Computing

Explained!: Micro PC and mini PC…

wireless desktop

There’s a massive chance that you’ll immediately know what a laptop is if someone says the word to you or if you read it. You’ll also know pretty much what a laptop is capable of. Similarly, you will almost certainly also know what a desktop PC is – and what a mouse is, what a keyboard is, what a printer is, what a tablet is, and what they’re all for, and what they can do… and so on. But a couple of relatively infrequent terms which sometimes cause people to stop and wonder for a moment are ‘micro PC’ and ‘mini PC’.

In this Ebuyer article we’ll look at that in a little depth and in simple terms so that, in a thousand words from now, you’ll feel that it’s been a worthwhile case of micro and mini PCs explained…

A micro PC

So, what is a micro PC?

A micro PC is a desktop PC which is a computer with much smaller form factor than a standard desktop PC. Perhaps, if you are a beginner or have never before heard that particular term either, we should explain what form factor is? Basically, form factor is the formal term used to describe the size, shape and physical specifications of computer hardware, or computer hardware components. So, form factor is an umbrella term which doesn’t relate specifically to any one type of PC, but can be used in conjunction with all of them to quickly explain a bit about them – ie. ‘small form factor PC’ etc.

A micro PC is a smaller form factor PC which doesn’t compromise on any of the performance or functionality of a larger PC. So, it’s basically a (relatively) powerful PC on a par with your standard desktop PC, but housed in a much smaller ‘box’ and therefore with smaller internal components. They’re best for offices, home workers, schools or other settings where desktop PCs are still pretty much ‘the norm’.

A standard desktop PC set-up (Shutterstock)

What are the benefits of using a micro PC?

Firstly, and most obviously, the major benefit of a micro PC is that it takes up less space on your desk or at your workstation. One of the most difficult things about having the traditional desktop PC set-up is making sure you have enough space to accommodate the tower, a monitor and all of the wired or wireless peripherals – plus extra space for, perhaps, the paperwork you need to work from, and a mug of coffee! Micro PCs take up much less space on your desk – so in a nutshell they can make your working life that bit easier!

Micro PCs can also naturally be much lighter than standard desktop PCs. The lack of choice about your PC is gone: Desktop towers and all of the weight that entails is no longer an unnecessary ‘imposition’. As a further consequence of the lower weight, micro PCs are much more portable. You can pretty much set up your work station wherever you like, and so also pack up and take it with you to another location. A micro PC should not be thought of as quite like a laptop or tablet, of course, but the benefits of having a much smaller form factor PC are obvious from this perspective.

Micro PCs also enjoy lower power consumption than standard desktop PCs, so in the longer run they can be more economical. Because the components in micros are significantly smaller than the components in larger form factor PCs, the amount of energy required to run one is much smaller.

There must be downsides too?

Well, balancing out the upsides there are obviously going to be one or two downsides to having a smaller PC. So it will be a case of weighing things up and trading off the pros and cons of micro PCs, if you are thinking about buying one. The most significant (and pretty obvious) downsides are:

The smaller form factor case leaves less room for a super-efficient cooling system. Remember, the components of a micro PC work just as hard as their larger counterparts, but in a much smaller space. So the heat generated by them is a bigger issue in a micro PC.

Also, of course, because the whole package is that much smaller – and specifically designed to take up the least amount of space possible – there is unlikely to be a plethora of expansion options. Traditional desktop PCs are often designed with the future considered as a matter of course, and so several expansion slots are likely to have been built in so that upgradability is possible. Again due to ‘the space issue’ that is not likely to be the case with micro PCs.

So, as we said a moment ago, there is a ‘trade-off’ to be made between the positives about the ‘reduced’ size of this PC and the negatives. Again, it depends entirely upon what it is that you are looking for from a PC.

So what is a mini PC? Just another name for a micro PC?

Well, no… Not quite. A mini PC obviously shares some things in common with micro PCs – the much smaller form factor compared to a desktop PC being the main one – but it is a bit different. Mini PCs are, basically, desktop PCs which don’t actually take up any desk space. Typically so small that they can be affixed to the back of a monitor, they offer a big advantage in situations where space is extremely limited.

A mini PC (Shutterstock)

Obviously you won’t be expecting a mini PC to equal a desktop PC in terms of performance! They offer low power consumption and, in fan-less models, pretty low noise levels. They’re not especially powerful in terms of the things you would use a computer for, and they’re not really up to the job of multi-tasking (ie. running several applications at once). But they tend to be fine for things like surfing the internet, emailing or running Microsoft Office programs for admin purposes.

So why would you buy a mini PC instead of something much ‘better’?

Don’t get the wrong impression about mini PCs from the question we just asked. Yes, they’re ‘basic’ when held up to standard against desktop PCs, laptops and micro PCs, but let’s not be negative about mini PCs. They’re pretty good devices and they do have several positives.

Firstly, you can use a mini PC with a large monitor or even a TV set. Secondly, you can plug in a USB keyboard. You could also have a mini PC as a quick replacement back-up to your full-sized desktop (quick if the mini is set up first, that is). PCs do tend to fail from time to time, and we live in such a fast-moving world that no-one can afford to spend hours or even days waiting for a replacement. A mini PC is, therefore, a bit of a clever solution here. As long as your data is on an external hard drive or in the cloud, you could swap out a ‘busted’ desktop PC for a mini PC and carry on working in no time.

So there we have it. We hope we’ve given you a pretty straightforward overview of what micro and mini PCs are, and how they could benefit you when you integrate one into your home or office computer set-up. Take a look at Ebuyer’s selection of micro and mini PCs.

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