Mar 27 2013 - With the growth of mobile and tablet computers, the market for smaller desktops has shrunk the past year. Many models have been dropped or just scaled back from previous offering. Small systems can be mini PCs, slim case or cubes that use less desktop space than a traditional desktop computer does but still offer a wide range of features. Here are my selections for the best small form factor PCs for their size or task based on my research and experience.
Those few general slim desktops on the market are trending towards more and more value oriented offerings. Of them, the Acer Aspire AXC600 offers a nice package that is priced around $450. The dual core i3-3220 processor, 6GB of memory and 1TB hard drive make this a capable system for the average user that it looks to browse the web, watch media and maybe do some productivity applications. The one big downside to the system is that it does not feature any USB 3.0 ports making it less suitable for those that might need to add extra storage. A good alternative in this case is the slightly more expensive Dell Inspiron 660s which is priced around $500 for nearly the same features but with two USB 3.0 ports.
Mini systems seem to have dropped from the market due to the growth of tablets and mobile media devices. Apple is pretty much a sole contender in this market space as most of the Windows based models opt to use the lower cost Atom nettop processors rather than laptop or desktop components. The diminutive mini is not much bigger than a stack of a few CD cases yet packs some solid features making it an excellent home theater PC as long as you don't need an optical drive. The biggest downside is the limited 500GB hard drive but the updated version does feature four USB 3.0 ports plus a Thunderbolt port for nice external storage options. At $599, it is somewhat pricey for the features but it is hard to top such a tiny PC.
As more companies have either dropped general purpose small desktops or shifted to the budget segment, there is a big gap for those wanting a small desktop with a bit more features. The Alienware X51 may have originally been designed as a small gaming system but it also offers a very capable slim desktop system for those that just want a smaller PC. The $799 version offers a quad core i5 processor, 8GB of DDR3, 1TB hard drive, dual layer DVD burner and even an NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 for light gaming or accelerating non-3D programs. The only downside is that the compact size is generated by having a larger external power brick. A suitable slim system that doesn't feature a large external drive is the Dell Inspiron 660s although it only comes with integrated graphics.
Small gaming desktop systems are a new trend in the market thanks to the higher prices they can generally bring. The iBUYPOWER Revolt R570 is an amazingly capable gaming platform that has a price tag of under $1000. This performance comes from a combination of a i5-3570K quad core processor and a GeForce GTX 660 graphics card that let it play modern games at full 1080p high definition resolutions without a problem. The only real downside is the 4GB of DDR3 memory that is standard which users will really want to upgrade at time of purchase. The system is a bit bigger than the competition and can be noisier when running under load. For those that want the best and are not as concerned about price, the Falcon Northwest Tiki is spectacularly built system that can have some incredible power but be prepared to pay as it starts around $1600 and goes up from there.