The 8 Best Mini Gaming PCs
This wiki has been updated 28 times since it was first published in July of 2018. As technology marches onward and screens get larger, the chipsets and machines used to fill them with pixels get smaller. Some of today's PCs are compact enough to slide into the smallest nook of an entertainment center, or even carry in a backpack. A good alternative to a console, one of these mini gaming computers will work great for your next LAN party or open-world VR excursion. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 10, 2020:
Compact gaming computers are a particularly niche category, and many users prefer to build their own small form factor desktops, but there's certainly no shame in buying a pre-built PC. The Computer Upgrade King Continuum comes from a company that specializes in just that and it's full of promising hardware that can make any game look great. Similarly powerful is the MSI Meg Trident X, and both of these high-end models also come with a keyboard and mouse. The MITXPC Ray Tracing is another impressive collection of high-end components, although none of these three are quite as small as most others, because it's just about impossible to fit such hot and bulky equipment into anything more compact.
To really get down there in size, a PC has to make at least a few compromises in terms of power. The Zotac Magnus makes the fewest such concessions, although its lack of storage and RAM mean it's just a bit more work to get up and running than many others. The Intel Hades Canyon is an interesting option because, while it's not exactly recent, it uses a specially designed APU that combines an Intel CPU with a reasonably fast AMD GPU. The Venoen Micro offers just a bit more firepower thanks to GeForce GTX 1650, which is the smallest and least demanding of Nvidia's latest GPU lineup. The HP EliteDesk 705 G4, on the other hand, is less expensive than many others, but its Vega 11 graphics chipset leaves a bit to be desired at high resolution in many games.
Then there's the Nvidia Shield, which comes in standard and Pro models and is somewhat of a crossover between a PC and a console. Its ability to stream a huge amount of games using the GeForce Now! platform and its low price combine to make it a good choice for those who don't want to spend a bunch of money and who don't have a ton of space.
May 21, 2019:
The benefit of desktop PCs versus laptops is that their size and energy consumption allow for better mitigation of heat, which is the mortal enemy of high-performance electronics. With that in mind, there are a handful of compact gaming computers on the market, and in the last year or so, we've seen an increase in design quality that's led to more reliable miniature gaming PCs.
First of all, if you don't need something extremely small, check out SkyTech's Legacy Mini line. It comes in three versions that feature GTX 1660 Ti, RTX 2060, and RTX 2070 graphics chipsets. The 2070 is our favorite card overall and the 1660 Ti one of the best budget-friendly ones, and depending on your budget, one of SkyTech's boxes will certainly provide the performance you need. Alternately, if you demand the best, consider MITXPC's high-end build. They're a custom PC builder and in this case they've pulled out all the stops by using top-of-the-line parts at every turn. You'd be hard-pressed to find a computer of any size that outperforms it. The MSI Trident is another mid-size option that's slimmer than most others, yet it's also wider and deeper, as it utilizes a mini-ITX motherboard instead of the microATX used by SkyTech.
The HP Omen X isn't exactly tiny, either, but it is a compact and specialized unit that's meant to be strapped to your back while you explore virtual reality games. It's a very interesting piece of equipment, though it is pretty pricey, and the matching backpack is actually sold separately. The Lenovo Legion is one of the most portable thanks to its reliable top-mounted handle, though its graphics performance leaves a bit to be desired. The Zotac Mek is about 10x10x5 inches, and it's also blessed with an RTX 2070 graphics processor, but as there aren't a ton of user reviews, we aren't certain just how reliable it is.
But if you're looking for the ultimate in very-small-form-factor gaming performance, there are two machines you cannot ignore. The Nvidia Shield, while not a Windows machine, is one of the sleekest and easiest to use, and it comes with a top-quality controller and has access to more games than you can shake a stick at, plus, it's incredibly affordable compared to the rest. But you can't beat the Hades Canyon when it comes to straight desktop performance. It uses integrated Radeon graphics and is capable of running nearly any game at nearly any resolution. Also, comparatively speaking, it's tiny.
Origin Chronos No matter what kind of specs you're looking for, the designers at Origin have you covered. This custom-built rig lets you choose not only the hardware you want but also the finish and level of warranty service desired. originpc.com
A Brief History Of Computer Gaming
By the late 1970s, many arcade classics had been adapted for PCs, which were slowly-but-surely gaining traction in people's homes.
People have played games throughout all of human history. We've played PC games for most of the history of computers. The first of these games were simple, text-based affairs used by engineers to test hardware and programming concepts. Spacewar, what many consider to have been the first ever video game, ran on a computer roughly the size of a small car. Much of the general public was introduced to interactive electronic entertainment by classic, arcade-style machines, as well as the Atari 2600, one of the first affordable home consoles.
By the late 1970s, many arcade classics had been adapted for PCs, which were slowly-but-surely gaining traction in people's homes. During the late '80s, when most PCs ran similar hardware and operating systems, old-school titles like Tetris and Donkey Kong could be easily transferred between users, and were generally pretty easy to get working. By the time the VGA standard was put in place in 1987, computer games were simple to run and, at the time, more affordable than consoles.
The 1990s saw the market absolutely explode, thanks in part to Doom, one of the most well-known and influential computer games in history. In 1996, 3DFX Interactive released the Voodoo chipset, which was a standalone add-in board dedicated specifically to producing 3D graphics. Yes, there really was a time when your computer needed two separate video cards, one for standard computing and another for gaming. Moore's Law continued to hold for years and games became increasingly more complex, with high resolutions, broad color palettes, and advanced gameplay becoming the norm.
In the last couple decades, the pool of available hardware has increased many times, and allowed innovations like widescreen high-definition displays and even the ultrawide format. Computers are now invariably more prone to bugs and incompatibility than consoles, and they run hotter and consume more power, but the trade-off is the obvious and significant increase in processing power and versatility.
Why Buy Such A Small Computer?
While there’s a lot to be said for efficient gaming platforms like phones, consoles (portable and stationary), and even laptops, none of them can replicate the sheer power of a good desktop PC. For example, high-end graphics chipsets are often available in laptop versions such as Nvidia’s Max-Q family, but those pared-down models tend to run considerably slower than their full-size relatives, sometimes performing at an entire tier or two lower than what their nameplate says. And while they are generally easy to use and quite fun, consoles are simply no match for the processing power of a Windows-based PC.
Plus, software makers have a very stringent set of requirements their games need to meet in order to run on a console’s proprietary architecture.
That’s not an attack on consoles in any way (after all, Sony and Microsoft are doing just fine), but they only get updated every several years, while PC manufacturers are constantly releasing new and faster components. Plus, software makers have a very stringent set of requirements their games need to meet in order to run on a console’s proprietary architecture. One of the most important things that consoles have done, of course, is bring 3D gaming into the mainstream with titles like The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64, one of the most revolutionary pieces of entertainment hardware of all time.
Ever since the popularization of 3D games, there’s been a significant rise in the number of people building their own PCs, and for good reason; it tends to save you money, offers a not-insignificant feeling of achievement and satisfaction, and despite what it may look like, is actually not entirely complicated these days. Miniature computing, however, is a very different story. Even experienced PC builders get their skills put to the test when they’re trying to cram the most powerful hardware possible into a four-inch-tall box.
While a tower case generally lets you install various components at your leisure once the motherboard’s in place, the specific order in which to plug in and bolt down every part matters quite a bit more when you’re working in a Mini-ITX case. Constructing one of these relatively tiny devices on your own is an extremely specialized process, and that’s one of the reasons why some Mini-ITX cases have developed a cult following. Drive placement, the exact height of RAM modules, and even the precise location into which you twist and bend the cables can all make a significant difference to a build; in some cases, a misplaced wire or heat sink can even spell failure. So, it’s no surprise that if you really want a high-powered miniature PC, buying a pre-built one may be your best bet.
Some (Components) Don't Like it Hot
There’s one major obstacle to ultra-compact machines, aside from a simple lack of room for components inside: heat. No electronic device is 100 percent efficient, which means every chip, slow or fast, is going to get warm at some point. Unsurprisingly, when you stuff multiple advanced components into a tiny box with minimal airflow, heat buildup tends to be a problem. The most obvious solution is more fans, but without proper ventilation, fans provide diminishing returns somewhat quickly.
Most cases use fans at the rear to exhaust warm air and create negative pressure that draws fresh air in from the front panel. To make this effective, the vents must be placed in the right areas. The laws of fluid mechanics tell us that gases travel the path of least resistance, so if the computer’s configured with a massive GPU blocking its nearest vent, the end result will likely be the video card reaching its thermal limit and throttling to prevent damage. The mini PCs that work best are the ones that are laid out well and don't hide components in the corners or obstruct air inlets.
The truth is, even consoles tend to get hot at times. As long as you don't block a mini PC's air vents or keep it in an unnaturally warm location, you shouldn't have much to worry about, and you'll easily surpass the performance of, say, the Playstation 4 or Xbox One.