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Compact PCs are now no longer tied to the niche category as they are making quite a buzz in the mainstream consumer market. This mainly has got to do with the fact that CPUs, motherboards, and computer hardware components have shrunk in size while offering the same or a higher level of performance.
There are now way more options in the compact gaming PC realm than ever before. What’s more interesting to know is you get the flexibility to explore and choose between different levels of compactness.
You may be planning to move on from your current standard ATX gaming PC and switch to a slightly compact alternative. Or you may want the most compact PC as a side project. Whatever your requirements, we have got you covered by categorizing form factor compactness of compact PCs into three levels:
Three levels of compactness of gaming PC form factor
Best mini gaming PCs aren’t all the same, both in terms of overall form factor size as well as performance. As such, clubbing them under one single category can make it confusing for you to get your hands on the right type of model size.
Here are three types of mini gaming PCs that differ in terms of overall size, performance, and customizability/upgradability:
1. Small Form Factor (SFF) PCs – most compact
SFF PCs are the most compact in the bunch. Also known as mini PCs, SFF PCs are highly compact and are about the similar size to gaming consoles; some models are even smaller. Unlike standard tower PCs, SFF PCs have a vertical layout (similar to WiFi routers).
Most modern high-performance SSF PCs come with soldered hardware components, including a soldered-on CPU. Both Intel and AMD have their own take on developing motherboards/SoCs (system on a chip) specifically for mini/SFF PCs.
Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing)
Intel develops a specific line of motherboards called NUC boards for SFF PCs. These motherboards have soldered-on Intel core processors of various generations. Similar to ATX motherboards, NUC boards have several M.2 and PCIe expansion slots.
Image credit: Intel
AMD Ryzen Embedded Processors (SoCs)
In Intel’s move to capitalize on the increasing popularity of mini PCs by developing mini CPU-soldered boards, AMD has followed suit. The CPU manufacturer has a dedicated line-up of Ryzen-embedded SoCs that are specifically designed for mini gaming and non-gaming PCs.
Image credit: AMD
Do note that there is not just one but several types of mini PCs that use these Intel and AMD CPU-soldered motherboards.
2. Mini ITX PCs – second-most compact
Mini ITX PCs are slightly larger than mini SFF PCs in terms of overall dimensions. They use the industry-standard mini ITX motherboards that have standard sockets for removable/upgradable Intel and AMD CPUs.
Image credit: Tom’s Hardware
3. Micro ATX PCs – third-most compact
Micro ATX PCs are slightly larger than mini ITX PCs. They are compact enough to be smaller than standard ATX PCs and large enough to house industry-standard micro-ATX motherboards. Micro ATX PCs offer the best upgradability options as the tower case includes more room for additional peripherals.
Image credit: Pocket-lint
Mini PC vs Mini ITX vs Micro ATX
Here’s a brief comparison between these three compact PC types to further help you gauge the pros and cons of prioritizing a compact form factor over performance and vice versa.
Best Mini gaming PC – SFF models
Mini gaming PCs with CPU-soldered motherboards are in a league of their own. They are highly compact to the point that you can take one along with you for LAN gaming parties and gaming competitions. They also work great in freeing up a ton of desktop space and help you declutter your gaming space.
And if you are someone who prefers to keep power consumption in check, mini gaming PCs are a perfect alternative to standard ATX PCs for you. Here are 4 best mini gaming PCs that differ in terms of CPU brand, overall hardware configuration, price, and upgradability:
1. Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit – check it out here (Overall best mini gaming PC)
It’s been quite a while that Intel has been around in the mini PC/SFF PC realm and the brand has released quite an impressive number of soldered CPU-powered PC models, the latest and the most powerful being the Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit.
This portable gaming PC packs almost all the features that you normally get in standard PCs, including a 9th generation Intel i9 CPU that has a base frequency of 2.4 GHz and can crank up to 5.0 GHz. Other high-end features such as RAM support of up to 64GB with up to 42.6 GB/s memory bandwidth, Intel WiFi 6 AX200, and Intel Optane, M10, and H10 SSD support make this mini PC one of the most powerful models in its category.
- Powerful Intel i9 CPU used
- Based on Intel’s NUC board
- Upgradable RAM
- No dedicated graphics card
- Proprietary support for Intel SSDs
- Can heat up significantly during extreme loads
2. Razer Tomahawk – check it out here
If you want a highly compact mini gaming PC that can compete head-to-head with beefed-up full-sized gaming PCs, you cannot go wrong with Razer Tomahawk. It is safe to say that this model is easily one of the best small form factor gaming PCs in the performance department. Although it is based on Intel’s NUC CPU-soldered architecture, it offers dedicated support for a full-sized GPU.
Razer Tomahawk also stands out from other mini gaming PCs with its modular design that makes it easy to customize. With a combination of top-tier hardware configuration, including Intel i9 8 core CPU, 512GB NVMe SSD, 16GB DDR4 RAM, and Nvidia GeForce RTX3080 GPU, this mini gaming PC can effortlessly take on modern PC games.
- Powerful Intel i9 8 core CPU used
- Nvidia GeForce RTX3080 GPU used
- Room for PCIe and M.2 expansion
- Price falls on the premium category
- Cooling fan can get a bit noisy during heavy loads
3. Minisforum Elite Mini – check it out here
You don’t necessarily have to stick to Intel CPU options when it comes to getting your hands on a high-performance mini gaming CPU, you can also explore your options in the AMD world. And one of the best options currently available is the Minisforum Elite Mini.
This model is based on the AMD Ryzen-embedded SoC architecture; it uses the powerful AMD Ryzen 7 3750H CPU along with Radeon RX Vega 10 graphics. Other features, including M.2 NVMe SSD, 8GB DDR4 RAM, support for three 4K monitors, and pre-installed WiFi and Bluetooth module make this model a well-performing mid-tier mini PC under a considerably affordable price point.
- Powerful AMD Ryzen 7 3750H CPU used
- Support for NMVe as well as 2.5 inch SATA SSD and HDD
- Up to 3 monitors supported for 4K at 60 Hz
- Not the best thermal management setup
- Only one USB Type C port included
4. Apple Mac Mini M1 – check it out here
Apple Mac Mini M1 is undoubtedly one of the most powerful mini PCs currently available in the market. This new-gen model uses Apple’s highly-coveted M1 chip. One of the biggest highlights of this M1 chip is it has 8 cores on both the CPU and GPU. The seamless integration of CPU, GPU, RAM, and SSD storage in the M1 chip helps this Mac mini achieve the level of performance that is only reserved for top-tier gaming PCs.
Due to the seamless integration of hardware components inside the M1 chip, this new Mac mini model is also able to achieve significant improvements in power consumption. Unlike other Apple computers, including the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, this Mac mini includes two USB3 Type A ports, two USB Type C ports, one HDMI port, and one ethernet port.
- Industry-leading computing performance with The M1 chip
- WiFi 6 of 1.2 GB/s throughput included
- USB 4 Type C ports also work as display ports supporting up to 6K resolution
- No upgradability option
- Only works with proprietary macOS
Best Mini gaming PC – Mini ITX models
Due to a highly compact form factor, mini gaming PCs/SFF PCs have several limitations in terms of performance, thermal management, and overall upgradability. In contrast, mini ITX gaming PCs bring several improvements in these areas while being compact enough to be portable.
Here are two mini ITX gaming PCs that offer great value in their price points:
1. Corsair ONE i200 (Best Mini gaming PC – Mini ITX)
Corsair ONE i200 seamlessly fuses compactness with high-performance and modern aesthetics. It stands out from other mini ITX gaming PCs with its vertical tower design. It also makes a mark with its performance using the 10th generation Intel i9 10900K CPU and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti GPU.
Corsair ONE i200 is based on the MSI Z490i UNIFY mini ITX motherboard that includes support for liquid CPU/GPU cooling. This model is available with up to 1TB NVMe SSD and 2TB HDD storage. In the memory department, the mini ITX motherboard this PC uses is capable of supporting up to 32GB DDR4 RAM.
- Powerful CPU and discrete GPU used
- M.2 and PCIe expansion options available
- Built-in RGB lighting at the front panel
- Liquid cooling supported
- Only one USB Type C port available
- Only one HDMI port at the front I/O bay
2. Origin PC Chronos – check it out here
Origin PC Chronos is another high-performance mini ITX gaming PC that definitely deserves a shoutout. Depending on your preference, you can either go for an Intel or AMD CPU as this model supports mini ITX as well as mini DTX motherboards. The compatibility for both types of motherboards also helps this model support full-sized GPUs.
Depending on the motherboard you choose, you can opt for up to three SSD and one HDD configuration. But having a compact mini ITX footprint, this model ensures efficient and effective cooling with a case that’s specially designed to have multiple air vents that support up to 4 cooling fans.
- Advanced level of configuration customization options
- Multiple air vents open up more cooling options
- Available in vented or tempered glass side panels
- Only one USB Type A and Type C port on the front I/O bay
- Not the best internal cable management options
Best Mini gaming PC – Micro ATX models
Micro ATX gaming PCs surpass SFF/mini gaming PCs and mini ITX gaming PCs as they can house micro ATX motherboards that support more powerful CPU/GPU, offer more DDR4 RAM capacity and bandwidth, and include more PCIe and M.2 expansion options.
Here are two micro ATX gaming PCs that combine compactness with high performance:
1. Skytech Chronos (Best Mini gaming PC – Micro ATX)
Skytech Chronos comes as a perfect alternative if you want a gaming PC that’s slightly compact than a standard ATX tower PC. This model gains a dominating position among several other micro ATX gaming PCs both in terms of performance and aesthetics. Its internal and external RGB lighting combined with high-quality tempered glass and sleek overall form factor makes it look unmistakably premium.
In the performance front, this model features a mid-tier trio of AMD Ryzen 3 3100 CPU, Nvidia GTX 1650 Super GPU, and 8GB DDR4 RAM. Also, the addition of a 500 GB NVMe SSD storage improves the overall performance speed of this PC.
- Comparatively affordable price tag
- Support for both micro ATX and mini ITX motherboard
- Built-in addressable RGB lighting
- Not the most compact design
- No USB Type C port included
2. Corsair Vengeance 6180 – check it out here
Corsair Vengeance 6180 doubles down on the micro ATX form factor by offering more space than traditional micro ATX gaming PCs while still maintaining compactness at its best. This model is one of the best micro ATX gaming PCs in terms of cooling as it uses Corsair’s Crystal series case that includes extra room for six 120mm cooling fans.
In terms of performance, this model does not make any compromise with a powerful AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU that it uses in conjunction with equally powerful AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT GPU. The CPU and GPU also benefits from 480GB NVMe SSD and 16GB DDR4 RAM.
- Powerful AMD CPU and GPU combo
- Room for storage, memory, and cooling upgradability
- Built-in addressable RGB lighting included
- Only one USB Type C port included
- Additional cooling fan chamber may seem bulky to some
If you have a specific and kind of a unique hardware configuration and performance requirement, getting your hands on a mini gaming PC that precisely suits your requirement can be tricky. If you have explored several mini gaming PC models and feel that you haven’t found the right match, one good alternative is to go for a custom-built PC.
Custom build PC services such as RGB Custom PC helps you get gaming PCs built according to your exact specifications.
Or if you want to get adventurous and build your own best mini gaming PC, there is nothing wrong in it as taking this step will help you get your hands on the exact hardware configuration you want.
Here’s a complete guide to building a gaming PC
You can also use this online custom PC build tool to figure out how your planned hardware components stack up in terms of compatibility and pricing.