“Mini” Computer?

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Really nice, powerful laptop — for $4000

Being in the market for a new laptop (my formerly-high-end laptop still works, but is so old it doesn’t even have USB3 ports), but not really wanting to spend $3000+ for one like the image to the left (which is a very nice laptop), I was intrigued by the appearance of several new all-in-one “mini” systems in various articles, so I took a look.

I think the “mini” class of PCs could be a viable alternative to a laptop, even with the drawbacks of having to carry a separate keyboard.

However, I find the “mini” designation a bit strange. Back when I was in college (several decades ago…), a “mini” computer was one that could be carried by only two people. The first minicomputer I actually worked on was a Data General Nova, with 16 Kbytes of memory, a tape reader and an ASR-33 Teletype for storage and I/O. But, I digress…

The current crop of “mini” computers tend to look like a small hard-drive enclosure with a bunch of port jacks. Which, I suppose, is what they really are. lenovoideacentre300I did see one exception that I might seriously consider:  The Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300 PC Mini Desktop, which resembles a super-sized FireStick. The mind-boggling part of that is that the Ideacentre only costs $99 (as of this writing), and plugs directly into the HDMI port of a TV or monitor, so you don’t even have to get a separate cable. That $99 PC even includes Windows 10 and a 32Gb hard drive! Would it really replace a laptop for me? I’m not really sure, but for $100 and free Prime shipping, I could probably put up with its limited memory, drive space, and somewhat anemic processor. I probably would not be happy trying to do any video editing with it, but for traveling, that might be ok. (Edit: Since I originally wrote this article, I discovered that some cruise ship companies deliberately disable the HDMI ports on the in-cabin TVs. Which I find very disappointing. Apparently, they don’t want cruisers to be able to bring a small DVD player to avoid paying for the overpriced movies.)

Overall, pretty much any of the new “minis” look like a viable alternative to a laptop for traveling, as long as you can stick a keyboard in your carry-on, and can either depend on having a monitor at your destination, or have a small USB monitor you can pack. I already have a bluetooth keyboard (which folds down not much bigger than the Lenovo) and an AOC “portable” monitor ($99), so I guess that would work, but most hotel rooms these days have a TV with HDMI input, which might fit my needs. (See note above, though, about cruise ships.)

chromebox-m004uAt the bottom end of the “mini” listings is the ASUS Chromebox-M004U, at a bit under $180. Compared to the Ideacentre, it seems a bit under-whelming, but the 16 Gb storage is an SSD, and the graphics is a bit higher-end. If you are a Chromebook fan, this might be a viable alternative, but personally, I would probably opt for an Acer Chromebook CB3-131-C3SZ with roughly the same specs and price — and which already includes a display and keyboard.

xcyi7-4500uminiMoving up to a “mini” that I might prefer over the Chromebox (or for that matter, the Chromebook), there is the Core i7 4500U by XCY (This item is no longer available), at $320. That’s with no memory or hard drive, so the useful configuration would be roughly $400-$450. If you aren’t comfortable with installing memory and hard drives yourself, this one might not appeal to you, but it does at least have a reasonably high-performance CPU and acceptable (but not world-class gaming) graphics. I would probably run Ubuntu Linux on it. Plus, I’m perfectly comfortable with installing drives and memory. Tempting, but…

kingdelhaswellminiIf I’m going to have to shell out more than $400 for a usable configuration anyway, I would seriously consider the Kingdel i7 Haswell,  over the XCY, since it comes with 16Gb of ram and a 256Gb SSD already installed.

Apple, of course, brings up the high-end with their Mac Mini i7 with 16 Gb memory and a 1 Tb hard drive. applemacminicorei7Not to mention that Apple graphics (and software for video editing) pretty much blows away anything else in that form-factor. The down-side? Well, it’s nearly $1500, which is a little past my personal comfort threshold, but still tempting. I’ve used an Apple iMac, and I liked it well enough.

I’m still undecided.