Desktop PC v Mini PC

In this blog we’re going to compare desktops with mini PCs. Most people have a reasonable idea of what a desktop computer is, but what exactly is a mini PC? You can guess that it’s smaller, of course – but is it as powerful? And how does it compare in terms of cost?

First, let’s examine what mini PCs are, what’s inside them and what does all that actually mean when we compare them with desktops?

What is a Mini PC?

Mini PCs are also known as mini-computers or mid-range computers. Basically they are like normal desktop computers in that they possess most of the features and capabilities but, they are tiny in comparison, which gives them certain advantages – and a few disadvantages too!

How do mini PCs work?

Mini PCs have a central processing unit (CPU) and memory, which means a mini PC operates pretty much the same way as a ‘standard’ computer does. They generally have the same parts as a computer but there are a few differences which we’ll explain now.

What is inside a Mini PC?

Processor: Performs operation based on data. Mini PCs generally uses ARM-based processors as they are small and energy-efficient. Hang on a minute – what on earth is an ‘ARM’ processor? Well, an ARM processor is one of a family of CPUs based on the RISC (reduced instruction set computer) architecture developed by Advanced RISC Machines (ARM). ARM makes 32-bit and 64-bit RISC multi-core processors. RISC processors are designed to perform a smaller number of types of computer instructions so that they can operate at a higher speed, performing more millions of instructions per second (MIPS). Phew! We hope that wasn’t too technical!

Memory: Stores data. There are two types of memory: Read-only memory (ROM) and Random-access memory (RAM). ROM cannot be altered, while RAM can be repurposed.

Storage: Mini PCs use Flash memory to hold information.

Operating System: Platform to run other programs.

Computer ports: Allows connection with other devices such as a monitor, keyboards etc. Depending on the model of mini PC, it may also have USB or HDMI, RCA-video out, audio jack.

OK, so we’ve told you what’s inside a mini PC, but what isn’t included?

Cooling System: This may possibly be an issue at some point as computing generates heat. However, if you’re concerned about that aspect, you can always add a fan to your mini PC for peace of mind.

Real-Time Clock (RTC): The RTC is a timekeeping device which keeps going after you’ve shut down your computer and gone away to do something else. However, the RTC relies on power from a battery, but mini PCs don’t actually have a battery, hence they have no RTC.

Physical interface: There’s no display, keyboards or mouse and thus this is something you’ll have to pay extra for. Some mini PCs do support Bluetooth. If not, you can always connect using the USB ports.

SHOP FOR MINI PCS HERE

Variant of mini PC

Barebone

Barebone computers are usually cheaper, but they do not come with a hard drive and RAM. A barebone usually only consists of the case, motherboard and processor.

Advantages of Mini PC

There are a few obvious reasons why you would purchase a mini PC over a laptop or desktop:

Size: This shouldn’t come as a surprise when the name ‘mini’ already tells you that. Because of its tiny body, it is portable, light and can be packed away easily.

Cost: When comparing the cost of a mini pc with desktop or laptops, it is definitely much more cost-effective. And by cost-effective, we mean cheaper!

Versatile: You’re able to change the parts inside a mini PC whenever you need to and it’s up to you which monitor you want to use with it. You can use your TV screen or a computer monitor.

 Energy Consumption: Mini PCs are known for their low energy consumption. OK, this might not sway your decision when buying, but it’s satisfying to know that you’re doing your bit to save the planet whilst also saving you a little on your electric bills.

Your needs will determine your choice of CPU

Are you a light user who wants to use your mini PC for emails and browsing the internet or are you a heavy user who needs power for video editing and graphics work?

If you’re a light user, it’s best to stick to the basic mobile-grade chips (eg. Intel Atoms) or desktop core i3. If you have a more demanding workload, then a desktop core i5 and above is required! The CPU will usually determine how expensive your mini PC is going to be.

Barebone or Ready-to-go?

Generally speaking, barebone and ready-to-go mini PCs don’t have major differences except that hard drive and RAM are not included with Barebone computers. However, both are great options – it all comes down to whether you want to be more hands-on or prefer to get started straight away.

Barebone kits offer more flexibility and are generally popular amongst computer hobbyists who like to select their own favourite components.

Ready-to-go kits are more convenient and easy to set-up, which makes them ideal for beginners. Importantly, you don’t have to install and update your OS and drivers, which is great if you’re not familiar with tech set-up requirements.

Minimum requirements

We mentioned briefly about how your needs would determine which CPU you should go for, now let’s look at the minimum requirements for each of these applications:

Home Uses (includes education, work from home and communications)

Almost all of the mini PCs on the market right now are good enough to perform basic tasks such as social media, answering emails, online lessons. But it’s better to have more room for upgrade, so we recommend you start with 4GB of memory, 120GB HDD, Intel/ AMD i5 core and you’ll basically be able to run most of the applications straight off. You can always upgrade when you feel you need that extra whumph!

SHOP FOR DESKTOP PCS HERE

Gaming

Generally speaking, if you’re a regular gamer, you don’t need to spend a fortune on buying a gaming laptop or PC. You can purchase a mini PC and then upgrade the parts as required! As for the specs, we recommend at least 4 GB for a graphics card that will deliver 30-40 fps which will prevent constant lagging. For CPU, an i5 will be fine. When it comes to RAM, 16 GB will be sufficient, and you can always go for 250 GB HDD.

GeekaWhat checks out an AlphaSync PC…

Direct comparison…

Pros:

These small computers are extremely portable – they’re easily small enough to fit into a bag and stick into the back of your car with minimum fuss. Even though they may not have much onboard storage, that’s not a huge problem if you use the cloud and web service options. It’s probably true that gamers won’t have a mini PC at the top of their wish list, but for simple computing tasks, they are a good fit for many people.

Desktop details!

Mini PCs are not only smaller than desktop computers, they’re cheaper, too. You’ll save lots of disk-space with these small computers and, like we mentioned earlier, they are portable and easy to carry.

Mini PCs consume much less power than their desktop counterparts. A typical desktop needs more than 100 watts of power. A mini PC uses less power and so need less cooling. This means that many mini PCs don’t need or have a fan. Some models do not use an optical disc drive and use a solid state drive, which means that they are virtually silent.

A typical desktop setup

What are the cons?

  • The trade-off is that the hardware specifications and processing power of a mini PC are usually reduced – which means that running complex apps and intensive workloads are not always as effective as they would be on desktops.
  • One of the first things you will notice is that mini PCs have either very limited or zero scope for upgrading. Everything is fixed on the motherboard permanently hence, there is not much space or slots available to make upgrades. However, it’s not much of a trade-off as you would buy a mini PC for performing specific tasks.
  • No graphics card. Due to the small size and no room for an air-cooling system to be installed, the mini PCs do not have graphics cards. There is not much room for controlling the heat and, therefore, many of the mini PCs come with integrated graphics instead of a dedicated one.

Summary…

Well, we’ve had a good look at mini PCs and examined the pros and cons. Mini PCs are a much more attractive proposition today than they used to be. In straight talking, a desktop PC can give you all the power you need, can be upgraded, and will take up more space. A mini PC can fit in an ‘over-sized pocket’, is not as powerful and generally can’t be upgraded. But, they are ultra-portable, and are just the job for those everyday tasks. The decision is yours!

Browse our ranges of powerful desktops and mini PCs here.

To Top