What can a mini pc do?
Mini PCs are a great illustration of a topic in the market. When the market for computers was very small, there were not many models. As the market expanded, it could support many different types designed to meet specific needs. As sales exploded, we got handhelds, tablets, laptops, games machines, all-in-ones, workstations, servers and eventually the giant server farms that now support cloud services.
PCs were also incorporated into numerous other products where they provided a graphical user interface. Examples include ATMs or cash machines, electronic tills, machine tools, public access kiosks and signage displays. People are usually amused to see ticket machines, airport displays and massive billboards displaying Windows error messages.
Mini PCs work as desktop PCs that don’t take up any desk space. They are so small they can easily be attached to the back of a monitor, preferably using a standard VESA mount. This is a significant advantage in situations where space is limited or you don’t really want a tower case, such as a receptionist’s desk. They can also work for children and others with simpler needs.
Added benefits are low power consumption and, in fanless models, low noise levels. You could also buy a mini PC as a backup to a full-sized desktop, as long as you set it up first. PCs fail from time to time, and nobody wants to keep a full-sized tower in the spares cupboard. But as long as your essential data is on external hard drives or online, you can swap in a mini PC in a matter of minutes. And while 32GB is technically enough storage for Windows 10, you will soon need to attach an external hard drive to do upgrades. It’s better to start with 64GB, and preferably more.
Television set-top boxes
Generally, mini PCs can also be used as set-top boxes and, as mentioned, can be mounted on the back of a TV set. Just add a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, or a keyboard with a built-in trackpad, and you are ready to go. Mini PCs will play high-definition YouTube videos in a browser, and also run Kodi, Plex and MediaPortal media servers and client apps. Windows 10 apps provide access to the likes of Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, BT Sport, Minecraft, email, news and weather. And if you want to run Skype on a TV set, a mini PC will do that, too.
People usually sit too far away from a TV set to run programs such as Excel, which require accurate mouse movements. Media servers including Kodi, Plex and MediaPortal have interfaces that work well at a distance. Windows 10’s touch-oriented apps also work pretty well. Mini PCs can do almost anything, at reasonable prices.
Mount a mini PC on the back of a TV set and it will work well as a client, displaying media from the internet or from your PC or NAS (network attached storage) device. Most mini PCs don’t come with enough storage to work as servers, but you can always add some. You could, of course, add much more cheap storage by buying an external hard drive, with 4TB now being a cost-effective size. This adds an extra box plus wiring, which you may not want. It should therefore be possible to build a cheap media server or NAS around a mini PC and external hard drive.
Of course, many devices use different operating systems running on single-board computers, but the principle is the same. Also, for hobbyists, boards such as the BVS have taken over a proportion of the market
Nonetheless, mini PCs has more than1.5 billion users, which means there’s plenty of room for devices that appeal to relatively small market niches.