 types. HDMI and DisplayPort connections allow dual external displays. An SD card slot makes accessing photos and videos easy. Headphone jacks let you use your favorite headphones or speakers.
Form Factor – The Frame Supporting everything
While small boxes and sticks are tempting, tiny cases can choke airflow. Make sure the chassis design promotes enough passive airflow or has well-placed vents if using active cooling. Bigger mini towers allow beefier components and easier upgrades. Ensure the physical design aligns with performance needs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mini PCs
What can you do with a mini PC?
Mini PCs are extremely versatile for everyday home computing:
- Web browsing
- Basic document editing
- Streaming video/music
- Casual gaming
- Video calls
- Photo organization
- Light schoolwork
- Inventory management
- Media center apps
Better options can also handle more intensive tasks like software development, video editing, graphic design, and AAA gaming. The small size allows placing mini PCs anywhere in the home.
Are mini PCs good for gaming?
Basic mini PCs allow casual online games, indie games, cloud gaming, and older game emulators. Models equipped with discrete GPUs, like the Intel NUC 9 Extreme, rival full gaming PCs for modern titles. There are also external GPU docks to augment graphics power. General rule: the smaller the PC, the less gaming power. Prioritize cooling and dedicated GPUs for best results.
How difficult is it to set up a mini PC?
One of the beauties of mini PCs is how quick and easy they are to set up. In most cases just connect them to a monitor using an HDMI cable, connect input devices like a mouse and keyboard, plug in the power cord, and turn them on. The operating system will handle the initial setup prompts and then download any updates. Connect to your WiFi network and start using the mini PC—very straightforward.
What operating systems work best with mini PCs?
The most common and trouble-free OS for mini PCs is Windows 10 Home or Pro. Windows automatically handles driver installation and optimization on first boot. For greater customization and lower overhead, Linux distros like Ubuntu are also excellent options. Some mini PCs run Google’s Chrome OS for dedicated web use. Avoid outdated Windows versions lacking updates.
Can you add more storage or memory later to mini PCs?
Adding more storage down the road is generally easy with mini PCs. Most models give you access to internal drive bays or M.2/SATA slots to add more SSDs or HDDs. Unfortunately, upgrading system memory is trickier. Some barebones kits and mini towers allow this, but small form factor models often have RAM soldered onto motherboards preventing upgrades.
Are mini PCs secure enough for sensitive data?
Mini PCs can be very secure platforms for sensitive data depending on operating system and installed security software. Models running Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise editions allow robust device encryption. Third party endpoint protection suites also boost security. Chrome OS offers sandboxing and built-in encryption. Just avoid using dated, vulnerable OS builds. Keep the OS and apps updated.
Are mini PCs energy efficient?
Absolutely! A typical mini PC consumes 15-35W of power during normal use compared to 200W+ for a full desktop tower. Mini PCs sip power due to smaller, more efficient components. Fanless designs further improve efficiency by eliminating a power-hungry device. Just avoid models with hot, loud fans indicating inefficient operation. Go mini to save energy!
Closing Thoughts on Mini PCs
In closing, compact mini PCs provide versatile desktop-class computing in a tiny footprint perfect for any home. Their small size belies their performance potential for everyday tasks. Mini PCs operate silently, save energy, and tuck anywhere conveniently.
Hopefully this overview has showcased some of the top options available for home use in 2023. The Asus CHROMEBOX 3 provides extreme simplicity right out of the box. Those seeking more power can’t go wrong with the HP ProDesk 400. Intel’s NUC 9 Extreme Kit is a mini beast for enthusiasts. The Minis Forum U820 combines speed and silence for an excellent mid-range home pick. And the Azulle Byte3 demonstrates just how tiny yet mighty mini PCs can be.
No matter your needs and budget, there is a handy mini PC ready to serve. Just match your performance expectations to the processor, memory, storage, and OS specs. Prioritize adequate cooling for sustained performance in cramped mini cases. Include all the ports you need for peripherals. And don’t underestimate the convenience of the small footprint for placement anywhere in your home.
With computing needs evolving so rapidly, a mini PC makes it easy to upgrade performance down the road. More demanding tasks like gaming or content creation may require a more potent model 2-3 years from now. But a good mini PC should capably cover basics like web access, streaming, and productivity for many years if you start with solid specs.
Mini PCs have moved well beyond the novelty phase and are now serious contenders for full-blown desktops. Their flexibility and maturity make them a savvy choice for home computing in 2023. Just match your needs to your budget to find that perfect petite PC. Once you go mini, you may never go back to bulky towers again!
So if you’re looking for desktop power in a supremely small package, be sure to check out one of the top mini PCs showcased today. In expensive real estate, mini PCs maximize every inch. And if portability is important, these lightweight boxes travel anywhere effortlessly. For home and office duties alike, compact mini PCs put capable computing right at your fingertips.