Top Best 5 Linux Small Form Factor / NUCS PCs with low TDP for IOT, NAS and Multimedia Servers

Top Best 5 Linux Small Form Factor / NUCS PCs with low TDP for IOT, NAS and Multimedia Servers
Photo by Gabriel Vasiliu / Unsplash

Is mini PC still relevant?

Short answer - yes, but it all depends on your tasks. Mostly because size matters and using full towers as a silver bullet isn't effective. The power consumption of mini PC's is actually better, so they are more suitable for 24/7 load without burning a hole in your wallet.

Let's highlight the most important SFF details:

  • Size: easy to move, just put it in backpack, on small table in office etc or just behind the monitor. Also using mini PC it's easier to switch between monitors and TV without moving them, which can be not easy for 32" and larger devices.
  • No dedicated graphics in most cases, be ready to use integrated graphics or connect the external over Thunderbolt.
  • Cooling and noise: in general, SFFs have better designed cooling systems and produce less noise. So if you love silence - SFF is a good choice. Some of them with CPUs like Intel N100 are fanless.
  • Price for everyday tasks device: it's often cheaper than for similar "Big Brother" devices, also you can often get old used devices for pennies.
  • Great for multi-monitor setup: laptops generally aren't good at this and often depends from a good stand. SFF can definitely make your work environment more comfortable.
  • Great as home server or streaming server like Plex or Emby. 4K and AV1 playback isn't a problem for modern integrated GPU.
  • Upgradability isn't as great as full-size PCs, but it's available.
  • RAM: Most SFFs use laptop memory, which costs more.

Using the knowledge from above, you can choose the best device for your needs. We need to highlight the best of the best devices (as always!) for most advanced tasks possible. These devices will be actual for a long time.

ASUS ExpertCenter PN64-E1

  • CPU: CPU IntelĀ® Coreā„¢ i7-13800H/ i5-13600H Processors, vProĀ® support, IntelĀ® Coreā„¢ i7-13700H/ i5-13500H Processors
  • GPU: Iris Xe Graphics with HDMI 2.1 / Display Port 1.4 / Thunderbolt 4 / VGA ports, Quad 4K Display Support
  • RAM: 2 x SO-DIMM , DDR5-4800MHz memory, up to 32GB x 2
  • Storage: 2 x M.2 2280 PCIe Gen4x4, supports 256GB - 2TB NVMeā„¢ SSD, 1 x 2.5" SATA 6Gb/s, supports 1TB 7200rpm 7mm HDD
  • Network: 2.5 Gb LAN, WiFi 6E (Intel AX201 or AX210)
  • Price: Amazon - $840 / $499

Two main Operating Systems is supported, according to datasheet: Windows 11 and Linux. So if you're looking for portable home or mini-enterprise server - this SFF is what you need. i7 or i5 13th generation means no problems with performance and Xe graphics with four(!) 4K display support automatically make this device very interesting - the times, when you to buy latest NVIDIA even for basic 3D tasks, are gone.

There are two models - with Intel i7 and cheaper with Intel i5, the connectivity and baseboard seem to be the same. The size is 130 x 120 x 58mm (5.1ā€³ x 4.7ā€³ x 2.3ā€³), weighs - 750 grams, so the case can be easily transported in backpack. There are up to 7 USB3 ports for peripherals: two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A and single USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A on on the front, one sad thing to say here - no USB-C ports in this Mini-PC.

The upgradability is good: on the bottom there are two SODIMM slots with 32 GB DDR5 slots, a 2.5" SSD drive bay with two PCIe 4 M.2 2280 slots. The fan cooling is also there, ASUS advertises it as a "self-cleaning system".

A lot of video outputs are very helpful in the office: HDMI, DVI, even an old-school VGA port for compatibility with old monitors. I think this machine is designed for enterprise or small business, but also difinitely improve home computing.

Dell OptiPlex Micro Form Factor

Dell OptiPlex Micro Form Factor

  • CPU:

    • 13th Gen IntelĀ® Coreā„¢ i5-13500T (24 MB cache, 14 cores, 20 threads, 1.60 GHz to 4.60 GHz Turbo, 35W)
    • 13th Gen IntelĀ® Coreā„¢ i7-13700T (30 MB cache, 16 cores, 24 threads, 1.40 GHz to 4.80 GHz Turbo, 35W)
  • GPU: Intel Xe Integrated GPU

  • RAM:

    • 16 GB: 1 x 16 GB, DDR5
    • 8 GB: 1 x 8 GB, DDR5
  • Storage:

    • 512 GB, M.2 2230, PCIe NVMe, SSD, Class 35
    • 256 GB, M.2 2230, PCIe NVMe, SSD, Class 35
  • Network: IntelĀ® Wi-Fi 6E AX211, 2x2, 802.11ax, BluetoothĀ® wireless card, internal antenna, 1 RJ45 Ethernet port

  • Price: $789 / $669

There are two versions: Micro Plus and Micro. We will focus on Plus version, here are the main differences: Plus comes with DDR5 memory, USB-C port and 3 Display Port outputs. The Micro version doesn't have USB-C port and provides only one Display Port.

I'd say that these Mini-PCs with Intel vProĀ® Enterprise support are mainly designed for businesses, but can also seriously improve your home lab. The CPUs are limited to 65W TDP, 180W/135W power supplies are included. If you don't need fast DDR5 memory, you can save ~$200 and buy the cheaper model.

The size is 7.2 x 1.4 x 7 inches, which is quite small, enough to be pick up in one hand - 2.95 pounds heavy. Bigger than a router, but still impressive for a device with mobile Intel i7 CPU. The case made from recycled plastic and closed-loop materials, so ecology activists have no reason to be nervous. This SFF has Energy Star 8.0 and TCO 9.0 certifications, ideal to be a mini server. The front panel includes USB-C 3.2 Gen2x2 (20Gbps), a USB 3.2 Gen 2 with Power Share, which supports charging another devices on powered off SFF, 3.5 audio jack and line-in & line-out jacks. The ports on the back of this Plus model include three DisplayPort 1.4 ports, three USB 3.2 ports, and an Ethernet port. You can order a model with DisplayPort, VGA or USB-C instead of the HDMI port. One USB 3.2 connector supports Smart Power On, which is extremely important on a small desktop like this - it provides the device power on option from a keyboard plugged into the same port.

Mounting options provide tremendous flexibility:

  • Dell Vertical Desktop Stand
  • Dell Wall/Under-the-Desk VESA Mount with PSU Sleeve
  • Dell Single Monitor Arm
  • Dell Micro All-in-One Stand
  • Dell All-in-One VESA Mount for E-Series Monitors with Base Extender
  • Dell Dual VESA Mount w/Adapter Bracket

HP Z2 Mini G9 Workstation Wolf Pro Security Edition

  • CPU:
    • IntelĀ® Coreā„¢ i7 13700 5.2 GHz
    • IntelĀ® Coreā„¢ i9 13900 5.6 GHz
    • IntelĀ® Coreā„¢ i5 13500 4.8 GHz
  • GPU:
    • Integrated: IntelĀ® UHD Graphics 770
    • Discrete: NVIDIA RTXā„¢ļø A2000 (12 GB GDDR6 dedicated)
  • RAM:
    • 16 GB DDR5-6400 MHz RAM (2 x 8 GB)
    • 32 GB DDR5-5600 MHz RAM (2 x 16 GB)
    • 64 GB DDR5-5600 MHz RAM (2 x 32 GB)
  • Storage:
    • 512 GB HP Z Turbo Drive PCIeĀ® NVMeā„¢ TLC M.2 SSD
    • 1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive PCIeĀ® NVMeā„¢ TLC SSD
  • Network: 10Gb Ethernet interface, IntelĀ® Wi-Fi 6E AX211 (2x2) and BluetoothĀ® 5.3 wireless card (supporting gigabit data rate)
  • Price: $899 for i7/16 GB RAM/512 GB SSD

Wow, this Mini PC looks like a real Apple competitor! Really solid chassis, i7/i9 CPU options, Wi-Fi 6E, 1TB SSD - these components deliver excellent performance in graphics-intensive applications, making it an ideal choice for power users, professional designers or developers. In addition, the system's small form factor and mounting options make it perfect for situations where desktop space is limited. If the built-in graphics isn't enough, the dedicated solution with NVidia card looks very interesting. All levels of protection are provided in the BIOS, browser and beyond with HP Wolf Security Suite.

This system is well suited for CAD, SolidWorks, Blende and other demanding applications. It is also affordable, with a starting price of $899 for the i7 CPU model. The system's performance, features and price make it a great choice for students or professionals looking for a powerful and compact workstation.

Zotac MAGNUS EN374070C

Zotac MAGNUS EN374070C

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-13700HX (16-core 2.1 GHz, up to 5.0 GHz)
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 Laptop GPU (8GB GDDR6 128-bit, 2175 Boost Clock, up to 115W), up to 3 displays support
  • RAM: up to 64GB DDR5-4800 memory support
  • Network: dual Killer 2.5Gbit LAN, Killer WiFi 6
  • Price: $2,876.00 for the top config

This expensive and powerful Mini-PC measures 210 x 203 x 62mm, has an Intel i7 CPU with 16 cores and NVIDIA RTX 4070 GPU. The latter is a powerhouse, so the cooling system in such a small case must be excellent. This machine is definitely designed for creative studios.

3 displays support sounds good, and there's also a Thunderbolt 4 port, so it's possible to connect a third GPU and have one graphics card per monitor. This solution will potentially allow you to run Windows, Linux and MacOS on a single machine! And even connect an SSD to each one: M.2 2242/2280 - two ports plus a 2.5" SATA3 are available.

Fujitsu ESPRIMO G7012A

Fujitsu ESPRIMO G7012A

  • CPU:
    • AMD Ryzenā„¢ 7 Pro 5850U (8 Cores / 16 Threads)
    • AMD Ryzenā„¢ 5 Pro 5650U (6 Cores / 12 Threads)
  • GPU: AMD Vega, one Display Port and one HDMI port
  • RAM:
    • 32 GB (1 module(s) 32 GB) DDR4, unbuffered, non-ECC, 3,200 MT/s, SO DIMM
    • 16 GB (1 module(s) 16 GB) DDR4, unbuffered, non-ECC, 3,200 MT/s, SO DIMM
    • 8 GB (1 module(s) 8 GB) DDR4, unbuffered, non-ECC, 3,200 MT/s, SO DIMM
    • 4 GB (1 module(s) 4 GB) DDR4, unbuffered, non-ECC, 3,200 MT/s, SO DIMM
  • Storage: 2.5" SATA3 port, two M.2 NVME (up to 2TB)
  • Network: Realtek RTL8111EPV, 1 GbE port, optional WLAN with Wi-Fi 6.
  • Price: ā‚¬700

This stylish Mini-PC with a case from sci-fi movies looks interesting. Only two display ports, no Thunderbold port, no DDR5 memory, but two NVME ports plus a single 2.5" SATA port. Not a super premium machine, but offers good specs for the price. The accessories include several mounting kits that allow this device to be attached to a display.

No dedicated GPU support provided, the integrated video solution - AMD Vega, should be enough for everyday tasks - it supports DirectXĀ® 12, OpenCLĀ® 2.0, OpenGL Ā® 4.6 and Vulkanā„¢.

A few words about Mac Mini and "thin case - forget about modularity, let's put glue everywhere!"

The Apple Mac Mini is perfect if you don't care about:

  1. Linux support isn't great - yeah, we know about Asahi Linux, but the using experience isn't seamless yet.

  2. Limited upgradeability - glue is everywhere.

  3. Repair isn't easy by design.

  4. Spare parts are expensive because of the "this is Apple!" factor.

That's why we don't recommend buying the Apple Mini and suggest you check out the above devices.

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