Finding the Best Small Form Factor PCs

The best small form factor PCs

Welcome to our regularly updated guide to the best small desktop computers for both work and play.

In this day and age of digital content-on-demand, normal television programming is becoming outdated as people are turning to on-demand services such as Netflix, Hulu or HBO GO for the viewing desires. Even with the emergence of smart televisions more and more people have decided to go the Home Theater PC route. Whether just for streaming services, playing media collections stored on an external hard drive or for video chatting with Skype the HTPC caters to everyone’s streaming needs. It can be tricky to decide on a HTPC that would suit your needs, but we here at DesktopcomputerNinja have your back and have compiled a list of the best selling small form factor computers that would serve well as Home Theater PC’s but could also be perfectly adequate if you need a basic computer that doesn’t waste space on your desk.

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Home Theatre Personal Computer Buying Guides

For more information on buying a Home Theatre PC check out Assassin HTPC’s article on Buying and building a HTPC.

Intel Compute Stick CS125 BOXSTK1AW32SCIntel Compute Stick CS125 BOXSTK1AW32SC

If you are looking at turning your HDTV into a media center that runs a full version of Windows 10, then the Intel Compute Stick CS125 BOXSTK1AW32SC is well worth considering for its price. You will get the same hardware that you will find in mid-range Windows based tablets, so don’t expect to be able to be playing any AAA gaming titles on this mini-PC. But it will allow you to enjoy Windows 10 apps such as VLC Player, Microsoft Office and Google Chrome on your HDTV. Powered by a Quad-Core Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor and 2GB of DDR3L RAM, the Intel Compute Stick CS125 will run most of your apps with ease. The newer Intel processor offers slightly more power than its predecessor, the Intel Atom Z3735F processor. But the Atom processor and 2GB of RAM are underpowered for heavy multitasking and more intensive apps. The eMMC flash storage allows you to boot into Windows in seconds, But the 32GB of storage space is quite limiting as you only get about 18GB of space with Windows 10 installed. Luckily you can install a high-speed microSD card to expand the mini-PC’s internal storage. Don’t forget to format the card to NTFS so that you can copy multimedia files that are larger than 2GB. With two USB ports, you can easily connect a wireless keyboard and mouse and an external hard drive will all of your multimedia files. We recommend making use of the Intel Compute Stick CS125’s Bluetooth to connect your keyboard and mouse, allowing you to make full use of the two USB ports.

  • Display not included, pixels
  • Windows 10 Home 32-Bit
  • 0.83 lbs

Pros

  • Small and portable
  • Easy to install and setup
  • Fast eMMC flash memory
  • Dual-Band AC WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0
  • Quad-Core Intel Atom processor

Cons

  • Limited storage space
  • Underpowered CPU
  • Only 2GB of RAM
  • Only two ports

Summary

The Intel Compute Stick CS125 is a mini-PC that will allow you to enjoy all of your favorite Windows 10 apps on your HDTV. But the limited storage space will require the use of a microSD card or an external hard drive.

Intel Compute Stick CS125 BOXSTK1AW32SC
from $126.19
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from Amazon.com
(as of 29-04-2017 19:59 UTC) Details

Intel-NUC-NUC5i5RYK

Intel NUC NUC5i5

The Intel NUC NUC5i5 is a mini PC equipped with an Intel processor on a custom motherboard designed by Intel. However, this is not a complete desktop as it lacks essential components like RAM, Hard Drive and Operating System. The system does provide easy access to the internal components so that even a non-technical user can add the necessary hardware without much effort. Comparing it to its predecessor, the NUC5i5 comes with a smaller frame, a more powerful processor and support for M.2 SSDs. This silver-black colored unit has a very basic look which can be easily mistaken for an ordinary set-top box. However, once you pick it up, you will find that it’s primarily made of solid metal with glossy black plastic lid on top. It is very light and measures barely an inch thick. Despite its miniscule size, all the standard ports are included. The front panel houses two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, and the back has two more USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort, a mini HDMI and Ethernet. Both Bluetooth and a high speed 802.11ac Wi-Fi are built-in. After you’ve purchased the required amount of RAM and Hard Drive or SSD, you can add those components to the empty slots which can be accessed after removing the four screws on the bottom panel. Note that other internal components like processor and GPU cannot be upgraded since they’re soldered into the motherboard. This unit is equipped with an Intel Core i5-5250U processor clocked at 1.6GHz at base frequency and 2.7GHz at turbo boost. With enough memory and a fast SSD installed, this system will have no problem running daily tasks as well as even some heavy duty applications like Photo editing software. Though a fairly capable system, it is not cut out for hardcore gaming because it lacks a dedicated graphics card. However,games as of 2014/15 will run fluently mostly at low settings. If you want an affordable, fast and highly portable desktop to connect to your large screen TV, the NUC5i5 is a well-priced desktop for the included hardware and upgrade flexibility.

  • Not installed

Pros

  • Good price
  • Small form factor
  • Ample connectivity
  • 4K HD Support

Cons

  • RAM and HDD not included

Summary

An affordable barebone machine with ample connectivity ports, just add RAM and a hard drive.

Intel NUC NUC5i5RYK
from $369.24
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from Amazon.com
(as of 29-04-2017 19:46 UTC) Details

ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop

ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop

As always Asus seems to find its way into every market and the Chrome OS platform is no exception. The Asus Chromebox-M004U Desktop is a small, lightweight HTPC which runs the Chrome OS. Its slightly limited to streaming media and light computing tasks and it only comes with a 1.4GHz Intel Celeron, 2GB RAM and a 16GB solid state drive. Don’t let that fool you though, the Asus Chromebox may be limited in function but it does what its meant to and does it extremely well. The SSD ensures boot up and load times are blazing fast and the lightweight Chrome OS make perfect use of the hardware that runs it. At the sub $200 mark it’s a steal and should not be overlooked for people who are serious about their TV experience.

  • Display not included, pixels
  • Chrome OS
  • 1.3 lbs

Pros

  • Small size
  • Fast performance
  • Ease of use

Cons

  • Chrome OS limitations

Summary

A handy small Chromebox that runs smoothly and is incredibly easy to use however Chrome OS is limiting.

ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U
from $163.5$162.19
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from Amazon.com
(as of 29-04-2017 19:46 UTC) Details

Quantum-Byte-QS-1043-Q

Quantum Byte QS-1043-QB

The Quantum Byte QS-1043-QB is a reasonably priced desktop packing entry-level hardware components capable of efficiently running everyday applications along with the Windows 8.1. Weighing just 0.8 pounds and 5.9 x 1.5 x 4.1 inches in dimensions, it has a small footprint that doesn’t take much space on your desk. Most of its ports are neatly placed on the back and either side of the black box. It comes with three USB 2.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, Bluetooth, Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. Therefore, dual monitor configuration is possible on this machine. This small PC doesn’t have any moving parts like a mechanical hard drive or cooling fan, which means you will hardly hear any noise while working with it. An optical drive, keyboard and mouse are things that you’ll have to purchase separately. Intended for basic use, the QS-1043-QB has a Quad-Core Intel Atom Z3735F processor, which is a processor mostly used in small-sized laptops and mid-range tablets. Combined with 2 GB of RAM, it can run basic tasks without much problem. Users have also reported a smooth experience while streaming Netflix, web browsing and playing 1080p videos with many users reported their satisfaction with its boot up times. However, the default memory cannot be upgraded so users should be careful not to open too many apps at once. The system can tackle multimedia fairly well, but it’s not capable of running any game that is remotely demanding. Not a lot of files can be stored in its 32GB flash storage, however users have the option to add up to 128GB via an SD card. All in all, if you want a small windows desktop to work with as a media center or something cheap for your basic office related tasks, the QS-1043-QB is worth a look.

  • Windows 8
  • 0.12 lbs

Pros

  • Small form factor
  • Fanless design
  • Good basic performance
  • Low Price

Cons

  • Poor multitasking
  • Weak integrated graphics

Summary

A very affordable Windows 8 PC that is good for basic tasks but won't perform well if for anything more advanced.

Quantum Byte QS-1043-Q
from $169.99
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from Amazon.com
(as of 29-04-2017 19:45 UTC) Details

Quantum-Access-Windows-Mini-PC-Stick

Quantum Access Mini PC Stick

The Quantum Access Mini PC has a similar design like that of the Roku stick or Chromecast, but it is slightly larger and heavier because of extra ports and a Wi-Fi antenna. However, this device is actually a fully functional Windows PC encased in a 0.47 inch thick frame that weighs barely .4 pounds. It has a cheap plastic design with subtle textured surfaces on the sides, and its antenna particularly feels fragile. However, at this price, people are more concerned with usability and performance than the look of the device. Despite its size, the Mini PC has a full-sized USB 2.0 port, a microUSB port, a microSD card reader, built-in Wi-Fi and an HDMI output jack attached to one of the ends. The Mini PC is easily recognized, after it’s connected to an HDTV. Once connected, users will have to go through the initial setup with the help of a USB keyboard. Because there’s only USB port, a USB splitter is necessary if you want to attach multiple peripherals. The built-in Bluetooth also allows you to connect a wireless keyboard and mouse. The internal hardware is similar to what you’ll find in a mid-range tablet or other convertibles. It is powered by a Quad-Core Intel Atom Z3735F processor, with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. Users can rely on this this device for office applications, web browsing and high definition video streaming. While it performs better than expected for a budget device, keep your usage in check because anything remotely demanding in terms of RAM or processing power will cause significant lag. Since it meets the minimum requirement for Windows 10, upgrading its default operating system may slightly boost its performance. Overall, if you want to take some of your regular desktop work to a larger screen but don’t want to spend more than $150 on another PC, the Quantum Access Mini may suit your needs.

  • Windows 8.1
  • 0.4 lbs

Pros

  • Tiny size
  • Good basic performance
  • Built in Wifi

Cons

  • Only 1 USB port
  • Low amount of storage
  • Non upgradable

Summary

A pocket size PC with built-in WiFi that connects directly to your display via the built-in HDMI-male connector.

Quantum Access Mini PC Stick QS-1048-QA
from $97.99$96.35
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from Amazon.com
(as of 29-04-2017 19:46 UTC) Details

Asus VivoPC VM40B-02

Asus VivoPC-VM42-S075V

Another lightweight HTPC from Asus to consider is the Asus VivoPC-VM42-S075V although limiting this to a HTPC would be a mistake. The Asus VivoPC-VM42-S075V is a full stand alone PC and can be used from anything from light gaming to office work and beyond. It runs windows 8 so you are not limited as to what software you could run like its Chromebox counterpart. While it only has a 1.5GHz Intel Celeron, it does have 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive so storing your movies or series won’t be a problem. All in all the Asus VivoPC-VM42-S075V is a fantastic and versatile little computer and would make a great addition to any home entertainment setup.

ASUS VM42-S075V
See Price at Retailer
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from Amazon.com
(as of 08-04-2017 13:39 UTC) Details

MSI DC111-040US

MSI DC111-040US

One of the biggest trade offs when purchasing a small form factor PC is performance and at the sub $300 price point you won’t be getting a gaming beast. The MSI DC111-040US however offers acceptable day to day performance in a small package and as an added bonus somewhat resembles a storm trooper helmet. Inside the Star Wars-esq chassis the processing is handled by the Dual-Core Intel Celeron 1037U running at 1.8GHz. A 500GB 5400RPM hard drive handles the storage which isn’t overly generous however is sufficient for a decent media collection. With two USB 3.0 ports adding an external hard drive for additional storage is both fast and easy. Both a VGA and an HDMI port means a bigger choice of screen for the user and the 4GB of RAM helps with load times and multitasking. Stereo and SP/DIF Optical audio out make connecting the DC111 to an external sound system easy even for novice users. The MSI DC111-040US is a great micro PC that is best used as a home theatre PC or for basic computing tasks.

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