There has often been an important compromise to consider when deciding on your next gaming rig. Do you settle for a large power-hungry box with extreme performance or sacrifice performance for a more compact gaming rig? While the first option is the often-selected solution there are situations that make the second option desirable for many. Those of us with small apartments and little space, or the requirement for a portable system, and then there are the power conscious amongst us. For many a better balance is an interesting proposition and in recent months these options have become quite interesting.
Headlining these options this month Zotac released the ZBox Magnus EN1080K ultra compact cube, while Intel has had tongues wagging around the internet with the release of their Haydes Canyon BUC8i7HVK, both of which are extremely compact and surprisingly powerful gaming rigs. Both extremely enticing options but can they beat building your own mini gaming rig?
Zotac ZBOX Magnus EK71080
Zotac are the kings of ultra-compact gaming rigs, the most powerful tiny gaming PC’s that money can buy. For many years the most powerful desktop replacement laptops consisted of desktop hardware shoe horned into a laptop chassis. Zotac took the opposite approach when developing a compact gaming PC, they took the fastest laptop technology and jammed it into the most compact desktop chassis possible.
Cramming so much power into such a small space is not a cheap exercise however, making the ZBox an option for those with deep pockets, although you could probably fit the ZBox in that same pocket. For the well spec’d Magnus EK71080 expect to pay well over $2000. For those looking for a more compact and better value unit the slightly older and far more compact Magnus EN1070 is a better value option.
You can also tweak some of the options to keep the ZBox within your budget, drop back to an i5 instead of i7, go for a mid-range video card or limit the amount of RAM. But the fact that laptop components are used will always put a price premium on the ZBox.
Intel Hades Canyon NUC8i7HVK
Intel introduced the NUC mini PC platform many years ago but typically they have used Intel’s integrated graphics chips which severely limited their usefulness as gaming PC’s. That changed this month with the release of the Hades Canyon NUC that combines an Intel i7 CPU with an AMD RX Vega M graphics chip, yes that’s right this mini gaming power house combines Intel and AMD hardware. With the Vega graphics chip, 4GB of HBM2 graphics memory and an Intel i7 all combined in the one chip package you get a mid-range gaming rig that’s the size of a thick paperback novel, all dressed up with a cool illuminated Skull logo on the outside.
The Hades Canyon NUC offers an interesting price performance balance, still expensive for a compact computer it is undoubtedly powerful and extremely compact. Unfortunately, there are no options for expansion, you won’t be able to add a more powerful graphics cards or switch CPU’s at a later date. But at under $1000 for the barebones unit you get an extremely compact gaming rig with a mid-range video card integrated. By far the most powerful compact PC with integrated graphics this is an interesting option if compactness is essential and your budget is limited.
Being a barebones unit you will need to add storage, RAM and a Windows licence to the unit in order to get it running. Typically, this all adds up to a $1500 or more for the completed PC.
AMD Mini-ITX Gaming PC
For the best balance of cost, price and performance you could go old school and build your own mini gaming PC. Naturally if building a such a PC is your desire you will need to start with the most compact motherboard along with a compact case to house it and for this you need Mini-ITX. The smallest of motherboard formats Mini-ITX motherboards are available for both AMD and Intel CPU’s and the choice of AMD or Intel is entirely up to you.
While building your own PC has been made more expensive by the upward pressure on prices caused by Bitcoin mining mania carefully selection of your parts can still yield a very reasonably priced gaming rig that is both compact and powerful. While not being as compact as the Zotac or Intel options a Mini-ITX PC will have a far better price / performance ratio and it will be far more compact than a traditional gaming rig.
If you’re on a tight budget you could also consider dropping the video card altogether and using the AMD Ryzen 5 2400G. This all in one CPU provides a solid quad core Rysen 5 CPU coupled with a Vega 11 GPU, not too dissimilar to the GPU included in the Intel Haydes Canyon NUC. This option would keep your build costs under the $500 mark while providing low end gaming performance, with the option to add in a discrete video card at a later date.
To build your own Mini-ITX gaming PC you can start as low as $500 USD for the 2400G option, at the $1000 mark you should be able to squeeze in a good quad core CPU and mid range graphics card while $1500 and upwards should allow you to squeeze a top end CPU and graphics card into the diminutive box. To save yourself some dollars it can often be cheaper to simply have the system pre-built for you so remember to shop around.
This option is recommended for those who like to build their own computers or for those with a tight budget that still require a compact PC. This is still our favourite option here at Highpants as it also allows for partial upgrades in the future and also allows us to select the exact parts that we want.
Build a Portable Mini-ITX Ryzen Gaming PC: PC World
7 AMD Ryzen tips and tricks to Maximise Your PC’s Performance: PC World
Revisiting the value proposition of AMD’s Ryzen 5 2400G: TechReport
Build the Ultimate Mini Gaming PC: TechRadar
Also worth checking out if you are interested in compact gaming PC’s are the Dell Alienware Alpha and the Gigabyte BRIX Gaming VR Compact PC.
The Alienware Alpha’s are getting a bit long in the tooth and due for an update but they offer a large range of options at a pretty decent price. The Alpha is console sized and like all Dell machines comes pre-assembled and ready to game.
The Gigabyte BRIX Gaming VR offers a small footprint by making it thin and tall. With a reasonable spec and decent price it is also an interesting option for those wanting a reasonably compact gaming rig that doesn’t cost too much.