Computer gamers today have a wide range of equipment options available to them, and for those who are looking for high-performance gaming equipment but are also limited on space, the Mini PC should be the top choice. 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.
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 the physical size. They typically come without a screen or keyboard, but they have ports to connect to peripherals that you buy separately.
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.
- Storage: Expandable storage, 64GB of storage in 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 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)
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 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.
- 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
Because LattePanda 3 Delta only comes in a board, there are some accessories we would recommend you to use it 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.
Figure: Diagram of LattePanda Single-Board Computer and Display
Figure: Latte Panda 3 Delta powered LATTEintosh Mini PC
Other Success Cases of Mini PC for Retro Gaming
Raspberry Pi 4 Model B ($55.00) 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.
Figure: N64 Raspberry Pi 4 Retroarch Games Test
LattePanda V1 - The Smallest Windows 10 Single Board Computer ($225.00) 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"
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
Figure: Forza 7
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 10 Mini PC are good options for you.
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.