The 4 Best Mini PCs for Gaming in 2021

They're tiny but mighty

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The Rundown
Ready for pretty much any game you throw at it, plus it's VR-ready, which is great if you're keen to immerse gaming experience.
Best Graphics Card:
MSI 10SF-862US at Amazon
The graphics card is powerful enough to offer Ray Tracing technology, one of the latest graphical flourishes out there.
A beautifully designed, high-performance PC packing the latest hardware, modular enough to be budget friendly or an absolute powerhouse.
ust pick out your preferred components and the experts at Origin will put everything together for you

The best mini gaming PCs are almost like a Playstation 5, but they do more stuff and look cooler. These pint-sized powerhouse PCs are perfectly suited to fill that console-sized void in your life. With the shortages of next-gen consoles showing no signs of stopping, snagging a brand new mini gaming PC is the best way to experience the latest games at tier 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, but will only be compatible with special components due to its cramped interior. However, if you're willing to commit to a slightly bulkier desktop, like the Alienware Aurora R11, you'll find a chassis with significantly more wiggle room.

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 under load

  • 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 AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics card. That means it's ready for pretty much any game you throw at it, plus it's VR-ready, which is great if you're keen to immerse gaming experience.

Impressively, all that power has been crammed into a small mini-PC form factor that almost looks like a console rather than a PC. It's sleek and small enough that you could bundle it into a messenger bag before taking it elsewhere (roughly six pounds). It also has enough ports to support 6 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 Card: MSI 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 considered 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 i9-9900k processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, 64GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD for storage. In a nutshell, the larger frame of the Trident X means it can include the best specs and hardware of any mini PC we recommend you buy, hands down.

The MSI Trident X is impressively powerful, whatever game you play on it is going to look and run fabulously on this system. The graphics card, in particular, is powerful enough to offer Ray Tracing technology, one of the latest graphical flourishes out there 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 i9-9900K | 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 gen 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 very efficient and still quite capable).

That's one of the R11's most attractive features, in fact, how modular it is. If you don't need an absolute monster, some of the less expensive SKUs are great options for productivity/your home office. Four baseline configs 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

Best Customizable: Origin PC Chronos

Origin PC Chronos
  • Access to premium components

  • Spectacular build quality and customization options

  • Stays reasonably quiet under load

  • Some builds can get very expensive

  • Base 1-year warranty is a bit lacking

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 for you and 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. While everyone has been clambering over each other to get their mits on a 30-series GPU or a Ryzen 5000 processor, pre-fab builders like 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 like Origin may be your best bet to snag one.

There are a couple of caveats, however, as they do 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 only covers 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

Final Verdict

It may be somewhat expensive but the latest iteration of Intel's NUC Kit 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, but its difficult to find a computer that packs more horsepower into such a small amount of space.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jennifer Allen has been writing about technology since 2010. She specializes in iOS and Apple technology, as well as wearable technology and smart home devices. She's been a regular tech columnist for Paste Magazine, written for Wareable, TechRadar, Mashable, and PC World, as well as more diverse outlets including Playboy and ​Eurogamer.

Alice Newcome-Beill has been the associate commerce editor for Lifewire since December 2019. Her work has appeared on PCMag, PC Gamer, and GamesRadar. In her spare time, she enjoys building computers, emulating old software in DOSBox, and cycling.

FAQs

Can you upgrade a mini gaming PC?
You can upgrade certain parts of a mini gaming PC just like any other desktop, however, you'll need to pay particular attention to the size of the components you're using. Some larger parts like graphics cards may not be able to fit in the already compact case. It s also important to note that some PCs like 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, and in some cases allowing it to disappear almost completely by mounting it on a wall or under a desk.

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, to more limited your options become for future upgrade options. 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 at high settings.

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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