When you think about gaming PCs, you’re probably picturing a huge traditional PC tower with RGB lighting and four attached monitors. But technology is changing – would you believe that today, you can get a gaming PC that you can put in your pocket?
Mini PCs, while relatively new on the market, are already showing off features and power that have tech nerds and gamers alike excited – having all the power of a gaming PC in a package that you can take anywhere with you changes the game, no pun intended.
But with any new technology, there are always going to be models and manufacturers that are better than the rest.
We’ve taken the guesswork out for you – here are the top 7 best mini PCs for gaming in 2021.
Are Mini PCs Any Good For Gaming?
When they first started being released to regular consumers, they were originally marketed for productivity – if you wanted a machine that you could transport with you in your day-to-day life, then you were mostly limited to buying laptops up to this point.
Mini PCs were another option, especially if you only needed the machine at your workplace or at home.
However, as technology improved, mini PCs began to be noticed by gamers. While they still can’t output the power that a full tower is capable of, they can run high-input games like League of Legends or CS: GO smoothly, and are perfect for smaller games like Stardew Valley, Phantasmagoria, or anything else you can think of with less demanding graphics.
Mini PCs make excellent solutions for those who, for whatever reason, don’t want to put the effort into getting a full PC setup right off the bat.
Maybe you’re just getting into gaming and you don’t want to drop a whole bunch of cash right off the bat.
Maybe you live in an apartment and you just don’t have the space to keep a huge PC tower. Whatever your situation is, a mini PC might just be the solution.
This sleek little package looks unassuming, but it’s Dell’s top of the line when it comes to micro PCs.
At only 2.6 lbs, it would be easily tucked away on any desk or inside any laptop bag. It’s not customizable, but Dell does offer a variety of mounts and stands for it, including a mount that would hold it to the back of your monitor, out of sight and out of mind.
The Dell CF5C Micro is a great beginner option, but it might fall a little flat for more experienced users.
Some people have found that its fan is pretty loud, especially when it’s running under strain, and the port selection leaves something to be desired.
Still, as a potential workstation and gaming unit, it’s a good place to start.
In terms of gaming, the Dell CF5C’s integrated graphics card is more than capable of handling games with low or medium graphical needs, though it might have a little trouble with more demanding titles.
It’s an excellent pick for beginners or those who are a bit more casual in their love of PC gaming.
While this mini PC is better suited for mobile gaming than it is for any sort of PC gaming, you shouldn’t underestimate it.
The Acer Chromebox CXI3 is ideal for those of us who just can’t get enough of mobile gaming – with it, you can give yourself the advantage of a much bigger screen.
While it has less capacity for more complex gaming, the Acer Chromebox CXI3 is fully capable of anything that you might be doing while working from home, making it a great beginner option.
Acer has also come out with some optional mounts for this mini PC, allowing you to keep it out of sight and out of mind if you wish. It even comes with a mouse, keyboard, vertical stand, and VESA mounting kit.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for something to handle anything other than casual gaming, you might have to look elsewhere.
Reviews of the Acer Chromebox have revealed that its boot times are slower than some of its peers, and its price point is slightly more expensive than most other Chromeboxes.
Do you want a mini PC that you can build yourself? The Intel NUC Home Kits might be for you. The customization options are practically unlimited, letting you build a machine that is just as powerful as you need it to be.
The Home Kits are less powerful than the Extreme Gaming Kits (see below for info on those), so they’re good for beginners or fans of games that are a little less heavy on the graphics.
If you’re not interested in building your own, Intel also offers a variety of prebuilt models.
The downside of opting for an Intel NUC Home Kit is that its level of customization options also means that you might have to shell out more for storage, memory, and possibly even an operating system that suits your needs.
Building a PC can be a pricey project, even with a kit.
Overall, these little machines are game for anything work related that you can throw at them, and a decent amount of gaming besides. But if you’re a more hardcore gamer, keep reading.
If you want a mini PC that packs a punch, look no further than one of Intel’s NUC Extreme Gaming kits.
These mini PCs, unlike a few others that we’ve talked about so far, are built specifically with gaming in mind, so their base components are a little bit more powerful than what you’ll find in the similar NUC Home kits.
If you’re looking to be able to run more demanding titles like League of Legends on your mini PC, then these models will be for you.
And with the DIY nature of the kits, you can easily upgrade and replace parts to suit your exact needs. The only downfall of the design that most people find is that it can only be positioned standing vertically – laying it horizontally will interrupt the airflow.
But if you’re using it at a desk, that probably won’t be a huge issue for you.
We highly recommend this model if you’re specifically looking for more hardcore gaming hardware – it even has similar upgrade potential to full size PC towers.
However, this kind of customization and power does not come cheap, so gamers who have a lower budget might want to try something different for their first mini PC.
Now, we know what you’re thinking: gaming on a Mac? For a long time, Apple products were miles behind PCs in the world of gaming, and many developers didn’t even bother to release their games for the platform.
But things are changing, and now an Apple mini PC might just be a great substitute for a gaming PC. And with the much lower starting price than Apple’s previous 2018 model, the time might have come to give gaming with Apple a try.
The 2018 Apple Mac mini had some flaws, but we do miss some of the things that they’ve changed. The 2020 upgrade has fewer Thunderbolt ports, and you can’t upgrade this one’s memory after your purchase it.
Apple’s monopoly on other types of hardware has extended into the world of mini PCs, and the Apple Mac mini 2020 is definitely a contender against its PC peers.
With new, popular games like Fortnite being optimized for Mac machines, you can now take full advantage of Apple’s innovative hardware in the gaming realm.
Unsurprisingly, the company that has made its name making miniaturized graphics cards is also well known for pioneering mini PC technology.
The Magnus series is built with hardcore gamers in mind, and the stats reflect this care – an integrated GTX graphics card, 32GB RAM, and a very powerful Intel Core i7 processor.
There are a few cons with the Magnus EK 71080’s design – firstly, the external power adapter is pretty large for a mini PC, and a bit bulky.
Secondly, the casing lacks a front-mounted HDMI port, making it difficult for you to use a VR headset with it. However, we can forgive these few flaws in exchange for a mini PC that, in some ways, can rival a full-sized tower.
Something this powerful is going to cost you a pretty penny – the barebones models (which do not come with storage or RAM) start at $1500 USD, and a fully-fitted model can get up towards $2400 USD.
Still, for a PC that you can carry around in your laptop case, it might just be worth it.
Should I buy a barebones mini PC or something that’s ready to go?
There are two forms that you can currently buy mini PCs in – barebones units, which only include the casing, motherboard, and processor, and “ready-to-go” units, which will also include things like the hard drive, RAM, and operating system.
The type that’s right for you will really depend on your comfort level with PCs – if you’re a beginner, shelling out a little more cash for a unit that has all the necessary components in it might be the way to go. If you’re more experienced in building or upgrading PCs, then a barebones unit might allow you to reuse old parts or buy specific parts at your preference.
Can I upgrade my mini PC?
The short answer? Sometimes.
The long answer is that mini PC casings are often packed full with components when you purchase them, and they don’t often have a lot of physical space inside them to cram new parts in. Their motherboards are often smaller with fewer slots for new parts, and their CPUs often cannot be upgraded without a soldering iron and a complete disregard for the manufacturer’s recommendations. So if you’re really into upgrading your PCs with the latest parts, you might want to stick with a traditional tower.
And there you have it! The top 7 best mini PCs for Gaming in 2021. We hope that you can upgrade your work from home setup (or quarantine gaming rig) and enjoy the next generation of PC technology.