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The Best Mini PCs to Buy in 2018 – Powerful Yet Compact Workstations

By Vaidyanathan Subramaniam / November 22, 2018

Gone are the days when you would require using a full-sized desktop that occupies a major portion of your desk space. Now, mini PCs are taking the desktop world by storm thanks to their compact footprint, easy maintenance, and fairly powerful components. This makes them great options for media servers, office PCs, or even proper gaming setups as well.

Given the size and form factor of a mini PC, there are certain important considerations to be made. Firstly, it is important to decide on the kind of workflow you will be doing, which then helps you narrow down on the OS. If macOS is your cup of tea, then the only option you have is the Apple Mac Mini. Windows users have a wide range of configurations and prices to choose from and so do Linux users. However, some mini PC hardware does not particularly support Linux due to lack of drivers so this should be kept in mind.

The next important factor is computing power. Mini PCs are small form factor PCs, which automatically come with certain restrictions on what sort of CPUs and GPUs can be configured with them. Most mini PCs feature integrated graphics but there are quite a few mini PCs that also have the option of having powerful dedicated GPUs. This is important if you plan to use the mini PC for gaming or GPU-intensive work. Do note that the compact form factor means increased thermal output under load, which can lead to throttling.

RAM and storage come next. As long as the RAM and storage are not soldered, you should be fine. But some mini PCs such as the Apple Mac Mini have soldered components so you need to decide on the configuration beforehand as there almost no future upgrade path. Even if the mini PC is upgradable, the small size means that access to components is not very easy and will require some workarounds. Therefore, it is best to decide on optimal RAM and storage before purchase itself to avoid the hassle.

With so many variables to consider, narrowing down on a mini PC can be a daunting task. But that's where we come in. At TechNadu, we have done the homework for selecting the best mini PCs in the market so you don't have to. We hereby present to you the 8 best mini PCs available in 2018 that caters to all work needs.

1. Apple Mac Mini (2018)

Apple recently refreshed its Mac Mini computer and has made worthwhile for even Pros to take a look. The Mac Mini can be configured with a choice of Intel's latest 8th gen Core processors, faster DDR4 RAM up to 64 GB, and fast SSD storage up to 2 TB. The overall footprint has remained the same despite the improved hardware. The new Mac Mini also comes with the Apple T2 chip that offers enhanced device security, secure boot for macOS, and on-the-fly storage encryption.

Connectivity options are well-endowed and you also have the option of configuring the Mac Mini with a 10 Gbps Ethernet port, if needed. With four Thunderbolt 3 ports on board, the Mac Mini can also be connected to an eGPU for enhanced graphics horsepower. While the Mac Mini is a great mini PC, you would need to weigh your requirements and configure it before ordering as most components are soldered and non-upgradable. You can try upgrading the RAM but accessing it would require fully dismantling the mini PC so we would advise against that unless you know what you're doing.

2. Intel Hades Canyon NUC

The Intel Hades Canyon NUC is probably one of the most powerful mini PCs in its class. It features the new Core i7-8890G — a unique SoC that combines a 7700HQ-class CPU and an AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU. This Vega M GPU is equivalent to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 in many games so expect great graphics and VR performance. The Radeon Vega M works in conjunction with the Intel UHD Graphics 630 iGPU to share the workload. This particular model is loaded with up to 32 GB DDR4 RAM and two 500 GB NVMe SSDs in RAID (for an effective 1 TB).

It is hard to find mini PCs with the breadth of connectivity options as the Intel Hades Canyon. You get ports for literally everything including a TOSLINK port to hook up a great home theatre system. While the Hades Canyon mini PC makes for a great investment, there are certain limitations on the kind of tasks you can run given its compact chassis. You might experience thermal throttling if you push it too far but should work fine for the majority of apps and games including heavy duty ones such as Photoshop, Premiere, or Illustrator. However, do note that there is a firmware bug that prevents installing Linux so check to ensure that it is resolved if you want to go the Linux route.

3. HP EliteDesk 800 G3

For a great mini PC for business, the HP EliteDesk 800 G3 fits the bill perfectly. The 800 G3 offers an Intel 7th gen Core i5-7500T along with 8 GB RAM and a 256 GB SSD. The RAM and SSD are upgradable so you can just buy the lowest configuration for the budget and think about upgrading later. All standard connectivity options are available so you can start working right away. HP also offers a suite of protection and privacy software that helps protect your data from malware and also helps keep the mini PC up to date.

The HP EliteDesk 800 G3 is geared more towards business users such as those working with MS Office or trading apps. It is not a gaming machine and certainly not really suited for running heavy programs such as Photoshop or Premiere Pro. Also, some of the built-in apps might not be really useful so you might have to clean up the bloatware to prevent slowdowns.

4. ASUS GR8 II-T069Z

What if you've wanted to have a gaming console and also the flexibility of a PC? The ASUS GR8 II-T0695 is the answer. This mini PC has the chops to play almost all recent AAA titles while offering the full flexibility of a PC for getting work done. The Intel 7th gen Core i5-7400 is more than enough for multitasking thanks to the copious amount of RAM and SSD storage. The GR8 also comes with ASUS Aura Sync RGB lighting so you can keep all RGB peripherals in sync. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 allows playing even demanding games at 1080p medium settings and can also do VR.

The ASUS GR8 also boasts of great audio quality thanks to the customized Realtek chip. Performance-wise, ASUS GR8 will not disappoint for both gaming and office use. The mini PC runs super quiet and should be fine for 1080p gaming.

5. MSI Trident 3

The MSI Trident 3 is one of the best mini PCs for gaming and VR. Powered by the latest Intel 8th gen Core i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD, the Trident 3 offers quite a powerful configuration in a compact chassis. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 GPU is paired with 6 GB of dedicated VRAM that should be able to handle most games with ease. The Trident 3 is focused on VR and as such offers a front-side VR port for easily connecting VR headsets.

While the Trident 3 is a great mini PC for 1080p gaming, it really isn't suited for 4K gaming yet due to the midrange GPU. The system runs fairly quiet for its size and temperatures are kept under control thanks to MSI's good cooling setup. However, the problem comes when you try upgrading it. All components are upgradable but there is a power limit to the motherboard, which means you need to change most of the system every time you try upgrading. Due to the power limit, the default components are also not really overclockable so you have to make do with whatever you get.

6. Zotac ZBox Magnus EK71080

The Zotac ZBox Magnus EK71080 is probably the most powerful mini PC on the market right now. Featuring a 45W Intel Core i7-7700HQ, upgradable RAM and storage options, and a powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, the ZBox Magnus can make easy work of anything you throw at it be it Office work, AAA gaming at max settings, or even VR. This mini PC is also G-Sync ready, which means you can pair it with a G-sync capable monitor to minimize screen tearing in high-paced games. The ZBox also offers the option of Intel Optane memory that can speed up access from conventional hard drives.

The Zotac ZBox Magnus EK71080 offers a great mini PC experience, but not without caveats. Cramming a powerful GTX 1080 in such a small chassis does not come without negatives so be prepared to experience hot runs under load. Also, users have reported that the onboard Intel 3165 Wi-Fi chip keeps scanning continuously, which results in connection drops often.

7. Lenovo ThinkCentre M910q

The Lenovo ThinkCentre M910q is a great mini PC for business. You can configure the ThinkCentre M910q with Intel vPro CPUs for easy remote administration across the organization. This mini PC also comes with the Intel Stable Image Platform Program (SIPP) that guarantees platform availability for at least 12 months to keep PC maintenance costs down. It also comes with Lenovo Premiere Support that offers IT admins an easy access to Lenovo technicians for quick problem resolutions.

With such business-grade components, you'll hardly find any performance deficiencies with the ThinkCentre M910q. It is not built for gaming but should be able to handle most office work without breaking a sweat.

8. Acer CXI3 Chromebox

The Acer CXI3 Chromebox is the most powerful mini PC for Chrome OS. It sports an Intel 8th gen Core i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, and a 64 GB SSD — more than powerful for running Chrome OS and all its web apps. Chrome OS now supports Android apps as well, making this mini PC even more versatile. Connectivity options are aplenty and this mini PC can easily handle multiple browser tabs and stream 4K video without issues.

However, Chrome OS is very limited in what it can do but if your work is primarily online, then the Acer CXI3 Chromebox definitely deserves a consideration. If you are geeky enough, you can also install a Linux distro right from Chrome OS to get any additional missing features.

Final Thoughts

Dear reader, those were our picks for the best mini PCs available in 2018. These mini PCs are helpful in saving space while also performing well for most tasks. The only limitations when it comes to mini PCs are the chassis size and upgradability. If you are able to work within those limitations, mini PCs are the way to go instead of having to build a full-blown ATX desktop.

We hope that this article has helped you in deciding on a good mini PC. As always, feel free to reach out to us if you have any doubts or would like to suggest what other laptops we should include and we will get back at the earliest.

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