Best Mini PCs with Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 – Buying Guide (2021)

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The best mini PCs combine the portability of a laptop and the power and upgradability of a desktop in compact, configurable chassis. These small PCs pack enough power for just about anything, including web browsing, media streaming, video editing, VR, and gaming.

We’ve rounded up the best mini PCs with Thunderbolt 3 and 4 ports to easily connect multiple 4k displays and enjoy ultrafast data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps

A mini PC takes less desk space than a typical full-size desktop without sacrificing performance and productivity.

They are compact and portable enough to carry when moving or changing office spaces. You can connect multiple monitors and accessories with many ports and connectivity options than you would in a thin and light laptop.

If you’re looking for the best accessories for your new mini PC with Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports, check out our other buying guides about the best mac mini and mini PC mounts, Thunderbolt 4 monitors Thunderbolt 3 monitors, and the cheapest Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures.

Best Mini PCs with Thunderbolt 3 or 4 Ports – Our Picks

ImageProductDetailsCheck Price
Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast Mini PC and Kit on Amazon
Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast Mini PC and KitCPU: Intel Core i7 11th Gen
GPU: GeForce_RTX 2060
Storage: 2 m2 Slots
RAM: Two SODIMM slots
Thunderbolt 4 Ports: 1
Size : 221 x 142 x 42 mm

Check on Amazon
Gigabyte Brix 11th Generation Mini-PCCPU: Core i3, i5 and i7
GPU: Intel Iris Xe
Storage: Two m2 slots
RAM: Two SODIMM slots
Thunderbolt 4 Ports: 1
Size: 196.2 x 44.4 x 140 mm
Check on Gigabyte
MinisForum Elitemini TL50CPU: Core i5
GPU: Intel Iris Xe
Storage: 512GB SSD
RAM: 12GB
Thunderbolt 4 Ports: 1
Size: 149.6×149.6×55.5mm
Check on MinisForum
Intel NUC 10 Performance Kit (NUC10i7FNHC) on Amazon
Intel NUC 10 Performance Kit (NUC10i7FNHC)CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10710U
GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics
Storage: N/A
RAM: N/A
Thunderbolt 3 Ports: 1
Size (Inches): 4.6 x 4.4 x 2
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MSI MEG Trident X on Amazon
MSI MEG Trident XCPU: Up to 10th Gen Intel Core i9-10900K
GPU: GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
Storage: 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD, 1TB HDD
RAM: 64GB DDR4
Thunderbolt 3 Ports: 1
Size (Inches): 5.1 x 15.06 x 15.6
Check on Amazon
CHUWI CoreBox Pro on Amazon
CHUWI CoreBox ProCPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i3-1005G1
GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics
Storage: 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD
RAM: 12GB LPDDR4 (soldered)
Thunderbolt 3 Ports: 1
Size (Inches): 6.8 x 6.2 x 2.9
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Asus ProArt PA90 on Amazon
Asus ProArt PA90CPU: Up to 9th Gen Intel Core i9-9900K
GPU: NVIDIA Quadro P4000 Graphics
Storage: 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD, 1TB HDD
RAM: 16GB DDR4
Thunderbolt 3 Ports: 2
Size (Inches): 6.9 x 6.9 x 14.4
Check on Amazon

1. Intel NUC 11 Enthusiast Mini PC and Kit – No one knows Thunderbolt like Intel!

It makes sense that Intel is at the top of a Thunderbolt products list. After all, the tech giant is the proprietor of the Thunderbolt specification. Intel’s NUC series has been quite successful, and the NUC 11 Enthusiast Kit follows the same pattern of success.

This particular mini PC sits at the top of our list simply because it delivers portability, connectivity, power, and design in every aspect. Before we get into the specs, we should probably mention that the PC is also one of the most expensive ones on our list.

Design

The PC stands vertically and measures 221 x 142 x 42 mm. Vertically standing Mini PCs are always better for saving up on desk space, and Intel’s done a great job by integrating such power into a small and portable device.

The NUC 11’s good looks are second to none in the mini-PC market. Sharp and high-end finishing on the material, smooth edges, and a customizable lighting panel make it unique to the minPC stage.

If you’re looking to customize the PC, you’ll need some specific tools since the PC is not exactly easy to get into. The inner frame is metallic with a replaceable lid and Kensington lock with base security.

Processing Power

The NUC 11 packs a punch in this section. The 11th Generation Intel Core i7 processor with 2.7GHz (4.7GHz turbo boost) is one of the most powerful available in the market today. In addition, there is an integrated graphics card, the Intel Iris Xe G7, with up to 1.7GHz clocking capability.

In addition to the Integrated Graphics, there is a treat for gamers, the discrete GeForce_RTX 2060 graphics processor! Mini PCs are not known for including separate graphics processors. With Thunderbolt 4 connectivity, most manufacturers would have just left the improvements to the buyer, but this device is an exception.

Memory & Storage

You’ll have to buy your own RAM and storage. There are two dual-channel SODIMM sockets on which you can install up to 64GB, sufficient for gaming and professional work.

There are two m2 PCIex4 slots on which you can install NVMe or SATA SSD’s. Instead of providing memory and storage onboard, Intel has provided the latest specifications for installing any memory/storage you want.

Of course, this means you’ll need to spend more money, but if you’re already coughing up the big bucks for NUC 11, you wouldn’t want to be limited by mediocre memory and storage.

Connectivity

The PC has the latest WiFi6 and Bluetooth 5 cards installed on it. There are also two Thunderbolt 4 ports, one on the back and front each. Additionally, there is an exceptional assortment of USB, Ethernet, and video ports. The details are all jotted down below.

  • 2 x Thunderbolt/USB 4 (1 front, 1 rear)
  • 1 x Mini DisplayPort (1 rear)
  • 1 x HDMI (1 rear)
  • 1 x LAN (2.5Gigabit Ethernet) – RJ-45 (1 rear)
  • 1 x TOSLINK (1 rear)
  • 6 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 – Type A (2 front, 4 rear)
  • 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 (1 front, 1 rear)
  • 1 x IrDA (1 in front)
  • 1 x audio line-out/microphone – stereo mini-jack (1 in front)
Our Take

Intel’s NUC Enthusiast Kit is the most powerful mini PC out there with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity. The extensive array of connectivity options and its sleek and stylish design make Intel’s latest mini-PC the best product in the market.

PROS
  • Unlike most mini PCs, there are two Thunderbolt 4 Ports instead of one
  • Sleek and stylish design
  • Dedicated Graphics processor in addition to the integrated graphics card
  • Extensive connectivity
CONS
  • No memory/storage onboard, so you’ll need to spend extra.
  • No VESA mount

2. Gigabyte Brix 11th Generation Mini-PC – The cheapest Thunderbolt 4 MiniPC

Gigabyte has been eager to jump onboard the Thunderbolt bandwagon, and having a Mini PC with lightning-fast USB-C ports is definitely a step in the right direction. Gigabyte packs a lot of punch into its latest Brix Series.

The series is based on the 11th Generation TigerLake processors. The main difference between the three variants in this series is the processor. They have Core i3, i5, and i7 processors.

The core i3 PC cuts back on the Graphics card, while the other two have Intel Xe integrated graphics. We will be talking about the Core i7 variant in this article. There is one Thunderbolt 4 port, apart from the array of USB ports available in the PC.

Design

We were pretty impressed by the compact design of Gigabyte’s Brix. The box might be a bit larger than others on this list, but the fact that it stands vertically means you can save up more space on your desk.

The PC’s dimensions are 196.2 x 44.4 x 140 mm. The 44mm thickness is great for your desk space. You get a stand in the box to place it vertically.

The PC can also be placed on a VESA-compatible mount. If you’ve got a larger VESA-compatible monitor, you can mount the PC at its back, which means it’s like it’s not even there.

The aesthetics are quite generic. It’s basically a rectangular box with a fine finishing on the surface and smooth edges. All the extra ports on the PC make it look crammed at the back, but that extended connectivity is also part of the charm for this PC.

Processing Power

Like mentioned earlier, the PC comes in three variants, i.e., Core i3, i5, and i7. All processors are 11th Generation Tiger Lake.

The Core i5 and i7 variants have the new Intel® Xe Graphics integrated into the system architecture. The Xe Graphics is the first integrated Graphics card capable of supporting light gaming by modern standards.

Memory & Storage

The PC has two SO-DIMM DDR4 RAM slots capable of up to 3200MHz. Both spaces have dual-channel memory architecture, so you can go up to 64GB, which is fantastic for a mini-PC.

For storage, you’ve got two m2 slots, one PCIe Gen4 x 4 and the other is PCIe Gen3 x 4/SATA. The slots are standard for what you find on most PCs and mini-PCs, and you won’t have problems getting an SSD from any of the manufacturers for these slots.

Connectivity

The Gigabyte Brix series offers more connectivity than most mini-PC’s on the market today. There’s an assortment of USB ports, LAN, and HDMI ports which are listed below.

For all that connectivity, unfortunately, you’ll only get one Thunderbolt 4 port.

  • 4‎ x HDMI 2.0
  • 1x Thunderbolt 4/USB4.0
  • 6 x USB 3.2 (2 X Gen 2)
  • 2 x GbE LAN ports
  • 1 x Headphone / Mic Jack
Our Take

Gigabyte’s Brix series offers a range of connectivity to make exclusive use of the latest Tiger Lake Processors, unlike most mini-PCs which understandably have to provide fewer ports to save space. The VESA mount is a great feature for saving desk space. We only wished there was more than one Thunderbolt 4 port.

PROS
  • Excellent connectivity
  • VESA mount
  • Reasonably priced
  • All Core i3, i5, and i7 offered
CONS
  • Only one Thunderbolt 4 port

3. MinisForum Elitemini TL50 – Minisforum get in on the Thunderbolt 4 action!

MinisForum is about to release its first Thunderbolt 4 mini PC, and there is a lot of hype surrounding this one on all online forums. Minisforum is a relatively new manufacturer, but since it is solely dedicated to small-sized products, its R & D has allowed it to better immerse itself in the mini-PC market.

The X35G with Thunderbolt 3 ended up being a massive success for the young manufacturing company, and so Minisforum correctly predicted that its Thunderbolt 4 variant will be huge even in presales.

Design

The product follows the design template of its predecessors, but you can’t blame Minisforum for sticking to it. We were impressed by the design of its earlier products too. The manufacturer is trying to set a brand image in its early days, so we weren’t surprised by the decision.

The dimensions of the box are 149.6×149.6×55.5mm, and it is VESA-compatible, so you can stick it at the back of a monitor. The edges are curved, and the surface looks high-end, so you won’t have second thoughts about placing it on your desk either.

Intel 11th Generation processors are actually much better at reducing heat dissipation of their setups. Still, Minsiforum has included a heatsink and a fan with the 28W processor, which means you’ll be able to clock it at turbo mode for several hours.

Processing Power

The TL50 packs the 11th Generation Core i5 processor, which has more Cache memory, better cooling profile, and performance than its predecessors. Intel’s Tiger Lake processors are the reason Thunderbolt 4 was taken to the market so quickly.

Intel’s Iris Xe integrated graphics card is included along with the Tiger Lake processor, which is enough for light gaming. For portability, Iris Xe Graphics is the best choice in the market right now.

Memory & Storage

A 12GB low-power DDR4 RAM is present onboard the TL50, which is sufficient for most computing tasks and gaming. In addition, the TL50 comes with a built-in 512GB PCIe SSD. So the machine provides more than adequate memory and storage for such a mini PC. There are two 2.5-inch SATA ports available for HDD expansion.

Connectivity

TL50 offers excellent data transfer options. The m2 WiFi slot boasts WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5, both of which are the latest versions at the time of release. The complete set of ports is given below. In addition, a Thunderbolt 4 interface is present for high-speed data transfer, connecting a Graphics Card, or getting 4K video output!

Our Take

The Minisforum TL50 is a very portable, well-designed min PC that can deliver reasonably high computing and graphics performance. The PC has a good connectivity profile, boasting USB 3.0 and HDMI in addition to Thunderbolt 4 and WiFi 6. It is a good choice for users who conduct heavy daily tasks and enjoy light gaming as well.

PROS
  • WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5 are present onboard
  • 512GB SSD and 12GB RAM present onboard
  • Stylish and portable design with VESA compatibility
  • Both HDMI and DisplayPort present
CONS
  • Just one Thunderbolt 4 port

4. Intel NUC 10 Performance Kit (NUC10i7FNHC) – The Best Mini PC with Thunderbolt 3 Port

When it comes to mini PCs, Intel NUCs are still top of the pile. The Intel NUC 10 Performance Kit (NUC10i7FNHC) comes with a powerful 10th gen processor and a fully upgradable chassis. It’s sold as a barebone kit, so you’ll need to buy most of the components, giving you the flexibility to build just the perfect rig for your needs.

This mini PC does not come with any operating system, but it is fully compatible with Windows 10 and various Linux distros.

Design

The NUC 10 NUC10i7FNHC is packed in a smaller 0.668L chassis, measuring 4.6 by 4.4 by 2 inches (LWH). The case is ventilated on either side for excellent airflow and cooling, including a rear extraction vent for the fan. This unit looks so clean with a black finish and no RGB lighting. You can safely use it in an office.

Opening the case couldn’t be any easier. Remove the bottom panel by opening the four screws at the bottom of the case. Inside there is an M.2 slot for solid-state drives and two SO-DIMM memory slots. The bottom panel also houses the 2.5-inch drive bay for SATA SSDs or HDD.

The NUC 10 Performance Kit has plenty of clearance for an SFF system, which provides better cooling performance.

This mini PC is designed to be placed horizontally, but it doesn’t take up much space. If you’re tight on desk real estate, you can mount it at the back of a monitor or TV with 75 x 75mm or 100 x 100mm VESA mounting holes.

Processing Power

Powered by a 10th gen Intel Core i7-10710U processor, the NUC 10 NUC10i7FNHC provides a lot of power for everyday tasks such as browsing, VR, multitasking, and working on Microsoft Office documents.

The integrated Intel UHD Graphics is good for a basic photo and video editing, including light gaming. But we recommend using an eGPU for more graphics-intensive tasks. The CPU is powerful enough to get the best of high-end graphics cards.

Memory & Storage

This configuration is sold as a barebone kit with no memory or storage included. However, you can add two memory sticks with up to 64GB of capacity, an M.2 SSD for faster boot times and loading of apps, and an additional SATA/HDD drive to store large files and other files.

Connectivity

The NUC 10 NUC10i7FNHC may be one of the most compact mini PCs on the market, but it still packs a decent number of ports. It can support up to three displays via Thunderbolt 3 and the HDMI 2.0b port. Onboard there are multiple ports for peripherals, including 10Gbps USB-C and USB Type-A ports.

  • 1 x Thunderbolt 3
  • 1 x HDMI 2.0b
  • 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C
  • 3 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A
  • SDXC Sd Card reader (UHS-II)
  • Ethernet
  • Headphone/Microphone combo
Our Take

The NUC 10 Performance Kit (NUC10i7FNHC) ticks all the boxes with a powerful processor, easily upgradeable design, and the latest connectivity standards. It’s powerful enough for most everyday tasks and gives you the option to add ideal components for your needs and budget.

PROS
  • Powerful 10th gen processor
  • Compact, easily upgradeable design
  • More ports, including additional USB-C
  • VESA mountable
  • WiFi 6 support
CONS
  • No bundled operating system
  • Less powerful integrated GPU

5. MSI MEG Trident X – Best Mini PC for Gaming

If you want the best gaming performance in a small form factor PC, MSI MEG Trident X is one of the best options you’ll find in the market. The Trident X is the smallest and most powerful gaming mini PC in the market, powered by no other but Intel’s powerful 10900K processor.

In addition to giving you an excellent gaming performance in a compact chassis, the PC comes bundled with an RGB-lit gaming keyboard and mouse from MSI and a copy of Windows 10 home.

Design

The MEG Trident X ticks all the boxes of a good gaming PC with an excellently cooled design and lots of RGB lighting. MSI packed everything in a small 10 liters chassis, which occupies less desk space and makes it easy to move when reconfiguring your gaming setup.

The chassis is highly perforated to allow for airflow and cooling. The unit stands on a permanently attached base that includes two fans and vents for exhaust. Inside, there are additional fans for the graphics card, power supply, and CPU cooler. Despite its miniature size, the Trident X is well optimized for cooling, eliminating thermal issues.

Light up your gaming setup with customizable RGB lighting on Trident X powered by Mystic Light. There is RGB lighting on the front and the side with a large RGB-lit fan for the CPU cooler. You can also swap one of the side panels with a tempered glass one to showcase your rig and appreciate the beauty of RGB lighting.

Another great feature of the Trident X is that it comes with all the components intact. The side panels are held with two screws each, making it easy to access the internals. Swapping the metal side panel for the tempered glass one allows you to open it like a door for ease of accessibility.

Processing Power

A 10th gen Core i9 10900K processor powers the flagship Trident X, providing enough power to handle AAA games at higher refresh rates.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can select a different configuration with Core i7-10700K(F) with RTX 2070 Super or Core i7-10700K with an RTX 2080Ti. Both models provide a buttery-smooth gaming performance when paired with the right gaming monitor.

Memory and Storage

The MEG Trident X comes with 64GB of DDR4 memory, 1TB M.2 SSD, and an additional 1TB HDD to expand the storage capacity.

Connectivity

  • 1 x Thunderbolt 3
  • 1 x USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-C
  • 3 x USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A
  • 3 x USB 2.0 Type-A
  • 3 x DisplayPort 1.2
  • 1 x HDMI 1.4
  • 1 x RJ45 (2.5 GbE)
  • 1 x Mic In
  • 1 x Headphone Out
  • 5 x Audio Jacks

More ports are always better. You can connect more screens and peripherals at once. The MEG Trident X also comes with WiFi 6 for wireless connectivity, great for busy networks.

Our Take

MSI MEG Trident X brings the performance of a mid-tower in a compact ten-liters chassis. It can drive very high refresh rates on triple-A games at high resolution with its powerful hardware. It’s expensive, but if you want a no-compromise gaming performance in a compact mini PC with the benefits of Thunderbolt 3, the MEG Trident X is the best of the bunch.

PROS
  • Powerful performance and graphics
  • Slim, compact design with RGB
  • Optimized for cooling
  • Rich connectivity, including WiFi 6
  • Bundled keyboard and mouse
CONS
  • Complicated disassembly for the average user
  • Vertical orientation only

6. CHUWI CoreBox Pro – Best Cheap Mini PC with Thunderbolt 3

Mini PCs with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity used to be expensive, but not anymore since the release of the Minisforum X35G and CHUWI CoreBox Pro. The CoreBox Pro is the cheapest Thunderbolt 3 mini PC in the market and packs some great features to deliver the biggest bang for your bucks.

While it does not include a bundled keyboard or mouse, the CoreBox Pro comes with a pre-installed Windows 10 operating system and Microsoft Office Suite to get started with your productivity work. It is also compatible with Linux OS.

Design

CoreBox Pro comes with a combination of black and gray finish, giving it a clean look that fits anywhere in a smart office smart home. It’s very portable at 2 pounds and 2 liters in size, the perfect mini PC if you’re always on the go.

One of the best features of the CoreBox Pro is that you can choose to place it horizontally or vertically, with the latter occupying even less desk space.

The CoreBox Pro relies on the CPU cooler and ventilated body for cooling and airflow, averaging 65 degrees Celsius when gaming, according to ETA PRIME. The fan runs incredibly quiet compared to the Minisforum X35G.

The CoreBox Pro comes with all components installed and provides an additional HDD slot to upgrade the storage capacity. To update storage, open the top side panel by removing the four screws on the sides.

The HDD bay is attached to the side panel. However, the memory is soldered and not upgradeable.

Processing Power

This mini PC is also powered by a 10th gen Intel Core i3-1005G1 processor with UHD graphics. It’s great for everyday desktop computing and multimedia but not powerful enough for AAA gaming.

While you can connect an eGPU to accelerate the graphics performance in this PC, don’t use a powerful GPU like the RTX 2080Ti or RTX 3080 because the Core i3 processor will bottleneck your GPU.

Memory and Storage

CHUWI CoreBox Pro is packed with 12G of LPDDR4 memory and 256G PCIe SSD, providing fast boot times, fast data rates, and reduced loading times. You can add more storage up to 2TB with the additional HDD slot.

Connectivity

  • 1 x Thunderbolt 3
  • 1 x DisplayPort
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1 x Headphone Out
  • 1 x Mic In

With the set of ports, you can connect up to three 4k displays and multiple accessories. But connecting a wired keyboard and mouse leaves you with just two USB ports, which might not be enough for power users. Also, there is no SD card, a bummer when using it for multimedia.

On the upsides, the CoreBox Pro supports WiFi 6 connectivity and Bluetooth 5.1.

Our Take

There are many reasons to love the CHUWI CoreBox Pro. It is the cheapest mini PC with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and provides a decent performance you’d get in more expensive machines. While the I/O might be limited for power users, that’s something you can fix with a Thunderbolt 3 docking station.

PROS
  • Versatile and sturdily built
  • Cheap and affordable
  • Plenty of video ports
  • Runs silently
CONS
  • No card reader

7. Asus ProArt PA90 – Best Thunderbolt 3 Mini PC for Video Editing

If you want the best mobile workstation without sacrificing performance, the Asus Mini PC ProArt PA90 is an excellent recommendation. This mini PC combines high-end components for professional creative work in a miniature size. You’d mistaken it for a humidifier.

The ProArt PA90 comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse, a great addition if building a new editing rig. However, with two power bricks, you must be ready for some cable management.

Design

The ProArt PA90 features a unique look that blends well in the creative workspace. It is available in a midnight blue finish and measures only 14 inches tall and 11 pounds heavy. It is designed to be placed vertically, taking up very little desk space.

ProArt PA90 is highly optimized for cooling to keep up with the demanding workflows of video editing. It has an AIO Liquid CPU cooler and a ventilated body with an adaptive exhaust vent at the top. The top extends on maximum loads to allow for more airflow and cooling.

Processing Power

Choose between a 9th gen Intel Core i9-9900K or Core i7-9700K for the processor. Both models come with NVIDIA Quadro P4000 Graphics, which can support up to six 4K displays, five 5K displays, or dual 8K monitors, allowing you to edit highly-detailed images and videos.

Quadro P400 is a high-end GPU great for graphics-intensive tasks such as video editing, CAD workflows for engineering and architecture, 3D modeling, and VR. The ProArt PA90 scored 13,897 points in 3DMark Pro Fire Strike, beating the NUC 9 Pro (9,944) with an Intel Xeon E-2286M processor and Nvidia Quadro P2200 graphics. It also transcoded a 4K video clip to 1080p in 5 minutes 48 seconds, compared to 8 minutes 23 seconds on the NUC 9 Pro.

Memory and Storage

Asus ProArt PA90 comes with 16GB of DDR4 memory, 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD for faster boot times and transfer speeds, and an additional 1TB HDD for more storage capacity.

Connectivity

  • 2 x Thunderbolt 3
  • 4 x DisplayPort 1.4
  • 4 x USB 3.1 Gen2
  • 1 x Ethernet
  • 1 x Headphone Out
  • 1 x Mic In
  • 1 x Audio Line Out

The only downside with the ProArt PA90 is the lack of HDMI ports, which most monitors use. However, you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support daisy-chaining to connect multiple devices through a single port.

Our Take

The Asus ProArt PA90 is the mini PC to beat when it comes to workstation level performance. It packs very powerful hardware in a sleek, compact design that’s also optimized for cooling. The design, performance, and ports make PA90 the best workstation mini PC in the market with Thunderbolt 3.

PROS
  • Industry-leading performance
  • Sleek, compact vertical design
  • Can support up to six 4K displays or dual 8K displays
  • Dynamic airflow and liquid cooling
  • Dual Thunderbolt 3 ports
CONS
  • No HDMI ports
  • Bulky dual power bricks

Choosing the Best Mini PC with Thunderbolt 3 Ports – The Ultimate Mini PC Buying Guide

Buying the best mini PC for your business or home office shouldn’t be difficult. With our buying guide, you can find the right Thunderbolt 3 mini PC for your needs and budget. Here is what to look for in a good mini PC with a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port:

CPU

The CPU is the brains of your Mini PC. You want a processor powerful enough to handle everyday desktop tasks such as web browsing, opening documents, light photo editing, and light productivity tasks. If you won’t play AAA games or edit high-resolution videos, you can skimp on the CPU and spend the money somewhere else.

For high-end AAA gaming and professional creative work, you need a powerful processor, at least a 9th- or 10th-gen Core i7 processor. Using a less powerful processor will bottleneck your GPU (assuming you’re using a powerful dedicated GPU).

The MSI MEG Trident X with a 10900K is powerful enough for AAA gaming. If you’re a professional content creator, engineer, or architect working with 3D workflows and high-resolution video editing, we recommend the Asus ProArt PA90 with an Intel Core i9-9900K.

Graphics

You don’t need a dedicated GPU for basic productivity work like browsing and light photo editing. In most cases, the integrated graphics work just fine.

But if you want to step up and play modern AAA games or your business demands workstation capabilities, a dedicated GPU is required. With Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port, you can easily connect an eGPU to accelerate the graphics performance. However, be careful also to use a capable processor to avoid bottlenecking the GPU.

For instance, a Core i3 processor is not powerful enough to bring out the best of an RTX 2080, let alone an RTX 3080. The ideal dedicated GPU for a Core i3 is GTX 1650 or 1660.

eGPUs work great and can significantly boost the performance of integrated graphics. But with Thunderbolt 3 or 4 bandwidth limitations, you cannot squeeze every juice from your GPU.

If you’re building the ultimate gaming rig, ensure the mini PC offers a full PCIe x16 slot to install a GPU such as the Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit and MSI MEG Trident X.

On the other hand, for high-end creative work and graphics-intensive workflows, you need a workstation-class graphics card such as the NVIDIA Quadro P4000 Graphics. Independent software vendor (ISV) certification is another feature to look out for when choosing a mini PC/graphics card with workstation capabilities. ISV ensures your GPU is compatible with many software vendors such as Adobe, AutoCAD, and more.

Memory

Usually, most mini PCs allow you to upgrade the memory, which is excellent as you can add more RAM as your bandwidth requirements increases. However, some budget mini PCs such as the Minisforum X35G Mini PC and Chuwi CoreBox Pro come with soldered memory, meaning there is no way of upgrading it.

If you’re a power user, multitasker, content creator, or gamer, you’ll benefit more from 16GB of memory. We recommend choosing a mini PC with upgradable memory for power users and creators. This means you can add more RAM to match your demanding workstation needs instead of buying a new mini PC.

Storage

The best mini PC comes with a solid-state drive for storage and offers an easy way for upgrading. An SSD provides faster boot times, fast application loading times, and faster transfer speeds. Ensure you’re getting at least one SSD or an M.2 slot for storage.

Some mini PCs feature additional storage capabilities with 2.5-inch HDDs. HDDs should be used to increase the storage capacity but not as a boot drive because they are super slow. The storage amount you need in a PC depends on your workflow and needs.

Design & Size

One of the advantages of buying a mini PC over a desktop is saving desk space. If everything remains the same, select the smallest mini PC you can get. You can save even more desk space by buying a mini PC with a VESA mount to hide it behind the monitor.

Minisforum X35G Mini PC is the smallest mini PC available with a Thunderbolt 3 port. It takes less desk space and easy to carry when changing offices or relocating.

Packing so much power in a small chassis reduces airflow and cooling capabilities. The fans might run very often than desktops, so it’s good to select a mini PC that’s less noisy. Most mini PCs are ventilated to improve airflow and cooling efficiency.

Asus ProArt PA90 has the best design in terms of aesthetics and cooling. It implements liquid cooling with an adaptive vent at the top that extends to improve airflow on heavy loads.

Upgradability

Like desktops, you want a mini PC that allows you to add more components as your business or office needs increase. Most mini-PCs will enable you to swap some parts, but the accessibility differs across different mini PCs.

You want a mini PC that is easy to swap or add more memory and storage without technical expertise. Intel NUCs are the best mini PCs for upgradability in the market.

If you’re a beginner or don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can select a ready-to-go mini PC with all the components pre-installed instead of a barebone mini PC. A barebone mini PC comes with the processor only and requires you to add memory, storage, and GPU (for dedicated graphics) yourself.

Connectivity

In addition to Thunderbolt 3 or 4, you should have enough ports to connect multiple peripherals, including monitor, mouse, keyboard, external drives, and more. It’s good to look out for more USB Type-A ports and video output ports such as HDMI and DisplayPort.

While all the mini PCs features in this guide have a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port, some include a second port for daisy-chaining.

Daisy-chaining allows you to connect multiple devices through a single port. A mini PC with two Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports ensures you have an extra port for accessories if using one for an eGPU or monitor. The Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit and Asus ProArt PA90 come with two Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports each.

Bundled Keyboard and Mouse

While not as vital as the other factors, a mini PC with a bundled keyboard and mouse can save you some money when building a new setup. However, it is not a bigger deal since most manufacturers cheap out on the included keyboard and mouse.

Best Mini PCs with Thunderbolt 3 or 4 Ports – Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a mini PC and a desktop?

A mini PC is small and compact than a desktop, allowing it to fit in tighter spaces and occupy less desk space.

Why aren’t there a lot of Thunderbolt 4 mini-PCs?

Simply because it’s a new specification released only in 2020. Plus, it only works with the latest 11th Generation Intel Tigerlake processors and rarely with an AMD processor. In the next couple of years, we’re sure the number of devices will increase quickly.

Are mini PCs better than laptops?

Yes, mini PCs are more powerful and customizable than laptops. You can fit a dedicated desktop-class graphics card in a mini PC and access more ports to connect multiple displays and peripherals.

What is the smallest PC with a Thunderbolt 3 port?

Minisforum X35G Mini PC is the smallest mini PC with a Thunderbolt 3 port in the market. It comes with a 10th gen Intel processor great for office productivity and multimedia.

Should I buy a barebone or ready-to-go mini PC?

If you want to choose specific components for your PC, a barebone mini PC is the right option. However, if you don’t have much technical know-how, you’ll be better off with a ready-to-go mini PC.

Are mini PCs good for gaming?

Mini PCs with a dedicated graphics card and powerful CPU can run demanding games such as Call of Duty, League of Legends, CS:GO, cyberpunk 2077, and more AAA titles with smooth frame rates.

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