In today’s world of wearable electronics and mobile phones, it's easy to forget that computers were once giant appliances that occupied an entire room. Thankfully, the miniaturization of technology has not overlooked the desktop computer segment, a good step forward for those who once might have turned to a PC tower.
Mini desktops are becoming popular, thanks to their small footprint, ease of use and increasingly impressive specs. The 2020 Apple Mac Mini with Apple M1 Chip is the best mini desktop computer available for most users, thanks to its discreet form factor, versatility and speedy new internals.
Barebones. These mini desktops will include a motherboard, a processor and a case in which to house them. They require buyers to select and install their own hard drive, RAM and operating system. They’re ideal for those who want to build a small PC to their own liking.
Ready-to-go mini desktop computers, as their name suggests, are ready to be used out of the box. They include all of the necessary hardware and software to function normally right away.
Because of their small size, there isn’t much room inside a mini desktop computer’s case for additional hardware or new parts. Most mini desktop computers’ CPUs also can't be upgraded. If you are interested in continually updating your PC and doing extensive work under the hood, a mini desktop computer will likely prove to be an unsatisfying purchase.
Traditional desktop computers usually include many of the accessories that you need to start using your device just minutes after opening it. Mini desktop PCs, unless specified otherwise, are not sold with a monitor, keyboard or mouse. While many users will have these devices accessible already, new buyers should be aware that the low cost of a mini desktop may be slightly offset by the required investment in peripherals.
While some gaming is possible on a mini desktop computer, this shouldn’t be their primary function. Mini desktop computers are geared towards general productivity use and are not suitable for intense games that require the latest, most powerful hardware.
The standout feature of a mini desktop computer is its small size. Select a model that will take up as little room as possible on your desk to take full advantage of what these tiny devices have to offer.
Some mini desktop computers can be mounted to the back of a monitor for the ultimate in compact computing. If your primary goal is to own the most discreet computer you can buy, choose a model that can be mounted and kept out of sight.
No matter which operating system you prefer, you can find a mini desktop computer that will run it. Barebones kits give you the option of installing your favorite operating system, while ready-to-go models will already have one installed. Users who favor Apple’s macOS operating system are limited to the company’s Mac Mini line.
Select a mini desktop from a reputable brand known for delivering quality products. While lower- cost options can be tempting, don’t allow the small size of a mini computer to distract you from the fact that you will still require the device to function consistently on a daily basis.
Due to their small size, mini computers sometimes skimp on USB ports and other connectivity options. An aftermarket hub can alleviate this issue to some extent, but that works against the clean, streamlined cable management that makes mini PCs desirable. Select a model with as many ports as possible to avoid extra clutter.
Mini desktop computers can be purchased for as little as $200. Ready-to-go and high-end barebones models typically cost $500-$1,200.
A. Not usually. Even ready to go mini computers will typically only ship with the unit itself and a power cable. A monitor and your preferred input devices must be supplied separately.
A. Basic gaming is possible on more powerful mini desktop computers. However, unless created by a premium manufacturer of gaming hardware, these small computers lack the specs needed to run most titles.
A. While mini desktop computers are not marketed as portable devices, their compact size does allow them to be moved easily. If you have the necessary accessories, you can toss your mini desktop PC in a bag or briefcase when you’re done at the office and plug it in at home to continue your productivity.
What you need to know: Enjoy the quality and attention to detail that Apple brings to its products with this affordable entry into its ecosystem.
What you’ll love: Apple’s new M1 chip makes its latest Mac Mini model its best yet. The Mac Mini is a fully capable Apple computer in a small, stylish package.
What you should consider: This device will only run Apple’s macOS operating system.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: This mini-computer kit includes a keyboard and mouse.
What you’ll love: Amazingly affordable, this mini desktop only requires a monitor to get right to work. Five USB ports make for flexible connectivity, and its small size allows it to fit discreetly behind your monitor.
What you should consider: This device has low specs and exclusively runs Google’s Chrome operating system.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: Intel’s popular mini desktop computer kit is Windows 10 ready.
What you’ll love: Available in a variety of configurations, this mini desktop computer is excellent for users who want the ability to customize and install their preferred operating system. Many ports are included in a very small form factor.
What you should consider: Some users have reported this computer is noisy for its size. It requires the user to install a hard drive and operating system.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Derek Walborn writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.