The best mini PC for gaming might be an Xbox One S-sized rig containing one of the best graphics cards around, or it might be more of a budget compact PC that provides excellent value for money. There are a range of small form-factor components to choose from, including some from Intel, AMD, and Nvidia, which means creating a great mini gaming PC rig capable of getting you up and running in Minecraft or Call of Duty: Warzone isn’t too difficult these days.
The classic image of a gaming PC is some hulking behemoth of a machine, all frantically spinning fans, blazing rainbow RGB LEDs, and monstrously large graphics cards. But that doesn’t have to be the case anymore with a great small gaming PC – you don’t have to make massive compromises on performance just to lessen your PC’s overall footprint. There are small form factor cases which can still house full-scale components in their TARDIS-like innards.
And sometimes you’ll want a PC that’s not seen and not heard, and thanks to AMD’s Raven Ridge CPU-GPU hybrid platform you can create some incredible mini PC gaming machines. In other words, you don’t always need a pre-built Asus mini PC or Dell mini PC to get a pretty professional compact machine. The actual process of putting the rig together doesn’t differ that greatly to a full-size build, so check out our how to build a gaming PC guide for the basics.
For a mini PC build, component choice is absolutely the most important thing. We’ve picked three different kinds of machine, from a tiny GPU-less Raven Ridge machine, to a pint-sized all-rounder GTX 1660 Ti rig, all the way up to a 24-thread mini-monster with an RTX 2080 Super. For primary storage, you’ll want to go for one of the best SSDs for gaming due to the size constraints and the loading times benefits that come with one.
The best mini PCs for gaming are:
The best budget mini PC for gaming is this AMD Ryzen 5 3400G integrated graphics-based system, clocking in at around £550/$550.
AMD was ahead of the game when it came to integrated graphics, launching their first APUs back in 2011 and this progress shows, with the Ryzen 5 3400G capable of topping 50fps on average in GTA V at 1080p on ‘high’ settings. With more modern games you’ll have to drop your resolution down to 720p to get some decent gaming performance. But if you’re just after this as an esports-ready machine then it will absolutely fly with Overwatch, LoL, and Dota 2.
The ultra-low-profile Noctua L9a is almost the only AM4 cooler we could have used for this machine because of the limited space available in our compact PC chassis. We’ve paired up this InWin Chopin case with the Gigabyte Aorus B450 I to create the smallest of our gaming rigs. We went for the Chopin as it comes with a built-in 150W PSU, which delivers just enough juice to keep the Ryzen 5 3400G APU running, even with both the CPU and GPU components overclocked.
For system storage, we went for an NVMe SSD, primarily because they take up much less space, but the speed is a huge plus, too. The 1TB WD Blue NVMe SSD will give you super-speedy loading times in games and on boot up. If you ever need more storage, you could always go for the 2TB option. For RAM we chose a single stick of Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB DDR4. Again, space is key.
The best mid-range mini PC for gaming is this AMD Ryzen 5 3600X and Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti based system.
You might be surprised at just what you can fit in a chassis this small, but thanks to the advances in mini-ITX motherboards, high-capacity PSUs in a bitesize package, and the use of intelligent partitioning and ribbon cables, you can squeeze a high-end gaming machine into a mini gaming PC this small. This is the best small gaming PC build for those of you that want a discrete graphics card but still want to keep things cheap and cheerful in a compact PC.
To fit a discrete graphics card in while still keeping the build nice and small we went for Fractal Design’s Core 500 chassis. This case is a little bigger than the InWin Chopin, but it has enough room for graphics cards up to 310mm in length, and it will fit a standard-size ATX power supply. Speaking of the power supply, we’ve gone for an EVGA 600 BR power supply which will adequately power all your components, and its bronze rating for efficiency will produce less heat, improving thermals in a small PC case. Storage-wise, we’ve gone for the NVMe SSD from Western Digital again. And for the RAM, we’ve chosen 16GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX running at 3200MHz, which should be more than enough for general productivity and gaming.
By opting for an AMD Ryzen 5 3600X CPU, one of the best gaming CPUs you can buy, and Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti graphics card, you get a pretty mainstream rig capable of playing all the latest games in a small chassis with great bang for your buck. The motherboard is the same as for the budget build, with the Gigabyte Aorus B450-I giving you all the functionality you need here. These components put together give the machine 12 threads of processing power as well as some serious 1440p gaming chops. And with a 1080p screen, you can play all the latest games at the highest settings without batting an eyelid, and with a minimum of 60fps.
The best high-end mini PC for gaming is this AMD Ryzen 9 3900X- and Nvidia RTX 2080 Super-based system.
If you’re not desperate to squeeze a mini gaming PC into a shoebox and are prepared for a little heft without the full ATX tower aesthetic, then the sleek design of the NZXT H210i chassis – with a great cable management system and USB-C connectivity on the front panel – is perfect.
For the motherboard, we’re using an ASUS ROG Strix X570-I Gaming, which is one of the best gaming motherboards you can buy, allowing us to take the step up to an X570 chipset and a 24-thread Ryzen 9 3900X processor. Combine it with one of the best graphics cards you can buy, the Nvidia RTX 2080 Super, and you’ve got one of the most space efficient setups. We would’ve preferred the latest RTX 3080, but with Nvidia’s Ampere card stock shortages looking to stretch into 2021 you’re only going to find an RTX 2080 Super at the moment – besides you’ll be seriously challenged to squeeze everything in looking at how big the 30 series cards are. This should let you breeze through any game at 1440p, and handle a large number of games in 4K, too. Check our guide to the best gaming monitor to take full advantage of the 2080 Super’s muscle.
Because of the slightly larger case design here, we managed to fit in a 120mm liquid CPU cooler from Cooler Master with RGB lighting. Storage-wise, we’ve again gone for a 1TB Western Digital NVMe SSD. However, the NZXT case does have spare 3.5″ hard drive slots available if you want to expand on this for your large collection of games.
mini PC component buying guide
Here’s our handy video guide on buying components for a mini gaming PC.
There are more options for a small form factor PC build than there have ever been, thanks to both motherboard manufacturers embracing the mini-ITX form factor, and processor makers, such as AMD, taking graphics power seriously.
The most important thing is to ensure the case you buy will fit the components you want to cram into it. Check your graphics card measurements against the length of the case, and the distance from the PCIe slot to the backplate and front of the case. Go for smaller components wherever possible, such as by opting for an M.2 NVMe SSD instead of a SATA-connected SSD or HDD.
If your rig’s size is the all-important factor, start with a case and motherboard that suits your requirements and then pick components from there. If it’s secondary to the components, pick the smallest AIB model of the graphics card you want, and then pick the smallest decent case and motherboard that will fit it.
And that’s how easy it is to create a mini PC for gaming, whether you’re building on a budget or looking to create a monster rig with a miniscule footprint. The only thing standing in the way is your imagination. Well, that and your bank balance.
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