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Are Mini PCs Good for Gaming ?

DFRobot Mar 15 2023 15358

The Mini PC is the top choice for computer gamers today who are looking for high-performance gaming equipment but are also limited in space. Why? Because most Mini PCs are significantly smaller than laptops or gaming PCs, and for those who want to carry a PC in their backpack or pocket to play games or save desk space in the gaming den at home, Mini PC is also a great purchase option. There is a lot of variety when it comes to Mini PCs for gaming on the market. Before we move on, let’s learn a little about the valve of Mini PCs for gaming.

SBC for Mini Gaming PCs

What Is a Mini PC? 

A Mini PC, also known as a Miniature PC, is exactly what it sounds like. They have the most of features and capabilities of a desktop PC, but they are portable and smaller in physical size. They typically come without a screen or keyboard, but they have ports to connect to peripherals that you buy separately. If you are looking to understand the difference between Mini PCs, SBCs, SBS, and Motherboards, read Everything You Need to Know About Mini PCs, SBS, SBCs, and Motherboards for further information.

 

Value of Mini PCs for Gaming

Mini PCs are ideal for a variety of gaming setups, offering many of the same qualities as other gaming machines. A Mini PC generally has the same parts as a computer, but there are a few differences, let’s look at what’s in a Mini PC:

- CPU: Performs operations based on data. Mini PCs generally use (Intel/ARM)-based processors as it is small and energy-efficient.

- Memory: Stores data. There are two types of memory: Read-only memory (ROM) and random-access memory (RAM). When it comes to RAM, it is often the more, the better.

- GPU: Graphics Processing Unit. One of the most important components for PC gaming and content production work. There are two types of GPUs: integrated and discrete. An integrated GPU is integrated directly into the CPU, while a discrete GPU (sometimes called a dedicated graphics card) is a separate chip mounted on its own circuit board and connected to a PCI Express slot. Many computing applications can run well with integrated GPUs. However, if you require higher graphics performance for tasks such as 3A/D gaming, you may need to consider using a dedicated graphics card or an external graphics card accelerator (such as an eGPU) to provide better graphics processing capabilities.

- Storage: Expandable storage, 64GB of storage in the base model.

- Size: Desktop performance in a small package and can easily be taken anywhere.

 

Your Needs Will Determine Your Choice of Mini PC for Gaming

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of gamers, one is the regular gamer who loves to play retro gaming or classic gaming because it can remind he/she of the old-school gaming experience. The other is the serious gamer, who needs a Mini PC to play the AAA game with the frame rates he/she needs on his/her preferred settings. And he/she may also want to look for a Mini PC that can provide a premium VR experience. It all depends on which Mini PC you are choosing and for what purpose.

Although Mini PCs boast many uses, retro gaming emulation is the most popular one.  Why? Let’s learn a little about how emulation works.

 

How Does Emulation Work?

For emulation, you will need emulators, which are special pieces of software designed to mimic other devices, mainly old and current video game consoles.

Different from most software that works within the realm of your current operating system, an emulator works to create the artificial hardware and software environment of a console. The apps and games running within an emulator seem to be running on the original console.

For example, let’s say you want to run a Nintendo 64 game on your PC. That game itself isn’t compatible with the hardware and software of your PC, but the emulator will emulate everything about a Nintendo 64 and deceive the game into thinking that it’s running on a Nintendo 64 console instead of a PC.

If you have ever considered running emulators on your PC, you might have been told that emulation demands a lot of computing power. Well, that’s not entirely true. It has been proven that the requirements for the hardware of hundreds of emulators of retro game consoles from the 1980s and 1990s are normally quite low.

 

Different Components of a Mini PC Have Different Importance for Emulation

- CPU: The CPU is the most important part as it does all or most of the simulation of the console during emulation. 

- RAM: When it comes to RAM, it is often the more, the better, that’s also true with emulation.

- GPU: Different from conventional PC gaming, the role of GPU is not as important in emulation.

- Memory: The amount of storage you need for emulation depends on which emulators and how many games you want to play on the Mini PC. For example, a retro game like Super Mario usually does not need too much space on your dish, but a graphics-intensive game like Nintendo 64 surely takes much more space.

 

Why Are Mini PCs Perfect for Emulation?

- Size: Mini PCs are much cheaper and smaller. As such, they present a super-affordable entryway into emulation. 

- Performance: It has proven that an x86 Mini PC handily beats any Arm-based machines in the same price range.

- Lower Power Consumption: Most Mini PCs are powered by mobile chips and integrated graphics. Thus, running emulations on a Mini PC could result in significantly lower power consumption.

- Compatibility: Every operating system includes certain emulators that are not available on other platforms. Mini PCs, particularly those based on X86 architecture, are designed to support various operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and Android X86. This compatibility allows users to choose the operating system which suits their needs best, and ensures seamless performance on the Mini PC.

 

Mini PC Recommendation for Retro Gaming

After reading so much on why Mini PCs are perfect for retro gaming, why not try the following recommendations?

LattePanda 3 Delta 864 - The Fastest Pocket-sized Windows/Linux Single Board Computer ($279.00)

LattePanda 3 Delta 864 Mini PC Mini game pc

Figure: LattePanda 3 Delta 864 Mini PC

 

The LattePanda 3 Delta is a cost-effective pocket-sized Single-Board Computer. It gets a significant performance boost by upgrading from the Celeron N4100 of the LattePanda 2 Delta to the Intel 11th-generation Celeron N5105 processor with up to 2.9GHz burst frequency, maintaining almost the same pinout and layout as the previous version to allow for effortless system migration or upgrading by replacement. Compared to its previous version, the CPU of LattePanda 3 Delta speeds up to 2 x faster while the GPU speeds up to 3 x faster to support usage like playing a 4K HDR video and running heavy games. 

 

Features:

- Intel® Celeron® N5105, Core: 2.0~2.9GHz Quad-Core, Four-Thread

- Graphics: Intel® UHD Graphics (Frequency: 450 – 800MHz)

- Memory: LPDDR4 8GB 2933MHz

- Storage: 64GB eMMC V5.1

- Size: 125 x 78 x 16mm

- Support Windows 10, Windows 11 and Linux

- Integrated Arduino Coprocessor Leonardo ATMEGA32U4

- 1x M.2 M Key, PCIe 3.0 2x, Supports NVMe SS

 

Pros & Cons:

- Cost-effective and portable

- Powerful CPU

- Storage options

- Arduino compatibility

- Windows and Linux compatibility

- Lack of a schematic

 

Accessories

Because LattePanda 3 Delta only comes in a board, there are some accessories we would recommend you use alongside LattePanda 3 Delta:

 

12.5" 4K IPS Touch Display ($289.00)

The display screen utilizes low blue light and flicker-free technology to take care of your eyes. In addition, this monitor adopts a 3840*2160 high-resolution and HDR high dynamic image rendering technology, allowing the device to present all details in more vivid colors and sharp light and shadow contrast on a 12.5-inch screen, reproducing the real world. The product's IPS panel provides a 100% color gamut and a 178° Wide Viewing Angle, maintaining a natural, clear, and delicate picture.

Wiring diagram of LattePanda 3 SBC and Display

Figure: Diagram of LattePanda Single-Board Computer and Display

 

Mini game pc Latte Panda 3 Delta powered LATTEintosh Mini PC

Figure: Latte Panda 3 Delta powered LATTEintosh Mini PC

 

Other Success Cases of Mini PC for Retro Gaming

 

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B ($45.00) for Nintendo 64

The Raspberry Pi 4 offers increased performance, such as improved emulation speed for gaming consoles like Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, and Sony PSP, compared to the older Raspberry Pi 3 or 3B+ for retro gaming. Additionally, the Raspberry Pi 4 allows users to utilize various lag-reducing features.

Raspberry Pi boards are often sold as part of a kit that includes a power adapter, a case, a micro SD card, and other accessories. Some of the accessories are what you are not needed. It is best to hand-pick the accessories you need.

 

You will need the followings:

- A USB-C or micro USB power adaptor plus a micro SD card big enough to hold your games are required.

- A 64GB card is sufficient for a large selection of games.

- A micro-HDMI-to-HDMI cable or adapter. This will enable you to connect the Pi to a monitor or television with an HDMI port. Some cases for the Pi 4 come with a built-in full-size HDMI port, but if you opt for a case without one, the additional cable or adapter will be necessary.

- A Retroflag case with front-mounted USB ports that are easy to access and functional power and reset switches.

- The Raspberry Pi board does not necessarily require any additional cooling mechanisms, but if you intend to run more demanding games such as those for Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, or PSP, you may benefit from enhancing the performance to its fullest potential.

Raspberry Pi 4 play nintendo 64 Games

Figure: N64 Raspberry Pi 4 Retroarch Games Test

 

LattePanda V1 ($225.00) - The Smallest Windows 10 Single Board Computer for Golden Axe

- Intel Cherry Trail Z8350 Quad-Core Processor

- Operating System: Windows 10 Home Edition (Unactivated)

- RAM: 4GB DDR3L

- Storage Capacity: 64GB

- GPU: Intel HD Graphics, 12 EUs @200-500Mhz, single-channel memory

- Board Dimensions: 88 x 70mm / 3.46 x 2.76"

game pc LattePanda V1 for Golden Axe

Figure: Portable Retro Games Console with LattePanda

 

Intel Hades Canyon NUC ($599.00) for Forza 7

This tiny form-factor PC combines Core i7 CPU technology with a custom AMD Radeon RX Vega GPU. AMAZON

Mini gaming pc project - Forza 7

Figure: Forza 7

 

The recommended Mini PC mentioned above is great for playing retro games. However, if you want to play AAA/D games and achieve smooth graphics performance at 4K ultra-high resolution, you will need a graphics card that can provide such performance. Such graphics cards typically have higher VRAM capacity, more compute units, and higher clock frequencies to handle the graphics rendering demands at high resolutions. NVIDIA's GeForce RTX series and AMD's Radeon RX series are some examples of dedicated graphics cards that offer top-tier performance. Alternatively, you can opt for a powerful CPU combined with r an external graphics card accelerator (such as an eGPU) for enhanced graphics processing capabilities.

 

Mini PC Considerations for AAA Gaming

  • CPU (AMD, Intel)
  • GPU (dedicated GPU or powerful CPU combined with an eGPU)
  • RAM/HDD
  • Upgrade options
  • Price

 

Mini PC Recommendation for AAA gaming with a Premium VR Experience

LattePanda Sigma ($629) + an eGPU (GeForce RTX 3060/$279.99)

The LattePanda Sigma is an upgraded version of the original LattePanda V1 board. It is notable for its x86 architecture, which means it uses an Intel processor instead of the ARM architecture commonly found in other SBCs like Raspberry Pi. It features an Intel processor(Core i5), along with integrated graphics, RAM, storage options, and various connectivity interfaces such as USB, HDMI, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi.

  • CPU: Intel® Core™ i5-1340P
  • Cores / Threads: 12C(4P+8E) / 16T
  • Graphics: Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
  • Co-processor: Microchip® ATmega32U4-MU
  • Memory : Technology: Dual-Channel LPDDR5-6400; Capacity: 32GB
  • Storage: Drive Form Factor: M.2 SSD (NVMe/SATA), SATA Drive
  • Form Factor: 3.5", 146 x 102 mm

LattePanda Sigma Single Board Server
LattePanda Sigma Single Board Server

 

MSI RTX 3060 AERO ITX OC

  • Graphics Coprocessor: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
  • Graphics Ram Size: 12GB
  • GPU Clock Speed: 1792 MHz


LattePanda Sigma with RTX 3060

Cons:

Improved Graphics Performance: Enhance the graphics processing power for smoother gaming experiences and faster graphics rendering.

Flexibility and Expandability: The internal hardware components of Mini PC are often limited. An external graphics card provides greater scalability for handling graphics-intensive tasks.

Space Savings: You can place the graphics processing unit in a separate location on your desk or elsewhere, saving desktop space and providing a cleaner working environment.

Cost saving: Using a combination of a Mini PC and an external graphics card can be more cost-effective compared to purchasing a high-performance desktop or laptop computer. You can choose a relatively affordable Mini PC as the main unit and then add an external graphics card to enhance the graphics performance, without the need to buy an entirely new computer system.

 

Pros:

Compatibility Issues: Not all Mini PCs are fully compatible with external graphics cards. Some Mini PCs may have power, interface, or BIOS limitations that prevent proper functioning of the eGPU. Therefore, when choosing a Mini PC, it's important to ensure compatibility with the selected eGPU.

Performance Limitations: While an external graphics card can provide more powerful graphics processing capabilities, the size and thermal constraints of Mini PCs may prevent them from fully utilizing the potential of the eGPU. Mini PCs are typically designed as small and low-power devices, and their cooling systems may not effectively cool the external graphics card, resulting in performance limitations.

Power Requirements: External graphics cards typically require additional power supply, and the power source of the Mini PC may not provide sufficient power. This may require the use of additional power adapters or docking stations to supply power to the eGPU, adding complexity and cost.

Limited Mobility and Portability: Connecting an external graphics card can increase the size and weight of the device. This may make it less suitable for highly mobile scenarios, such as frequent travel or on-the-go usage.

 

Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast Phantom Canyon ($1399)

The Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast is a compact mini PC designed for gaming and virtual reality applications. It features a powerful i7 processor and NVIDIA's RTX 2060 graphics card, delivering impressive performance and graphics processing capabilities. Additionally, it is equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports to meet your networking needs.

  • Intel i7-1165G7 CPU
  • NVIDIA RTX 2060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports
  • VR-ready
  • Linux and Windows support

 

Cons:

  • Only stands up vertically
  • Lacks front USB-C port
  • Non-user-replaceable CPU and GPU

Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast Phantom Canyon for 3A Gaming
Ref: Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast Phantom Canyon for 3A Gaming

 

Buying You the Right Mini PC for Gaming

In general, if you are just a regular gamer, you do not need to spend much on buying a gaming laptop or PC. Mini PC is a great choice for you. For the memory, we recommended 8GB as the minimum. If you need to play 4K gaming, we recommend at least 2GB or 4 GB for a graphics card that would deliver 30 ~ 40 fps which would prevent constant lagging. Or you also can use external graphics cards to enhance the gaming performance. If you need to play the AAA game with the frame rates you need on your preferred settings, and you may also want to look for the Mini PC that can provide you with a premium VR experience, the most powerful hardware is required. Beelink SER5 Mini PC and Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast Phantom Canyon are good options for you. For the price consideration, LattePanda 3 delta with an eGPU is also a good choice for you.

 

Conclusion

Similar to buying a full-fledged desktop or laptop, there's always the question of what you should look out for. For Mini PCs for gaming, consider all the factors above, and you'll be in the right direction of finding the best value for your money.

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