The Best Mini PCs for Home Server: A Complete Buying Guide
If you’re in the market for the best mini PC for a home server, you’re in luck. With many options available, finding a device that suits your needs and budget is easier than ever.
While Intel NUCs are popular, many alternatives offer similar specs and features. No matter what you choose, a mini PC for a home server can be a powerful addition to your home tech setup. From streaming media to running virtual machines, these devices offer a variety of applications that can enhance your lifestyle.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of mini PCs and explore the best options available today.
What is a mini PC?
A mini PC is a small computer that packs all the components of a desktop tower into a compact box the size of a paperback. It does not come with an attached display, mouse, or keyboard, so users need to purchase their own. Despite its small size, a mini PC is powerful enough for browsing the web, basic photo and video editing, and working on documents or large spreadsheets.
One of the benefits of a mini PC is that it is easy to upgrade if you need to add more memory or storage, and it has all the ports needed to connect multiple monitors and peripherals.
Mini PCs are generally more energy-efficient than full-size desktop PCs, with some models consuming less than 5W at idle. A mini PC can be used as a home server for file storage, media streaming, and running server applications.
What do you consider when buying a mini PC for your home server?
1. Mini PC: Processor Power and Efficiency
When selecting a processor for a mini PC intended for home server use, two critical factors should be balanced: processing power and energy efficiency. Energy-efficient processors, often characterized by lower wattage, can significantly reduce operating costs and contribute to a more sustainable setup.
However, the processor’s capability must also meet the demands of its intended tasks. For home servers tasked with file storage, media streaming, or running multiple applications simultaneously, a robust processor is essential to ensure smooth operation without compromising efficiency.
Budget considerations play a pivotal role in this decision-making process. Fortunately, the market offers a range of processors that strike an excellent balance between power and efficiency, catering to various price points. For a well-rounded home server, aim for a processor with good performance and power conservation.
- Intel Core i5-12600K (code name Alder Lake): This processor features Intel’s hybrid architecture, combining performance and efficiency cores to optimize power usage while delivering robust performance where needed. It’s well-suited for a range of server tasks, from handling databases to streaming content.
- AMD Ryzen 5 5600X: This chip is another excellent option for home servers with its high performance per watt ratio. The Ryzen 5 5600X excels in efficient processing, thanks to AMD’s advanced 7nm technology, ensuring tasks are handled smoothly without unnecessary power draw.
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Mini PC: Size and Weight
When evaluating the size and weight of a mini-PC, there are several factors to consider. First, you’ll want to look at the device’s physical dimensions. Many mini-PCs are designed to be small and lightweight, so they can fit into tight spaces or be easily transported. You’ll also want to consider the device’s weight and any additional components that may be included in the package.
Additionally, some mini-PCs come with built-in cooling systems, which can add extra weight.
Finally, you should consider the power requirements of your chosen mini-PC, as this will affect its overall size and weight.
When selecting a Mini-PC, it’s important to ensure that there is some space for expansion. Additionally, it’s preferable to opt for a model that operates with a quiet fan or, even better, one that is fanless.
- M.2 2280 SSD
- 2.5-inch 7mm SATA HDD slot
I have seen new Mini-PCs, which now offers 2 M.2 slots.
3. Mini PC: Storage and RAM
When picking storage for your mini PC home server, it’s important to consider the type of storage you need. Hard disk drives (SATA) offer large storage capacities at a lower cost but are slower and less durable than solid-state drives (SSD) or NVMe drives.
SSDs are faster and more reliable than HDDs but are more expensive. NVMe drives are the fastest and most expensive option but offer lightning-fast read and write speeds.
As for RAM, it is crucial for a mini PC home server’s processing power. The more RAM you have, the better your server will perform, especially when running multiple applications simultaneously.
For basic file sharing and media streaming, 4-8GB of RAM should suffice, while virtualization and more demanding tasks may require 16GB or more.
Purchase an NVMe drive with a storage capacity of up to 1TB and a second 2.5-inch SATA drive with a storage capacity of 2-4TB or more. Before purchasing the 2.5-inch drive, please check the height specification of the Mini-PC to ensure it will fit in the caddy properly. Additionally, buy at least 16GB of RAM. For a virtualization server, I recommend 32 to 64GB.
4. Mini PC: Connectivity
When buying the best mini PC for a home server, it’s important to consider the connectivity options. Look for mini PCs with enough USB and video outputs for your peripherals, and check for multi-monitor support if needed. Ethernet connectivity is crucial for fast network performance, so look for models with at least one gigabit Ethernet jack or dual-band WiFi 6.
At least 3 USB 3 ports, 1 USB-C port, 2 HDMI, and an RJ45
5. Mini PC: Price and Availability
Mini PCs suitable for a home server are available at various prices, depending on the hardware and features. The price range for mini PCs can vary from under $50 to over $1,000. Brands such as Intel, HP, Kamrui and Beelink offer a variety of mini PCs that can be used for a home server.
See below my top choice of the best Mini-PC for home server
6. Mini PC: Customization Options
Mini PCs offer a range of customization options, from small form factor cases in various sizes to plug-in LAN, serial/CAN, USB/mSATA, and mini-PCIe interfaces. You can also customize the board and chassis of Intel NUC Kits to suit your needs. With these customizations, you can get a mini PC tailored to your space and performance requirements.
For optimal flexibility, purchasing a barebone Mini-PC and the necessary components is recommended separately.
7. Mini PC: Virtualization software
Virtualization software is possible for those using a mini PC as a home server. It allows for creating and running virtual machines, which can be isolated from the host system and used for various purposes, such as testing new software or consolidating multiple servers onto a single system.
Two popular virtualization software options are VMware and Proxmox. VMware offers features such as live migration, high availability, and disaster recovery, while Proxmox is known for its great community and compatibility with a wide range of network chipsets. Both options provide a cost-effective solution for virtualization on a mini PC home server. Some Mini-PCs use the Realtek network chipset, which is incompatible with VMware ESXi. There is a way to get it working, but not that simple. An alternative would be a USB network key. I wrote a separate article on installing a USB network driver in VMware ESXi. Proxmox has no issues with the Realtek network chip.
Mini-PCs are great for learning virtualization in a home lab.
Some Intel NUCs generations are running ESXi out of the box. Mini-PCs are also inexpensive, making them ideal for getting one’s feet wet with building a cluster of nodes.
The best Mini PC for home server – Intel NUCs
Intel NUC 13th latest Generations
The 13th-generation Intel NUCs come with significant improvements over their predecessors. Powered by the latest 13th-generation Intel Core processors, these mini PCs offer a significant performance boost. With up to 64 GB of DDR4 memory and fast M.2 storage support, the NUCs are perfect for media streaming, file sharing, and virtualization.
The Thunderbolt 3 ports and ultra-fast Ethernet connectivity options make connecting to multiple displays and transferring data at lightning-fast speeds easy.
As a home server, the NUCs are ideal for those who need a compact and powerful system that can handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
Whether you’re a content creator, tech engineer or need a high-performance home server, the 13th-generation Intel NUCs are a great choice.
The Best Server for a Home Lab
Intel NUC older generations
Below, you will find some recommendations for older models of Intels NUCs, which work fine with virtualization software like ESXi.
The best Mini PC for home server – Intel NUC Alternatives
HP Pro Mini 400 G9
The HP Pro Mini 400 G9 Business Mini Desktop Computer is a powerful and efficient device with many impressive features. Here are the highlights:
- 6-core Intel i5-12500T 2.0GHz processor with a maximum speed of 4.4GHz
- 16GB DDR4 SO-DIMM memory for lightning-fast performance
- 1TB PCIe SSD for super-fast storage and quick boot times
- Intel UHD 770 integrated graphics for smooth visuals
- Wi-Fi 6E AX211 and Bluetooth 5.3 for seamless connectivity
- RJ-45 Ethernet LAN for reliable wired networking
- 2 Display Port and 1 HDMI 2.1 for multiple display options
- Compact and stylish design with a weight of only 3lbs
Overall, the HP Pro Mini 400 G9 Business Mini Desktop Computer is a great choice for anyone needing a fast, reliable, and compact device for business or personal use.
Geekom Mini IT11
- Mini IT11 Mini PC with Intel i7-11390H processor
- 8 threads, up to 5.0 GHz speed
- 32GB DDR4 memory and 1TB storage
- Windows 11 Pro operating system
- USB4, WiFi 6, and BT5.2 connectivity
- 8K UHD display support
The GEEKOM Mini IT11 Mini PC is a powerful and compact computer that packs a punch with its Intel i7-11390H processor and 8 threads. It has a speedy performance of up to 5.0 GHz and comes with 32GB DDR4 memory and 1TB storage, making it perfect for multitasking and storing large files.
The computer runs on Windows 11 Pro operating system and has USB4, WiFi 6, and BT5.2 connectivity, making it easy to connect to various devices and networks. It also supports 8K UHD display, providing a clear and crisp viewing experience.
In addition to the Mini IT11 Mini PC, the package includes an HDMI cable, VESA mount, power adapter, storage bag, user guide, and thank you card.
Overall, the GEEKOM Mini IT11 Mini PC is a great option for tech geeks who want a powerful and compact computer with a range of features and connectivity options.
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Beelink SER5 PRO
The Beelink SER5 PRO is a powerful mini-computer that packs a punch with its 8-Core AMD Ryzen 7 5800H processor, 32GB DDR4 RAM, and 500GB NVMe M.2 SSD.
- Triple display 4K@60Hz output with dual HDMI and Type-c ports
- Wi-Fi 6 and RJ45 Ethernet for fast and reliable internet connectivity
- Bluetooth 5.2 for easy device pairing
- Pre-installed with W-11 Pro 64-bit OS and support for Ubuntu
- New designed fan brackets and system fans for good heat dissipation
- It comes with a mounting bracket for easy installation on the back of a monitor
Overall, this Mini PC is perfect for business and personal use, with its fast processing speed and ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. I highly recommend it to any tech geeks out there looking for a powerful and versatile mini-computer.
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KAMRUI GK3 Plus
The KAMRUI GK3 Plus Mini PC is a game-changer for both home and office use. Here are some of the standout features:
- 12th Intel Alder Lake-N95 processor with up to 3.4GHz speed
- 16GB RAM and 512GB M.2 SSD for lightning-fast performance
- Windows 11 Pro operating system for the latest technology
- Dual Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet for reliable internet connectivity
- 4K UHD display for stunning visuals
- Compact and stylish design that fits anywhere
The KAMRUI GK3 Plus Mini PC is a powerful and versatile device with top-notch performance and functionality. It’s perfect for tech geeks who demand the best from their devices.
Click here for my Kamrui review.
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Dell OptiPlex 7070 Ultra
Some product highlights
- Intel Core i5 processor for fast and efficient performance
- 8GB RAM for smooth multitasking
- 256GB solid state drive for speedy storage
- AX200 wireless technology for reliable connectivity
- Windows 10 operating system for a familiar and user-friendly experience
The Dell OptiPlex 7070 Ultra offers a unique twist on the mini PC form factor with a design that hides the PC inside a monitor stand, making it an all-in-one desktop alternative. Despite its compact size, it packs a powerful Intel Core i7 processor, up to 64GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage, making it a great option for productivity-focused use cases. Its modular design allows for easy upgrades and customization and boasts an excellent port selection. Its upgradability and versatility set it apart from other mini PCs, making it a great Intel NUC alternative.
Lenovo ThinkCentre M75q Gen 2
The Lenovo ThinkCentre M75q Gen 2 Tiny Home & Business Mini Desktop is a powerful and efficient computer perfect for home and office use. Here are some of its standout features:
- AMD Ryzen 5 PRO 5650GE 6-Core Processor: This processor delivers lightning-fast performance with up to 4.4 GHz clock speed and 16MB cache.
- 16GB DDR4 RAM: This ample RAM ensures smooth multitasking and efficient performance.
- 512GB PCIe SSD: The solid-state drive provides speedy data transfer and fast boot time.
- AMD Radeon Integrated Graphics: This graphics card provides excellent visuals for gaming, video editing, and other graphics-intensive tasks.
- AC WiFi and Bluetooth 5.1: These features ensure reliable wireless connectivity.
- HDMI, USB 3.1, and Display Port: The computer has multiple connectivity options for easy file transfer and display output.
- Windows 11 Pro: The latest operating system ensures superior performance and security.
Overall, the Lenovo ThinkCentre M75q Gen 2 Tiny Home & Business Mini Desktop is a great investment for anyone looking for a reliable and efficient computer.
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Apple MacMini M2
Last but not least, the latest Apple Mac mini with the newest M2 chip needs a mention too. Since it only runs MACOS, the Apple MacMini is not the best choice for a home server.
The Apple Mac mini with Apple M2 Chip is a game-changer in the world of technology. Here are some highlights of its features:
- Impressive performance with Apple M2 chip, 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine
- Thunderbolt 4 ports with support for DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 4, USB 4, USB 3.1 Gen 2, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and VGA
- Two USB-A ports, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port, and 3.5 mm headphone jack
- EPEAT is registered for sustainability
- Highly rated by customers on Amazon
The Apple Mac mini with Apple M2 Chip offers high performance and eco-friendliness, making it a perfect choice for tech geeks.
My Recommendation: Best mini PC for a home server
A mini PC is an excellent choice for a home server as it provides high performance without taking up too much space or requiring extensive power consumption. When choosing a mini PC for a home server, it is essential to look for a model with an Intel Core i7 processor, at least 8GB of RAM, a solid-state drive with at least 500GB of storage, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, a graphics card with 4K resolution support, multiple USB ports, HDMI output, and a Gigabit Ethernet port.
After careful analysis, the best mini PC for a home server is the Intel NUC13 model. These mini PCs come with the latest 13th-generation Intel Core processors, up to 64GB of DDR4 memory, and fast M.2 storage support. With these features, it can handle media streaming and virtualization tasks.
If your budget is more limited, you can’t go wrong with the Geekom Mini ITL11 or Beelink SER5 Pro. Both offer excellent performance for various tasks and are ideal for light home server use.
For best results, you should ensure that your mini PC is compatible with the operating system that you intend to use.
What processor should I look for in a small mini server for home?
When looking for a mini PC for home server purposes, it is important to consider the processor. A processor with higher processing power, clock speed, and more cores will be better suited for hosting websites or virtualization. For example, an Intel Core i7 processor is ideal for hosting a website, while a Celeron processor may only be suitable for simple computing tasks. Consider your specific needs and budget when selecting a processor.
What are the hardware requirements for a mini PC for a home server?
For a mini PC to function as a home server, it should have at least an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a solid-state drive (SSD) with a minimum of 500GB storage, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth capabilities.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eA graphics card with 4K resolution support, multiple USB ports, HDMI output, and a Gigabit Ethernet port are also recommended.u003cbru003eThe bandwidth of your household and the connectivity of the mini PC are important factors to consider when choosing a mini PC for a home server.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eA mini PC with at least one Gigabit Ethernet jack or dual-band WiFi 5 is recommended for a home media server.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eA model with 2.5Gbps or 10-gigabit Ethernet connectivity is recommended for website hosting.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eThe reliability of a mini PC for a home server depends on the quality of its hardware and software components, as well as regular maintenance and error checking.u003cbru003e
How much RAM and storage do I need for a mini PC for a home server?
To determine how much storage and RAM you need for your mini PC home server, you need to consider the demands of the applications and services that will be running on it. u003cbru003eu003cbru003eFor instance, if you plan to store multimedia files such as videos and photos, you may require more storage space. Similarly, you may need more RAM if you intend to host multiple virtual machines or run several applications simultaneously.
How do I configure a mini-computer best?
Buy a barebone Mini PC and purchase the components separately for the best configuration flexibility.
To wrap it up, building an Intel NUC is the best way to create a home server. This mini PC packs great performance with powerful features, all in a small compact package.
On top of that, getting an Intel NUC for your home server setup offers great cost savings with high-quality components compared to other alternatives on the market. So if you are looking for a powerful and reliable mini PC for your home server needs, then getting Intel NUC will be a great choice to provide maximum uptime and performance throughout its lifetime.
If you can benefit from an efficient yet powerful home server solution, go ahead and give Intel NUC a try!
I would love to get some feedback from you. Was this article helpful? Please share your opinion with me in the comment section below. Or, if you prefer a more personal touch, feel free to email me directly at [email protected]. Your thoughts and insights are always appreciated.
Before you go …
I want to draw your attention to another insightful blog post of mine. If you found the information on VMware’s USB network adapter helpful, you might also be interested in a comparison I made between Proxmox and ESXi.
This post delves into their respective features, performance, and overall efficiency. Whether you’re trying to decide between the two for your homelab or looking for a more environment-friendly option, this blog post provides a comprehensive analysis that could help you make an informed decision.
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