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Know Before You Buy: Key Mini PC Features

October 2022

Key Mini PC Features - Simply NUC - Mini PC Key Features - Mini Computer Features - compact pc features - compact computer features - micro pc features - micro computer features

At first glimpse, a mini PC can seem like a small single-function computing device that can only carry out basic computing needs. However, looks can be deceiving, and mini PCs are multi-purpose, easily outperforming numerous high-performance desktop towers and laptops. 

Technological advancements combined with the increased popularity of mini PCs have made small form factor computers so powerful that they execute a wide array of computing tasks. From powering surgical operating technology, to driving video walls, to performing CAD work, mini computers will deliver the performance you need. 

What makes a mini PC so powerful in such a compact size? We’ll cover the key features of a mini PC you should know about.

The Key Features of Mini PCs

1. CPU

Mini PCs are commonly available with Intel or AMD processors. Both types of processors empower mini PCs to deliver top-notch performance for numerous types of computing applications. For example, the Intel® NUC 12 Extreme i9 Dragon Canyon is powered by the latest 12th Gen Intel i9-12900 processor while the Intel® NUC 11 Pro i7 Tiger Canyon is powered by the Intel® Core™ i7-1165G7 processor. Both NUCs are powered by Intel processors, but offer different performance levels based on the processor type and generation. 

Similarly, you can find a wide selection of mini PCs powered by AMD processors. The Ruby 2 features AMD Ryzen™ 5000 series mobile processors to deliver high-speed performance for home and office. For industrial applications, Cypress Porcoolpine, a rugged and fanless mini PC product family, is built with AMD Ryzen™ Embedded V2000 processors and AMD Radeon™ Vega Graphics to deliver performance specifically designed for embedded solutions. 

In addition to Intel and AMD processors, Apple also has its own line of mini PCs called the “Mac Mini”. Their first models of Mac Minis leveraged Intel® Core i-series processors, but more recent models are now powered by Apple’s in-house manufactured chips.  Finally, most of the tiny Android media players are powered by Snapdragon processors from Qualcomm Technologies.  And the popular Raspberry Pi is powered by ARM processors.

In short, there are many types of processor choices when selecting a new mini PC. It mainly depends on what level of performance you need. If the performance needs are extensive, then you should pick more advanced Intel and AMD processors to get the job done efficiently.

2. GPU

Mini PCs are commonly designed to make use of the integrated graphics which are contained in the system-on-a-chip (SOC) along with the CPU.  These smaller mini PC systems do not have a separate PCIe socket for a graphics card. If your computing needs require compute intensive graphics, then select a mini PC with a PCIe x16 socket for a dedicated graphics card such as the Intel NUC 12 Extreme Dragon Canyon which offers you the ability to choose your graphics card such as the Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 series.  These configurations will allow you to play AAA games and experience premium VR at home; or complete complex CAD models, image rendering, or high-end simulations at work.

3. Memory

In terms of volatile memory (for data that can be lost when the device is shut down), mini PCs support a few different memory variants. Most modern mini PCs come with DDR4 RAM modules in the SO-DIMM form factor – the same as ones found in laptop computers. A typical mini PC will contain two SO-DIMM sockets.  For example, the Ghost Canyon NUC9i7QNX, Serpent Canyon NUC12SNKi7, and Beast Canyon NUC11BTMi7 all come with a base configuration of 8GB DDR4 memory (a 4GB memory module in each SO-DIMM socket), but can be configured with up to 64GB.  For best performance you should “pair up” the two SO-DIMM sockets with equal capacity memory modules (Simply NUC will automatically do this for you).  The speed of the memory interface maxes out at around 3200Mz for DDR4 memory.  As we move into 2023, Simply NUC will be shifting over to DDR5 memory which will offer speeds up to 5600Mz.

4. Storage

The non-volatile storage (for data that must be maintained when the system is shut down) in mini PCs has long been based on small form factor hard disk drives (HDDs).  And though HDDs are still considerably (25% to 50%) lower cost than solid state drives (SSDs), most mini PCs currently use SSDs.  Several factors have driven this including size, speed, and reliability.  

Today there are two main solid state drive (SSD) form factors:

  • M.2 (several size options)
  • 2.5 inch

The M.2 SSDs (roughly the size of a stick of chewing gum) plug directly into a socket on the mini PC motherboard and come in sizes of 22x30mm, 22x42mm, 22x60mm, 22x80mm, and 22x110mm.   Currently 22x80mm is the most common SSD size for mini PCs and capacities of those drives range from 256GB to 8TB.  Most mini PCs accommodate one to three M.2 sockets on the motherboard.  Also important to note is the communication protocol between the M.2 SSD and the rest of the computer comes in two varieties: SATA and NVMe.  Given that the NVMe protocol supports much higher data rates (which can result in faster boot times), NVMe M.2 drives are preferred in most mini PC systems today.  

In regard to 2.5 inch hard drives, they are available in both HDD and SSD options and can provide larger storage capacity compared to M.2 drives. Some mini PC models come with a bracket for the drive and contain a SATA header on the motherboard to connect the drive to the system.  Since these are SATA drives, the performance will be slower than M.2 NVMe drives.  If you’re concerned about maximum storage capacity, select an HDD, but if you prioritize speed and reliability, select SSD.  Most mini PCs that ship with 2.5” drives contain SATA SSDs.

5. Ports

Mini PCs come with multiple video, data, and communications ports to make it easy to connect to the internet and other peripherals, such as monitors, mice, keyboards, web cameras, etc. Most mini PCs feature a variety of USB, HDMI, DP, audio jacks, and LAN jacks. Most of Simply NUC’s mini PCs also provide  replaceable lids or back panel expansion bays that allow for additional ports and expanded functionality should the native feature set fall short on ports required.

Computer Ports

6. Operating System (OS)

When choosing your mini PC vendor, be sure they offer ready-to-go systems imaged with a pre-installed operating system. When purchasing mini PCs from Simply NUC, you are able to select the OS you want pre-installed on your device during the configuration process. Your choice of operating system is dependent on the base unit you select and should be determined based on the intended usage for the device. For example, the Wall Street Canyon product family, focused on business and embedded usage,  can be configured with Ubuntu Linux, Windows 10 (Home, Pro, and loTe) and Windows 11 (Home and Pro) while the Frost Canyon product family, focused more on consumer usage, doesn’t offer Windows 10 loTe.  Simply NUC will even manage custom images for larger projects.  You can chat with one of our sales representatives for more information.

If your mini PC comes with a pre-installed OS, you can still change it to a different one just like you can on desktop tower PCs. Similarly, you can also install new updates of your current OS. Overall, you will get the same OS experience with a mini PC as you get with other types of tower PCs or laptops. 

7. Mounting and Organization Accessories

Mini PCs function just fine for people sitting on a desktop and offer a clutter-free and energy-efficient experience.  But oftentimes mini computers are working for “things” such as digital signs or point-of-sale (POS) terminals and need to be tucked away out of sight.  Simply NUC offers a wide range of mounting options for mini computers including VESA mounts, locking security mounts,  and DIN rails.  Simply NUC also offers Server Shelf and Server Drawer accessories to enable the organization of up to 10  mini PCs that can be managed from a server closet to maintain a virtual desktop environment.

Mini PC: A Ready-to-Go Device

In conclusion, mini PCs are the perfect choice for all types of computer applications. Mini PCs purchased from Simply NUC are ready-to-go devices, arriving completely customized based on your needs. Get in touch with us today and discover the right mini PC for you and your business!

Simply NUC, Inc. is a systems integrator specializing in mini computers. Simply NUC provides fully configured, warranted, and supported mini PC systems to businesses and consumers, as well as end-to-end NUC project development, custom operating system installations, and NUC accessories.

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