Mini PC vs Raspberry Pi compared

Mini PC vs. Raspberry Pi: What’s Best for Your Desktop?

Many are moving away from desktop computers because they take up space and increase power bills. A laptop may sound like a viable alternative, but they’re expensive. If only there were a happy compromise between those extremes.

That would be the mini PC. It is the perfect compromise between a laptop and a desktop computer, offering the ergonomic freedom of a desktop computer while also being smaller, cheaper, and more power-efficient than a laptop.

But should you go all out with the mini PC route, or is your purpose better served by a Raspberry Pi instead?


Which Platform Maximizes Space Savings?

Before we can go about issuing recommendations, it makes sense to figure out why moving away from a traditional desktop PC setup is increasing in popularity. Freeing up precious desk space is the primary motivator for most. This can be achieved to varying degrees by mini PCs and Raspberry Pis alike. Even laptops connected to a proper monitor and keyboard mouse setup will save space compared to a full-blown tower PC.

If you are alien to the concept of desktop PCs on a diet, our primer on mini PCs should get you up to speed.

However, the space savings won’t amount to much once you factor in a laptop stand, dock, and greater mess of wires entailed by a docked laptop. A mini PC will have a relatively smaller physical footprint than a laptop, especially since it doesn’t need a dock. However, not all mini PCs are small enough to fit on your display’s VESA mounting bracket.

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A Raspberry Pi, however, can be taped onto the back of the smallest monitors. No need to trifle with a VESA mount here. If space is at a premium, the Raspberry Pi wins hands down.

Raspberry Pi as Desktop Replacement

You can’t have excellent performance and power efficiency unless you’re running Apple’s M1 silicon. But since that’s out of the question, you can only choose one. The Raspberry Pi will suffice if all you want to do is run a word processor and browse the internet. However, complicated tasks such as video editing, 3D modeling, and running financial simulations will require a mini PC decked out to be a proper desktop replacement.

We recommend opting for at least the 4GB version of the Raspberry Pi 4 because both Ubuntu and Raspberry Pi OS (here are more Raspberry Pi OSes) have free software available for every computing task ranging from comprehensive image manipulation to light video editing tasks. However, the unique form factor of the Raspberry Pi 400 opens up new possibilities.

It pays to temper your expectations because such tasks will take longer and won’t offer the same versatility as a proper mini PC running Windows. The Raspberry Pi can technically serve as the most power-efficient desktop replacement, but the scope is limited to simple computing tasks.

There’s a Mini PC Out There for Your Needs

Mini PCs are available in virtually endless configurations. Brands such as Zotac, Asus, Corsair, Lenovo, and Intel offer mini PCs with thermal design points (TDP) as low as 25 watts. These devices nevertheless run all native Windows apps without significant compromises. Need more oomph to run heavier photo and video editing suites without considerably increasing power draw and size? You can opt for mini PCs running higher-core count mobile AMD and Intel APUs featuring better graphics capabilities.


With the exception of Intel, most aforementioned brands also offer powerful desktop replacements in mini-ITX form factors replete with power desktop-grade processors and discrete graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD. Mini PCs provide an entire spectrum of power and efficiency options that can be tailored to your specific use case.

Mini PC vs. Desktop: Compromises Must Be Made

Because mini PCs are available in dizzying choices with varying degrees of performance, power efficiency, and space savings, the onus lies in making the right choice and owning the compromises therein. More choice is always better.

However, the common complaint with mini PCs that use desktop-grade processors and GPUs boils down to thermal issues. Cooling capacity limits the amount of powerful processing hardware you can cram into a pint-sized platform. Most powerful mini PCs ship with an inadequate cooling design that makes them incredibly hot and equally loud as a consequence. To put this into perspective, I use a mini PC that can run the latest games—but I had to design and 3D print a brand-new chassis in order to tame the heat and noise output with liquid cooling.


The greater the performance crammed into a mini PC, the louder and hotter it will get unless you spend big bucks on liquid cooling. It’s not easy beating the laws of physics or economics. Because it is also significantly more expensive to increase the performance in a mini PC. Everything from the smaller motherboards, laptop-grade RAM, and solid-state drives tend to be significantly more expensive. Upgrading a mini PC is neither cheap nor easy, so be sure to buy what you need at the outset.

Living With a Raspberry Pi Isn’t Easy Either

As mentioned earlier, a Raspberry Pi works just fine for everyday computing tasks such as web browsing and office applications. However, you’re bound to find yourself in a spot of trouble if this is your only computing device.

Try installing native clients for common software such as Zoom, Twitter, and Dropbox, and you’ll find yourself pulling your hair. While Linux support for most common apps and utilities is decent, the Raspberry Pi is based on ARM hardware architecture.

While ARM architecture is used across millions of devices, not every cross-platform app has an ARM version that can be used with the Pi. It’s easy to hit a brick wall when work requires you to use specific software that doesn’t have an ARM Linux version available. As such, you may have to keep a Windows or macOS-based computer as a backup. Unless, of course, you have the wherewithal to dig out and compile compatible binaries and device drivers.

Mini PC vs. Raspberry Pi: A Matter of Budget and Use Case

Both the Raspberry Pi and mini PC are viable as a replacement for the traditional desktop computer. However, the choice ultimately depends on the complexity of your computing needs. The Raspberry Pi will perform common computing tasks cheaply, with the smallest footprint and least power consumption. But it won’t be as snappy or versatile as a mini PC.

A mini PC is recommended if you plan on making money off your computer. The software and hardware support provided by Windows and macOS-based mini PCs is unrivaled, as is the sheer spectrum of choices available in terms of performance, size, and power consumption. It is also wiser to opt for a Windows or macOS-based mini PC if it’s your sole computing platform.


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