Best Mini Desktops

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

18 Models Considered
9 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
467 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best mini desktops

Last Updated September 2020

When you start looking at the cost of laptops or full-size desktop computers, you may experience a bit of sticker shock. These devices give you a lot of processing power, but they also cost quite a bit. You may not really require that much computer power to perform the tasks you want to do, so a mini desktop might be just what you need.

A mini desktop computer has a lower price point than the typical full-size desktop or laptop computer. It has just the right amount of power to enable you to perform basic computing tasks, such as running apps or browsing online. And the small size of a mini desktop computer case means you can take it with you almost anywhere. You still need a keyboard and a monitor, though.

If you’re ready to give a mini desktop computer a try, we can help you figure out what to look for and determine which features are the most important for your needs. We’ve included a few specific recommendations, too.

Multiple manufacturers create mini desktops, including Dell, Apple, HP, Intel, Acer, ASUS, and Lenovo.

Key considerations

A mini desktop has quite a few features that are similar to what you’d find in a full-size desktop computer, but there are a few differences. Here are some basics to consider when shopping for a mini desktop.

Size

The mini desktop case is significantly smaller than the case on a full-size desktop computer. You have three sizes and shapes to pick from: horizontal, vertical, and stick.

Horizontal: The horizontally aligned mini desktop looks a bit like the modem or router that you use to receive your internet signal. It measures about 5 to 8 inches wide and deep and 1 to 2.5 inches tall.

Vertical: A vertically aligned mini computer looks a bit like a smaller version of a desktop tower computer case. These models measure about 3 to 7 inches wide, 6 to 12 inches deep and 10 to 20 inches tall. (For comparison, a full-size tower measures 10 to 15 inches wide, 8 to 12 inches deep, and 20 to 30 inches tall.)

Stick: The stick-shaped mini desktop is extremely small. It looks like a larger version of a USB drive, measuring 1 to 2 inches wide, 0.5 to 1 inch deep, and 3 to 4.5 inches long.

Power

As an added advantage of this format, the mini desktop uses a fraction of the electrical power to operate that a full-size desktop computer needs. These mini computers typically use low-power processors that don’t generate as much heat as high-powered processors. This means the mini computer doesn’t need a powerful fan to cool the components and chips. Some mini desktops can even run without a fan.

EXPERT TIP

If you want to build your own mini desktop, kits like the Raspberry Pi give you this option.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Here are some of the key components of a mini desktop computer. We’ve also recommended the features you should look for to receive average performance.

Processor

The majority of mini desktops make use of an Intel processor (CPU) that doesn’t require much power to operate, commonly an Intel Core i3 or Celeron processor. You may find some Atom processors, too, but these run more slowly than Core or Celeron models. A few brands of mini desktops use AMD processors.

Graphics

Some mini computers may not include a separate graphics processor (GPU). This type of machine uses an integrated graphics system that’s part of the CPU. If you want a separate GPU, you’ll pay more for the mini desktop, but your graphics performance will be much better than what you’d get with an integrated graphics system.

RAM

The random access memory (RAM) is where the mini desktop stores the data and software currently in use. Extra RAM will significantly improve the performance of the mini computer. With 4 gigabytes of RAM, you’ll have adequate performance, but 6 or 8 gigabytes would be better.

Storage

The mini desktop may offer solid-state drive storage of 128 or 256 gigabytes or have a traditional hard drive with around 1 terabyte of storage. Some mini desktops use a removable memory card to store data.

Wireless connectivity

Many mini desktop computers have wireless connectivity capabilities built in, usually both Bluetooth and WiFi. With built-in wireless, you don’t have to use a USB port for a wireless stick, which is handy.

Operating system

The majority of mini desktops use Windows 10, but you may find some that run Linux or Chrome OS.

Other terms for mini desktops include Nettops, miniature PCs, and micro PCs.

Mini desktop prices

One of the biggest advantages of a mini desktop computer is the low price compared to a full-size desktop computer. These computers are relatively inexpensive, especially if you already have a keyboard and monitor to use with it.

Inexpensive: The least expensive mini desktops cost $50 to $125. (The mini computer typically does not ship with a keyboard, mouse, or display, so our prices do not include these items.) These models have extremely basic components, so they’re not made for anyone trying to run complex software.

Mid-range: These mini computers cost $125 to $400. These models have a performance level that comes close to approximating that of a low-end full-size desktop computer. They aren’t made for high-end gaming, but they deliver a decent level of performance.

Expensive: The most expensive mini computers cost $400 to $1,200. These mini computers are a great choice because they can perform at a level similar to that of an average laptop or full-size desktop computer. Some of these models even work for average gaming needs.

DID YOU KNOW?

The first mini desktop computers appeared in the late 2000s.

Tips

If you’re wondering whether you’re a good candidate for a mini desktop computer, here are some tips to help you decide.

  • You want to save desk space. If you need extra space to work on your desk, and a tower computer takes up too much room, a mini desktop is a smart choice. You can mount the mini desktop to the wall or to the back of the monitor to save even more space.
  • You primarily run apps. If you rarely run complex software, a mini computer is a great choice for you. Simple word processing or spreadsheet apps and web-based email apps work extremely well on a mini desktop.
  • You use simple gaming software. Mini desktops are not built for running complex gaming software that requires fast graphics processing. Games like Minecraft that don’t require a lot of complex graphics work nicely, though.
  • You use cloud-based storage. Although mini desktops have the ability to store data on memory cards or internal storage, if you primarily use cloud storage, a mini desktop is a great choice.
One of the biggest advantages of a mini desktop computer is that you can carry it with you in a backpack, briefcase, or pocket and connect it to a display screen at your destination.

FAQ

Q. What is a “ready-to-go” mini desktop?
A.
The ready-to-go computer is a mini desktop that has all of the components you need to begin using it immediately. Some mini desktop kits don’t contain a hard drive or RAM, meaning you have to supply it before you can use the computer.


Q. Why are mini desktops so cheap?
A.
Mini desktop makers can sell these devices for less than a typical full-size desktop computer because the individual components are less powerful. Additionally, the mini PC doesn’t ship with a display screen, keyboard, mouse, and a few other components.


Q. How easy is it to upgrade a mini desktop?
A.
Some components are easy to upgrade, such as the hard drive or the amount of RAM. However, other components are far more difficult to upgrade, such as the CPU or the integrated graphics chip. The mini desktop does not have open slots on its motherboard or lots of free space inside the case, so it isn’t easy to upgrade larger components.


Q. Are mini desktops good for gaming?
A.
Not really. Mini desktops often use an integrated GPU, which isn’t as powerful as the graphics card you see in a desktop computer. Basic gaming should be fine on a mini computer, but high-end gaming with complex graphics won’t work well because the mini computer just isn’t powerful enough to run the high-end software.

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The team that worked on this review
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    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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