PC Mini?

Is there a PC equivalent to the Mac Mini? I’m looking for a cheap PC to run Windows strictly for testing designs. It doesn’t need to be fast, it just needs to be inexpensive, with the smallest footprint possible.

I’ve been using Virtual PC for the Mac for a long time now. It’s convenient and works fine, but it’s dreadfully slow — not to mention the version I have isn’t compatible on newer, dual processor G5s (where I’m sure it’d run faster). So, my other option is: set up a bare bones Windows machine for testing without spending a ton of money and taking up a lot of desk space. Share with us your secrets.


  1. I think that if you just want it for testing purposes and general processing, your best bet would be picking up a second-hand box, re-formatting and installing a bare bones OS (Windows 2000?).
    I use a PC but have a “bare bones” setup of slackware running for testing purposes, and I found that it was the cheapest, most effective solution for my needs. However, I haven’t seen a direct competitor for Mac’s delightful Mini – certainly there is a market for one!

  2. Jeremy Boles says:

    The fine French people at Clubic have posted some pictures of a PC shown at an Intel Developer Conference. Its definately a rip off of the Mac Mini.

  3. Moises says:

    An HP Thin client is probably what your looking for but I don’t know where you could buy one.

  4. brian says:

    Nothing as cool and small as the mini. They make small form factor pcs but they’re more like the cube in size (did you know cubes are like 8 times the volume of a mini?) and you trade off a lot of power for the size and you dont necessarily get the cheaper price like the mini. Macworld did a little price comparison of a mini vs. a budget dell, so that might help you see what you get/dont get w/ something like that. Note, the dell is a tower, and dog ugly, but hey, maybe you can put a nice chiapet on it or something to spruce the place up. Note, it will probably be noisy too. No amount of chia pets can quiet them down.

  5. john says:

    Shuttle makes a sort of “mini” pc. They are not too expensive either.
    Here’s a listing on zipzoomfly.com
    Heres a listing on thebookpc.com

  6. neil says:

    I’m looking for this exact thing, too. My main goal is to find something comparable to the Mini:
    1. Small footprint
    2. Low power consumption
    3. Fanless, or at least very quiet
    I haven’t been able to find something that fulfills all three points yet. I may just nerd out and build my own, if I find the nerdly wherewithal.

  7. Jen says:

    Not all PCs are ugly towers. Have you checked out Shuttle?
    You’ll have to nerd out and build it, but it will be worth it.

  8. huphtur says:

    Mini ITX has been covering mini PC’s for YEARS now.

  9. Hush PCs don’t fit the ‘inexpensive’ requirement, but they’re small, quiet, and very pretty.

  10. Daniel says:

    I’ve recently moved to using a mac laptop as my main machine and am using my old Thinkpad as my Windows testing machine. For almost the same price as a decent small desktop setup, you can buy a very good secondhand laptop. Small footprint, little fan noise if you get a decent one, flat panel screen, portability, and reasonably cheap. I was just checking ebay and for under a thousand you can get an IBM T30 (P4 2.0ghz) machine for well under a thousand bucks.

  11. Rob L. says:

    You have an Apple Cinema display, right? Would that make using a KVM switch to integrate this test PC into your rig out of the question? If so, you should be thinking laptop — even a Pentium I could run Windows 98 and the handful of browsers you need for testing, and be had for sub-$400 if you can just find it. Pawnshop? Ebay? Freecycle?

  12. You could always build your own, as some have suggested. Check the local geek store, get a small case for cheap and put a Celeron or something in it. That’s what they put in those super cheap “Walmart of the computer world” computers”, but that company that starts with a “D” and ends with an “ell” really sucks.

  13. Aaron Boswell says:

    I have to disagree with the poster above. Is dell great? No. Does it get the job done in a bare-bones situation? Yes.
    I have 4 machines. 2 mac (pbook and tower) a linux server (PII/233 POS) and a Dell Dimention (sp?). I got the Dell for $420 with a DVD burner and a 17″ monitor. Is it as good as the mini? No. does it get the job done for me? Yes. I am a graphic designer that needs to test web pages on the pc. I also run an ftp server and testing server on it. It works fine. For the price, if that is what you are looking for, Dell has the best stuff in my opinion. Now they are offering flatpanel displays with them. I think there is even a $400 of $1000 coupon going around.
    The thing is, Dell is ALWAYS offering a deal. Just go to techbargains.com and search for dell.
    BTW, I have stopped using VirtualPC after downloading Remote Desktop Connection. You have to have XP Pro on the windows box, but after that it works like VPC and you use the PC’s processor. Don’t try to run animation or movies over the connection, but everything else works great. It even works over the internet. I am logged into my work pc from home right now. You can find it at mactopia.com

  14. Tai Toh says:

    I have to agree with Aaron, Dell computers do get the job done with minimal expense (and it comes with support to boot).
    One setup you may want to consider is to get a cheap, quiet PC and a monitor (like the 24-inch Dell LCD–say whatever you will about their computers, but Dell makes feature packed, affordable monitors) that supports multiple inputs (DVI and VGA).
    In my setup, I connect my Mac via the DVI connection (Primary), and my PC to the VGA connector (Secondary). I cycle the inputs using the onscreen display.
    To control the PC with the apple keyboard and mouse, I installed a VNC service on the PC, and ran a client on my Mac in near full-screen.
    Here’s the key: rather than use the PC through the VNC terminal window, switch the OSD to the VGA input.
    It’s almost as if you’re working on the PC. Your Mac controls the mouse and keyboard input for the PC through the VNC Session, but you view your results natively through the VGA input of your monitor. No redraw problems, access to all your apps, and it almost works in real-time. I’ve used this setup and it’s great.
    I only wish that Apple would make a display that accepted multiple inputs…(it would be awesome if the iMac G5 supported this).

  15. I have an old Dell laptop connected to my home WLAN, sitting on my desk beside my Mac. Web development is done on the Mac, in the Sites folder. I turn on Personal Web Sharing in Mac Preferences.
    PC-compatibility is tested by firing up IE6 and Firefox on the Dell, with the homepage of each set to http://192.168.1.xxx/~bruce/blog/ and thus all my “live” and test pages are available on the LAN.
    For any change I make on the Mac I just push the “Refresh” button in IE6 or FF to see the effect as rendered by PC clients.
    So any low-end networkable PC hardware (eBay?) should do the trick.

  16. I’d say upgrade Virtual PC if you have a G5. It’s definitely fast enough for testing – much faster than on older Macs – and you’ll save yourself the troubles of having extra cables, extra noise, and one more box under (or on) your desk.

  17. For the Dell supporters…
    Sure Dell *is* cheap. Nobody (including myself) is arguing that. In fact, you are actually getting one hell of a deal, something which you cannot beat anywhere.
    There are those that are concerned with only one thing: bang for your buck.
    I am not one of those and hence the negative words towards Dell. I am not the only one, as it took over 10 posters to even mention the “D” word. Buying a new computer for testing webpages is like using an SUV to drive the kids to soccer…oh wait.
    A recovered old PC from the countless individuals “upgrading” to a new PC would surely solve your Windows needs Dan. You don’t need much in the way of disk space, CPU and memory to test site functionality do you? Heck, I could throw together a working Windows box for around $150 or so (not including Windows itself, *ugh*). Yes, mostly recycled parts, not new.

  18. Jon Hicks says:

    I had exactly the same problem, so I just got a cheap Compaq laptop from ebay, and I attach to it via Microsofts free ‘Remote Desktop Connection’. Unless I have to check Windows Gamma, I use it this way all the time – its like Virtual PC, but without the huge time lags.

  19. eddmun says:

    Take a look over at mini-itx.com. They do very small computers which are fanless so virtually silent. the only problem is they aren’t that powerful

  20. Use Windows’ Remote Desktop Connection to connect to a coworker’s XP machine, with a secondary account — no new machine required.

  21. Yes MS’s Remote Desktop Connection is much better than VNC. But if you don’t want to use to use an MS product on the Mac the open source equivalent is rdesktop

  22. Karim says:

    I use a shared PC in the office along with Microsoft’s free Remote Desktop Connection for testing websites and it works great! I setup an icon on my dock that when I click on it runs RDC and starts up IE 6.

  23. Schultz says:

    I have a shuttle im willing to sell all working.

  24. Craig says:

    You can get a P3 Cappuccino PC barebones for $325. Fully configured it’s obviously a little more but might be a look at if you really want mac mini-esque footprint.

  25. Matt says:

    I haved used this with out problems. It’s about the size of a paperback, for about the cost of the upgraded mini.

  26. Todd Dominey says:

    At work I have a no-frills Toshiba laptop in a drawer, hidden away, but connected with power and an ethernet cable through the back. It’s always on. Then either myself or one of the other designers can launch Remote Desktop Connection in OS X, and test their CSS/XHTML on it quite easily. Not sure if that was what you were asking about, but that works best for me.

  27. geeky says:

    First, I would look for a used PC for cheap. Probably won’t be small, but it will otherwise meet your needs for a test PC.
    If I couldn’t find one of those, a brand new Dell would be overkill, so I would hit up the Dell Outlet (http://outlet.us.dell.com/). You can get one of their mini desktops (any model ending in C) for as low as $370 (no monitor). They have plenty of cheap laptops too. No, Dells aren’t as cool as the Mac Minis, but really, what is?

  28. Ryan says:

    I think Todd’s idea is the best. Especially, the part about keeping it in a drawer.
    I wouldn’t invest in anything but an older laptop. Desktop machines are just too much of a hassle to deal with.

  29. Anthony says:

    Saw this discussion elsewhere recently and heard about these.

  30. Tony says:

    If you are already running Virtual PC, that means you own a license to a copy of Windows XP, right? So I would say go for a barebones system, sans OS, like this.

  31. shawn says:

    you could purchase a mini-itx bare-bones box (http://caseoutlet.com/).
    usually come in around $500-600 for a powerful system. these are more like embedded boxes since they use via motherboards.
    but, they’ll run windows or linux without issue.
    i’ve used the small travla cases to build linux point-of-contact routers to replace expensive cisco equipment and even a home media box using linux and mythtv.
    i’ve got a micro box in the office for testing windows xp on new samba domain controllers before i roll them out.
    if you’re looking for a tiny box to simply test with a travla bare-bones box with 256MB of ram and a 20-40GB drive should only cost a couple hundred bucks usd.

  32. M.e. says:

    I have a cheap hand-me-down PC I use for testing (I use a KVM switch to go back and forth), and I’m switching to virtual PC. My problem is that each installation of Windows is only capable of running a single version of Internet Explorer. I need to test versions 5 and 6, and one PC on my desk is bad enough.

  33. Jeremy says:

    Read this article: Building the Perfect Budget PC, explains part by part how to build your own sub-$500 PC.

  34. Dustin Diaz says:

    Since when did Dell become the “D” word? Rumor has it (around my family), I’m the one they call D.
    Aside from the non-sense, I can’t help but laugh seeing as how Dan is seeking a PC. I guess now we’re thinking “ah poor mac guy needs a windows machine for testing.” Surely you can go to any one of your neighbors and they probably wouldn’t mind. :)

  35. Jams says:

    I went into a local computer shop here in cornwall, Uk, and asked for the cheapest crappest laptop they have.
    £80 for a 17″.

  36. id make a project out of it :)
    make your own case to fit a nano itx board in :) network install things… VERY SMALL system then :)

  37. Dustin says:

    AMD’s Personal Internet Communicator seems to be a fairly good option if you’re looking for new.

  38. Scott says:

    Others have said it, but I would strongly suggest you check out the mini itx form factor. A couple of years ago I built a system for my mother around the 800 mhz board. It is very capaple of meeting your needs and the total cost was under 300 dollars (sans-OS, but I had an extra copy of windows sitting around.) That particular board has a small ffan, but I hear it can be run fanless if the volume is noticeable. There is also a fanless power supply available at the site I linked above.
    A tip on operating systems: go with something dated like windows ME. It has a terrible reputation (partially undeserved,) but is fully capable of running the most modern windows browsers and can probably be had quite cheaply by now. Also, you can easily get by with 128 megs of RAM on a web and office system like you’ll need, which means more savings for you.

  39. Tommy says:

    The people that mentioned Dell are right on the money. I get a catalog from Dell each month and they have machines for like $350 and most likely free shipping.
    But I have a lot of luck getting computer hardware and a/v equipment at Best Buy and Circuit City that don’t have a box, missing a remote, scratch on the side of the monitor etc. It is hit and miss, but if you can wait a couple weeks and shop around you might get a nice deal on a higher performance machine.

  40. Denis says:

    Virtual PC 7 came out and it says that it supports the G5s go check it out on the microsoft site.

  41. Scott says:

    Sorry to spam up your comments, but I’d like to add that you should try to shop for mini-itx products at American sites, to save a little cash. Carry on. :)

  42. Chet says:

    I just bought an XBox and Modded it – threw Linux Emu on it – works beautifully and stable (also very cheap solution).

  43. Andrew says:

    I agree Scott (#38), but replace ME with 2000 Pro :).

  44. John B says:

    I’ll parrot those mentioning used PCs and Dell. A used PC is the way to go. My company sells it’s old PCs to employees for pennies on the megahertz. Maybe you know someone nearby who works for a company that does the same thing. I’ve provided both my mother and grandmother with old Dells from the office that are more than fast enough to run what they need (they’re not really big on Half-Life2, DOOM3 or even Photoshop).
    My company used to use Gateway but (thankfully) switched to Dell about 4 years ago.

  45. Oliver says:

    I have a PC that just retired last week. Well, not exactly retired, as it still works as a bunny. 650mbhz, 256mb+128mb memory stick. And ther other essentials are still there.
    Right now, I’m thinking that it costs less than $200US. Want it? :)

  46. Lars says:

    Iwill have been making tiny computers for a while. Take a look at the ZPCgx model. Looks pretty cool. Don’t know about prices, though.

  47. jono1 says:

    pcs as small and indeed smaller than the mac mini have been around for years. apple are the ones ripping off the idea. same with the recent imacs too…

  48. Dan Rubin says:

    I’ve been using a Dell 4100 for a few years now, and even with only a PIII/933 and 348MB RAM, it still runs Windows XP quite well. I have enough desk space to run a separate 20in screen on the PC, but the computer itself is more than I need for testing (ok, so it doubles as an Unreal Tournament stress-reliever from time to time).
    I’d just get something at the bottom of the line from Dell or another reputable manufacturer, stick it on your network and use Remote Desktop Connection or a KVM for viewing.

  49. mike says:

    I recently went through the exact same thing. And after looking at all the options, I wound up buying a new Compaq Presario SR1000Z for a little over $400 using the build to order options at hp’s website to strip everything I didn’t need. It’s running XP (home), 512 MB RAM, 2.2GHz AMD athlon processor etc. and does everything I need a PC for nicely.
    Why HP/Compaq? Well, as a Mac Guy and former Mac Support Guy, I like that Michael Dell doesn’t get any of my money, and it’s as Mac-friendly as a PC company gets, with iTunes and Quicktime pre-installed. The die-hard PC crowd can laugh at me if they want, but I drank Steve’s Kool-Aid long ago.
    Also, I’ve got a Dr. Bott KVM, so I can switch between my G5 and the Compaq box, using my main monitor (dual monitors on the G5) and sharing my Apple Pro keyboard and Microsoft IntelliMouse on both machines. Sweet.
    Good luck!

  50. Rachel says:

    As has already been said the Shuttle range are excellent. At work I have two on my desk – stacked one on top of the other. Both are running Debian Linux, one as my desktop and the other as a small development server and domain controller.
    At home we (Drew, the Small Person and myself) have one each, all currently running Windows. The oldest of these is now 2 years old and still going strong. They do some snazzy ones that you can use for home entertainment purposes but the basic models are inexpensive and very reliable.

  51. jef says:

    What most people forget is the lack of noise from the G4 processors.
    Intel or AMD need noisy fans, so forget a PC with the “footprint” of a Mac in your living room…

  52. Dan, I would highly recommend something all-in-one such as a laptop. No monitors. No cables. No fuss.
    As others have mentioned, Ebay is the best place to look. You can find dozens of nice buys for roughly $350. I love the IBM Thinkpad T Series, but they sell more expensively for the same specs you find in other systems. You may like this search: 700 MHz or more, Memory (RAM): 128 MB or more, Hard Drive Capacity: 10 GB or more.

  53. shawn says:

    jef needs to do a little pc research. there are a) plenty of ways to cool amd/intel boxes without noise and b) there are plenty of micro boxes that run fanless without issue.

  54. James says:

    The Shuttle ST62K is the quietest of the shoebox lot, it has an external power supply, the smallest footprint and it also has pretty much everything [video, sound, network, etc.] onboard so all you need to add are processor RAM and drives. It’s around $250 at Newegg.

  55. Lauri says:

    I started using VirtualPC because that was the only way I could simulate different pcs with different browser versions (computer A has latest browsers, computer B has one version older, etc.) Does everyone using an actual pc only check against one version of Internet Explorer or have you done something special to be able to install several versions (like partition the hard drive into separate bootables)? OR do you think we are at the point in browser testing where testing one version older than the latest is good enough?

  56. Andy says:

    In terms of testing different versions of IE I simply have version 5.0, & version 5.5. in two folders within a zip file, and run the executable from within there whenever I need to test :)

  57. Dustin says:

    Hmm, this AMD 1.7GHz used to be $170 on outpost.com and at Fry’s (preinstalled with Lindows). I threw in a 512 for $50 (to 640) and it runs Photoshop, Dreamweaver and 20+ tabs in Firefox with no problems at all on XP with AntiVir in the background. Nice! Throw in a budget 17″ flatpanel for around $250 and you’ve got a nice windows setup (your copy of windows) for under $500.

  58. AdamR says:

    Over the past few months, I’ve heard pretty good reports about the AOpen XC Cube PC. A bit larger than the Mac Mini, but internally, it packs a pretty good punch. The basic version “Living Art” is, I believe, $320.
    - Adam

    The Computations of AdamR

  59. pid says:

    hoojum qubit
    nice little bit of kit, but probably not at the cheapest end of the scale.

  60. Gerrit says:

    I got me a used IBM ThinkPad X20 subnotebook. Including a Dockingstation with CD-Burner it cost less than 400 Euros and is a nice little work horse.
    Best of all it is really tiny, brings its own screen and is totally silent.
    Its PIII 600 Mhz is a much better choice over energy-wasting Ghz-Computers for applications such as testing or serving mp3s.

  61. Kyle Haskins says:

    1) Buy a Shuttle, or 2) Build one yourself.
    Building a PC yourself is one of the best reasons to own a PC. You learn a lot about how computers work and about the latest types of technology used for each part. You can generally build a PC that matches the specs of a new Mac for a least half the cost.
    You can purchase mini-cases, even ones the size of a VCR to fit in an entertainment center. (I’m a huge Media Center fan). Then get a Mini ATX motherboard. You could probably build a 2Ghz machine for about $300. Buy from either directron.com or newegg.com.
    I’ve used a lot of Dells at work, don’t go there. My 3.4Ghz SATA Dell is slower than my old home built 2Ghz. Dell uses cheap parts which slow down the system bus.

  62. Corey H Maass says:

    honestly if yre just looking for a pc to test web sites, etc. get an older laptop. osmething “good enough” will run you $500 – the price of the mac mini – and no need for a seperate monitor. which is my complaint with the mini. it’s not really just $500. you need a monitor. *sigh*

  63. Daniel says:

    Buy a Cubit 3 and fill it with whatever you like. You can even keep it empty, just to look at. Beautiful.

  64. Stephen says:

    I recently just bought one of the Shuttle PCs [View Photo for size]
    You basically just buy the Shuttle barebones system for a couple hundred and then add any parts you want.

  65. setmajer says:

    For those wondering how to deal with multiple IE versions on one PC:
    A more expensive/resource-intensive/cumbersome (but also more reliable) solution is VirtualPC for Windows. I’ve used it on a 600 MHz Vaio and it’s painful, but my 2 GHz desktop at work does fine — much better than the PBG4 I use as my primary personal machine.

  66. setmajer says:

    Damn, the link from the last post got swallowed. Seemed OK in preview.
    Whatever. Sorry about that.

  67. Bronwyn says:

    Cheap: secondhand boxes, or nearly-dead platforms, like Socket A.
    Small: laptops, mini-ITX, and toaster-sized boxes, like the Shuttles and their imitators.
    Quiet: Still takes special work. Laptops are often quieter than desktops. For more information, see Silent PC Review. (I’m surprised that nobody else mentioned it.)
    Best bet to get all three is probably old, cheap laptops.

  68. Richard says:

    Multiple versions of IE (5.1, 5.5, 6.0) on the same PC:
    Works perfectly.

  69. Austin says:

    I would look at the Dell OptiPlex GX280. I have seen similar Dells at school, and they are fairly small and quiet.

  70. I’m really a Mac User and I was very happy to see that Steve Jobs made an affordable small Mac, similar to my Cappuccino PC G1, which I’m using for web development testing purposes since beginning of 2001.
    The only bad thing was his price and his fan. But they should have newer improved and cheaper designs now on their homepage.
    We also use Shuttle Barebones but usually as small servers. They aren’t that small and that quiet on a table.

  71. Nick says:

    Shuttle XPC (www.shuttle.com)
    They’re maybe a little larger than a Mac Mini but certainly have a smaller footprint that the majority of PCs. I’ve had one for the last 2 years with no problems at all.
    They’re also very easy to open up and upgrade should you ever feel the need.

  72. II don’t know of any equivalents of the Mini, but about Virtual PC 7, it still has the max of 512MB RAM, so on a Dual 2.5GHz G5 with 4.5 GB RAM it still isn’t all that fast.

  73. AndyLong333 says:

    I recommend this manufacturer to you, who is selling the smallest pc, car pc in the world.
    Fully functional P4/Celeron Northwood 2.0Ghz ~ 3.20Ghz w/512KB L2 Cache
    Fully functional P4/Celeron Prescott up to 3.0Ghz w/1M L2 Cache
    Intel 865GV / ICH 5, supporting 800MHz FSB
    Fully support Intel Hyper Threading Technology
    On-board 10/100 LAN, USB 2, 1394(Optional).
    Ultra low noise and low power consumption
    Support standard 3.5″ hard disk
    5.8″(W) x 10″(D) x 2.75″(H) (14.8 x 25.4 x 7 cm)
    Detail Specifications
    Intel P4/Celeron Northwood 2.0Ghz ~ 3.20Ghz (512KB L2 Cache)
    Intel P4/Celeron Prescott up to 3.0Ghz (1M L2 Cache)
    Support Hyper Threading Technology
    VRM 10.0 standard
    Support Dual-Channel DDR 400/333/266 DIMM
    Maximum 2 GB, with 512Mb technology
    Core Logic
    Intel 865GV / ICH 5(North / South)
    FSB support up to 800Mhz
    Intel Extreme Graphics 2
    Support up to 64MB DVMT video memory
    Software AC ’97 Audio CODEC
    Built-in high speed Ethernet 100/10Mbps LAN controller
    FireWire (Optional)
    Built-in OHCI 1394a 1.1 compliance
    Support up to 400Mb transfer rate
    USB 2.0
    Integrated 4 independent OHCI controller supporting USB 1.1 ports
    Integrated 1 EHCI controller supporting USB 2.0 ports
    Dynamic connection support to USB 2.0 or USB 1.1 devices
    Dual Independent ATA-100/66/33 support
    Support up to 4 IDE devices on dual channel
    Hardware Monitor
    System, processor temperature, voltage and fan speed monitor
    Auto Thermal FAN speed control
    Power Management
    ACPI 1.0b compliance and OS direct power management
    Wake-on event: RTC/USB Keyboard/Modem/LAN/Keyboard/Mouse
    Switch and Jumpers
    Front Panel:
    1 x IEEE 1394 Firewire port
    1 x USB 2.0 / 1.1 Port
    1 x MIC Port
    1 x Ear Phone output Jack
    Power-on button
    Reset button
    Power-on and HDD LED
    Back Panel:
    1 x RS232 COM port
    1 x parallel printer port
    1 x RJ45 10/100Mb Fast Ethernet
    1 x Line-Out output Jack
    2 x USB 2.0 / 1.1 Ports
    1 x 15 pin VGA
    1 x 19v DC Power Jack input
    Dimension & Weight
    14.8 x 25.4 x 7 cm
    2.5KG (fully equipped)
    AC/DC Adaptor
    Input 100~240V AC Universal
    Output 19V DC out
    Storage Devices
    Support all Standard Slim CD-ROM/DVD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-RW Combo
    Support all 3.5″ standard IDE hard drive, ATA-100/66/33

  74. dan samoila says:

    i have a hp epc42 mini pc,p4-1.7G but no powersupply ; does anybody have the pinout for the 8pin connector?
    thank you