The 7 Best Mini PCs for Gaming in 2021

They're tiny but mighty

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The Rundown
A lot of power has been crammed into a mini PC form factor that looks almost like a console rather than a computer.
Best Graphics:
MSI 10SF-862US at Amazon
The Trident X's larger frame means it can include the best specs and hardware of any mini PC we recommend you buy, hands down.
When you need a powerhouse computer for gaming, graphic design, or video rendering, the Aurora R11 is a spectacular choice.
Just pick out your preferred components and the experts at Origin will put everything together for you.
Users will get a good start in the compact gaming PC market while also leaving room in the budget for future upgrades.
Some compact PCs force owners to avoid full-size GPUs, but Razer has designed the Tomahawk to fit the best GPUs available.
This PC is slightly larger to benefit beginners, as the extra space will allow for easier upgrades and will help with cooling.

The best mini gaming PCs don’t take up as much room as a full-sized rig, but they still let you play your favorite PC gaming titles. With shortages of next-gen consoles showing no signs of stopping, snagging a brand new mini gaming PC is the ideal way to experience the latest games at their best-possible quality.

These machines do come with a series of trade-offs, however. While lower-end models won't cost any more than a current-gen console, some of the more premium models can cost upwards of triple what you'd pay for your typical console. Also, while they are more versatile than most game consoles, setting up and maintaining a gaming PC can be slightly more demanding from a technical standpoint.

While the diminutive size of these computers is their claim to fame, it's important to consider whether you plan to upgrade any of these down the road, as their small and often unique form factors can make upgrades an awkward endeavor for even the most seasoned PC builder.

For instance, while the Intel NUC 9 Extreme easily packs the most power into the smallest amount of space, it will be compatible only with special components due to its cramped interior. However, if you're willing to commit to a slightly bulkier desktop, such as the Alienware Aurora R11, you'll find a chassis with significantly more wiggle room. These are all considerations to keep in mind. 

If you’re still interested in a mini gaming PC, check out our picks for the best options available for 2021. If you want something full-sized, check out our picks for the best gaming PCs overall.

Best Overall: Intel NUC 9 Extreme NUC9i9QNX

Intel NUC 9 Extreme NUC9i9QNX
What We Like
  • Compact

  • Extensive I/O options

  • Easy to customize

What We Don't Like
  • Noisy while loading

  • Expensive

There's not much that the Intel NUC 9 can't handle. It sports an Intel i9-9980HK Quad-Core Processor, 64GB RAM, a 2TB SSD hard drive, and an AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics card. That means it's prepared for pretty much any game you throw at it, plus it's VR-ready, which is great if you're keen for an immersive gaming experience.

All that power has been crammed into a mini PC form factor that looks almost like a console rather than a computer. It's sleek and small enough that you could bundle it into a messenger bag before taking it elsewhere (roughly 6 pounds). It also has enough ports to support six independent 4K displays if you ever need to host a LAN party.

Curiously, there's a skull on the case of the Intel NUC 9. It's a bit of a gimmick, but if you want something that looks and feels more like a gaming machine rather than a ho-hum office computer, you can show off your skull however you want.

CPU: Intel Core i9-9980HK | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics | RAM: 2x8GB | Storage: 380GB M.2SSD + 1TB M.2 SSD

Best Graphics: MSI MEG Trident X 10SF-862US

What We Like
  • Compact form factor

  • Upgradeable

  • Tons of storage

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Base model is overkill for most AAA gaming

The MSI Trident X is a fairly large gaming PC considering it's still labeled as a mini system. But it's worth it if you can find the extra room on your desk or countertop unit. Sticking with a small form case, it has room for an Intel i9-10900k processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, 64GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD for storage. In a nutshell, the Trident X's larger frame means it can include the best specs and hardware of any mini PC we recommend you buy, hands down.

The Trident X is impressively powerful, and whatever game you play is going to look and run fabulously on this system. The graphics card, in particular, is powerful enough to offer Ray Tracing technology, a graphical flourish that bounces light rays in a realistic way on any surface that reflects light.

It's a good looking system, too, with a tempered glass side panel so you can view the fans as they work, along with Red Green Blue (RGB) case lighting. And, it has a mix of eight USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports if you love plugging in accessories.

CPU: Intel Core i9-10900K | GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 | RAM: 64GB | Storage: 1TB SSD

Best Midsize: Alienware Aurora R11

What We Like
  • Amazing specs

  • Sleek, compact design

  • Configurable to suit your needs/budget

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly more expensive than some manufacturers

While this otherworldly PC stretches the definition of mini, when you need an absolute powerhouse of a computer for gaming, graphic design, or video rendering, the Aurora R11 is a spectacular choice. This desktop PC packs a ton of power into a small, gorgeous chassis.

It features liquid-cooled, 10th-generation Intel CPUs and the latest graphics cards from Nvidia, whether you want a ray-tracing enabled flagship RTX card for unbelievable graphics horsepower or one of the new Pascal-in-Turing-architecture GTX 1660 cards (which are significantly less expensive but still quite efficient).

Our reviewer Erika Rawes was impressed with the customization options the R11 provided. That's one of the R11's most attractive features, in fact. If you don't need an absolute monster, some of the less expensive SKUs are great options for productivity/your home office.

Four baseline configurations can be tweaked and customized into thousands of potential permutations, meaning you can go from a reasonably priced rig that's still outfitted with the latest tech to a screaming devil box with dual 2080 Tis (or even one of Nvidia's latest 3000-series cards).

CPU: Intel Core i5, i7, or i9 | GPU: NVIDIA GeForce or AMD | RAM: 8 to 128GB | Storage: Up to 2TB

"With a 10th Gen Intel Core processor, optional liquid cooling, and dual NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti cards in the highest level model, the Alienware Aurora R11 is an absolute monster." — Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Alienware Aurora R11

Lifewire / Erika Rawes

Best Customizable: Origin PC Chronos

Origin PC Chronos
What We Like
  • Access to premium components

  • Spectacular build quality and customization options

  • Stays reasonably quiet under load

What We Don't Like
  • Some builds can get very expensive

If you've got money to burn and want a compact PC built to your exact specifications, the Origin Chronos is an excellent choice. Just pick out your preferred components and the experts at Origin will put everything together to have you up and running in no time. You can even select from a variety of colors and finishes.

Perhaps the best part of going through Origin for a custom PC is their access to top-of-the-line components. Want a 30-series GPU or a Ryzen 5000 processor? Pre-fab builders such as Origin get preference when re-stocks of these rarefied components actually come through. So, if you were planning to build a PC with these parts anyway, using a service such as Origin may be your best bet to snag one.

There are a couple of caveats, however, as Origin does charge something of a premium for parts and labor, with some configurations reaching upwards of $4,000. Perhaps even worse is that the standard warranty covers only part replacement for a year. But, if you've got cash to burn, the Origin Chronos is undoubtedly the most powerful PC on our list.

CPU: Intel Core i5, i7, or i9 | GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060, 3070, or 3080 | RAM: 16 or 32GB | Storage: Varies

Best Budget: HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop, Compact Tower Design

What We Like
  • Excellent price

  • Will handle most games at solid framerates

  • Easy to upgrade

What We Don't Like
  • Not the most powerful

  • Will require new parts to stay up to date

For users looking to stay on a budget, HP Pavilion has a solid entry with its HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop with Compact Tower Design. The Intel Core i5 still works well with most games so there won't be a need for an immediate upgrade, but it won't run everything on the highest settings, either.

The same can be said for the included graphics card, which is a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 16500. There is 8GB of RAM, which is upgradable to 32GBs, and 256GB of NVMe SSD storage. Essentially what users will get here is a good start in the compact gaming PC market, while also leaving room in the budget for future upgrades. And everything can be easily swapped out, as the important parts are simple to reach and remove. 

This PC is 4K ready, has customizable LED lighting, and includes the OMEN Command Center, which allows for system optimization. The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop with Compact Tower Design can get users gaming without breaking the wallet. 

CPU: Intel Core i5-10400F | GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 16500 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB NVMe SSD

Best Splurge: Razer Tomahawk Gaming Desktop with GeForce RTX 3080

What We Like
  • Small, attractive design

  • Full-sized GPU support

  • Tool-less SLED system

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

For those who have a large amount of cash, but a small amount of space, the Razer Tomahawk Gaming Desktop provides gamers with all of the power while still easily fitting on a desktop. Using Intel NUC and the Intel Core i9, this pricey rig should easily destroy any AAA game that comes its way, and continue doing so for a long time, which could help justify the price.

When upgrade time does come, an innovative SLED system allows for a tool-less process, which will make it much faster to perform swaps in the rig. Some compact PCs force owners to avoid full-size GPUs, but Razer has designed the Tomahawk to fit the best GPUs available. If you do not like the provided NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080, you can opt to exclude the GPU from your build and add your own when you receive the PC. 

For storage, there is a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD and a 2TB HDD available, with an additional M.2 slot ready for more space. Ports include four USB3.2 Gen 2 Type A and two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C, as well as two 3.5mm audio ports. The Razer Tomahawk is extremely expensive, but it has a lot going for it.

CPU: Intel Core i9-9980HK 8-Core | GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe + 2TB HDD (5400 RPM)

Best for Beginners: SkyTech Chronos Mini Gaming Computer

What We Like
  • Ready to play AAA games

  • Good price

  • Easy to upgrade

What We Don't Like
  • Looks like a speaker with a bit too much RGB

  • Could use more power

The SkyTech Chronos Mini Gaming Computer has pretty much everything necessary to plug in, turn on, and get to gaming as fast as possible, which makes it ideal for beginners. The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 and the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 are both showing their age a bit, but they are still capable of running modern games at solid frame rates. Just don't expect to go full 4K and get the same performance.

The included 1TB SSD drive will hold up for a long time, and will help games to run and load quickly, and 16GB of RAM can hold its own. The case has a bit too much RGB showing, and the fans showing through the mesh front make it look a bit like a colorful speaker.

This PC is slightly larger than some of the entries on this list, but that is a benefit to beginners. The extra space will allow for easier upgrades and will help with cooling, which takes a bit for beginners to figure out and not overheat after those upgrades. The Chronos has all the right parts in the right places to build from as time goes on.

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 | GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 1TB SSD

Final Verdict

The latest iteration of Intel's NUC Kit (view at Amazon) packs a remarkable amount of power into a small package. It may not have the necessary real estate for simple GPU upgrades like the MSI Trident series (view at Amazon), but it's difficult to find a computer that packs more horsepower into such a small amount of space.

About Our Trusted Experts

Erika Rawes has written for Lifewire since October 2019. She is a consumer technology expert, which includes gaming and gaming components.

FAQs

Can you upgrade a mini gaming PC?
You can upgrade certain parts of a mini gaming PC just like any other desktop, but you'll need to pay particular attention to the size of the components you're using. Some larger parts such as graphics cards may not be able to fit in the already compact case. It's also important to note that some PCs such as the Intel NUC kit may not use conventional components.

Why wouldn't you just buy a console?
While most gaming consoles are generally less expensive and easier to set up than your typical PC, they are far less powerful and versatile. A PC can serve as a media center or a workstation as well as a gaming console. If you're planning on using a PC exclusively for gaming, we'd recommend giving a gaming console some serious consideration, especially if you're on a budget. However, if you need a device that's a little more flexible, a mini PC is hard to beat.

What's the difference between a mini gaming PC and a conventional desktop?
As the name might suggest, a mini gaming PC is going to be far more compact than your typical desktop, allowing you to fit it into spaces that a normal PC might struggle with. In some cases, you can make it disappear almost completely by mounting it on a wall or under a desk.

Alienware Aurora R11

Lifewire / Erika Rawes

What to Look For in the Best Mini Gaming PCs

Size

Form factor is an important concern when selecting the best mini gaming PC because they’re available in a fairly wide range of sizes. The smaller you go, the more limited your options become for future upgrades. So you have to figure out what you need your mini PC to do, and then find one that can accomplish those goals while still meeting your size constraints.

Graphics

If you want to do any serious gaming, you absolutely need a system that has a dedicated graphics card. Some would argue that it’s impossible to go too big in this department, but you can save a ton of money by avoiding the latest cards in favor of an older card that’s still capable of running your favorite games on high settings.

Alienware Aurora R11

Lifewire / Erika Rawes

Upgradability

One of the best things about PC gaming is that when your rig starts getting a little long in the tooth, you can replace components one at a time or add new components. Look for a gaming PC that has enough extra PCI, PCIe, and M.2 slots, and enough room in the case to accommodate upgrades. It’s a nice bonus if the case is easy to crack open without special tools.

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