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Of course, it's still easy enough to find ordinary business boxes and hulking power towers packed with big video cards and multiple drives. But starting with the "small-form-factor" SFF PC revolution of the '00s, many desktops have gone from half-size towers to compact cubes to, in their most extreme reduction, sticks not a whole lot bigger than a USB flash drive. A big reason why? Graphics acceleration and other essential features, handled in the past by separate chips or bulky cards, have been subsumed under the CPU. Nowadays, small-ification is getting to the point where you can't go all that much smaller.

You need to leave some space for ports to plug in a thing or two. As a result, we're seeing some clear stratification in the market for tiny desktop PCs. The very smallest PCs might be termed the "stick class," vanguarded by the Atom-CPU-powered Intel Compute Stick we first reviewed in early and again in its refreshed, Cherry Trail Atom and Core m3 forms in , followed by similar sticks from Lenovo, Asus, and others.

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You can still find them on the market, but they have failed to have a major impact. The models next up in size are a bit more dynamic, a bunch we might term the "NUC class. The chip giant has released a series of NUC-branded mini-PC kits in its own line, and several of the traditional PC-component makers have followed suit with similar models Asus with its VivoMini line, for one. Separate from those is a host of PCs that are undeniably small but follow their own shape and size rules.

Zotac, a major player in small PCs and one of the category's unsung early innovators , offers a huge range of Zbox PCs that range in size from a fat smartphone to a bulky Discman. Shuttle, too, is another small-PC pioneer, offering machines in a host of shapes, and on the macOS side of things, the venerable Apple Mac Mini last updated in late is a sleek square silver box with rounded edges.

Not all mini PCs ship as complete systems; more so than any other class of PC, they tend not to.

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Especially in the case of Intel's NUC kits, Shuttle's small PCs, and many of Zotac's Zboxes, you get what amounts to a PC kit: a tiny chassis with a motherboard pre-installed in some cases, a soldered-on processor is in place, as opposed to a socketed one , plus, in most cases, wireless connectivity built in. This arrangement is what's called in reseller lingo a "bare-bones PC. In some cases, a given mini system is sold in bare-bones form, as well as in pre-configured versions with storage, RAM, and Windows present.

You need to factor those parts and a Windows license unless you plan to use Linux into the total cost. The parts you will need, mind you, will be small: the kind that you'd typically find in a laptop, not a desktop.

Lima Ultra: Tiny, personal cloud storage that just misses the mark

The form factor of the storage varies more. Depending on the mini PC you are looking at, you may need a 2. Such drives are the size and shape of a stick of chewing gum. Check out our guide to these complicated drives at the link; if you need to install an M. It's easy, otherwise, to buy an incompatible drive. If a given system is a bare-bones kit, you'll need to get more than a little hands-on with it to get it up and running. But a kit gives you maximum flexibility in terms of component selection. That said, one advantage of a pre-configured system, apart from the easier setup, is the fact that Windows or macOS comes installed; you won't need to install and update the OS and its drivers.

Most mini PCs are as "mini" as they are because they rely on the basic-grade graphics acceleration built into the CPU to power their video outputs—no separate graphics card is involved. This integrated graphics silicon will suffice for productivity work and video playback. A few outlying models, though, do incorporate the same kind of separate, dedicated mobile graphics chips that appear in gaming laptops. Among them are Zotac's Zbox Magnus models, which employ dedicated GeForce graphics muscular enough for serious PC gaming at reasonable detail settings at p 1, by 1, pixels and, in some cases, higher resolutions.

One Zotac Zbox model even makes use of Nvidia Quadro graphics and Intel Xeon processors for workstation-grade tasks. That means well-above-average graphics performance in a system this size. Check for that feature if space savings of that kind is important to you. And check the back of your monitor for mounting holes, which, if present, normally comply with the VESA mounting standard. Also check for Most micro PCs include at least that as a standard feature and a bunch more also incorporate Bluetooth , but double-check that the system or kit doesn't require the purchase of a separate Wi-Fi card in the Mini-PCI Express or M.

Some do. You'll see a variety of mobile-grade CPUs in the small PCs out there, ranging from Intel Atom chips very basic, and good at best for simple productivity work, e-mailing, and web browsing up to Core i5 and i7 processors that can do some modest media-crunching and rendering work. It's crucial that you know, however, if you are looking at a mobile-grade CPU the kind used in laptops or a desktop-strength chip. The size of the PC isn't always a good predictor of that. That said, the very smallest stick PCs will always use mobile chips.

How to tell?

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Most of the mini PCs on the market make use of Intel silicon, and the dead giveaway whether you're looking at a mobile CPU or a desktop one is usually but not always the letter at the end of the processor's number. Look for a "T" or a "K," or no letter at all, as a dead giveaway for a desktop chip for example, Core iT , or a "U" for a mobile one. Exception: a "Y" in the middle of the number, such as Core mY30, also indicates a mobile chip. The chip family and generation being equal, you can generally expect more muscle usually a consequence of more cores and higher base clocks from the desktop version of, say, a Core i5 than from a mobile Core i5.

What should you glean from that mobile-versus-desktop insight? Our benchmark testing will quantify the trends, but none of the mobile-grade chips in these small PCs is a proper substitute for a desktop chip if you're a a heavy multitasker, or a media pro who needs real processing muscle, say, to convert lots of video or photo files from one format to another.

In most cases, the CPU is the single biggest factor in the cost of a mini PC, so keep an eye on the performance numbers in our reviews for a relative idea of what you are getting. Rule of thumb?

For light office work, you can get by with a mobile or desktop Core i3-, Pentium-, or Celeron-based mini-PC, but you'll want to err on the side of a higher-end, desktop-strength Core chip if you'll need extra pep now and then for serious multitasking, file conversions, heavy calculation-based work, or multimedia content manipulation. Check out the list below for our latest mini PC recommendations.

Ditch the Fireworks and Try These Science-Backed Alternatives

If you're shopping for a small desktop to save money, you'll also want to check out our picks for the top cheap desktops. If you'd like to go a bit bigger, also head on over to our top choices for standard-size desktops , which include some small-form-factor PCs, or see our guide to the top all-in-one desktops , which tend to be trim and feature built-in displays. Pros: Small footprint. Good Xeon multicore computing performance. ISV certifications. Relatively inexpensive for a desktop workstation. Pros: Tiny build for a full Windows 10 PC. Low price. Expandable storage and memory.

Includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity.

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Three-year warranty. Pros: Low price. Compact build. Expandable memory and storage. Ships with VESA mount. Doesn't come with a keyboard or mouse. You get portability at the expense of space for apps and browser windows. If the video is received well by top executives, they know they have a winner.

The factor that always stays the same is the human, Groene says, and that includes fingers. Or worse, that the keyboard is essentially broken. But it still has a precision glass trackpad, and a key travel that Groene says is fractionally less than the key travel on the Pro. The keys are supposed to feel plush and good under your fingers and not at all like a tiny accessory keyboard.

Sure, if you sit there for eight hours holding your arm up, it will get tired, Groene acknowledges. So who is this tiny Surface Go actually made for? It depends on who you ask at Microsoft, but the short answer seems to be: anybody and everybody. Groene talks about reading, about drawing, about running software applications like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

Almost everyone talks about watching Hulu and Netflix on it. Panos Panay initially has a philosophical answer to this. But there are these blurred lines of life and work that are happening, and if you collect all that, Go was an obvious step for us. The evening before Panay and I chatted, he went to the Bellevue Square shopping center with his son, and at one point, had to pull out his LTE-equipped Surface Go to address what he said was an urgent work issue. His son asked if it was a new product, and Panay, realizing the blunder of having the thing out in public, tucked the Go in his jacket.

How to Find the Best Windows Mini PC

To be sure, Microsoft has been making hardware for decades—keyboards, mice, web cameras, Xbox consoles. But when Microsoft made the decision to start making its own PCs and ultimately, take more control over how its software ran on laptops , it was a new hardware category for the company. It was a chance to get consumers excited about Microsoft again, not just enterprise customers.

The first few years of Surface were rocky. Its launch coincided with the rollout of Windows 8, which had an entirely new UI from the previous version of Windows. Depending on who you ask, the Surface RT was either a terrible idea or ahead of its time. Panay says it was visionary. Microsoft ending up taking a massive write-down on it the following year. HP and Lenovo dominate the broader PC market, while Apple leads in the tablet category including both detachables and slate tablets.

I use multiple devices. But this product is meant to bring you a full app suite. Meanwhile, he says, Surfaces are designed to let people be productive both locally on the device, and in the cloud when they need to work in the cloud. If the Surface Go is something of a return to a smaller, inch detachable, then a pocketable device that folds in half, one that could potentially run on an ARM processor, would be something of a return to mobile for Microsoft.

  • Space debris?
  • Customizing the editor UI.
  • Gas Station and Minimart English (Speaking English).

For now, though, Panay is throwing all his chips behind the Surface Go, and making a big bet that this little device is the one that will make the masses fall in love with Surface. David Pierce reviews the new all-in-one PC from Microsoft. It's a joy to use, especially if you like drawing with a pen on a massive touchscreen. The latest Surface is Microsoft's smallest—and least expensive. Ian C. Surface Primers. David Pierce.