Review: 4 mini-PCs give you full power in a very small package

These tiny Windows systems can be hidden away while offering complete computing power.

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Gigabyte Brix (GB-BSi3H-6100-B2-IWUS)

Part of Gigabyte's Brix family of petite PCs, the model listed as GB-BSi3H-6100-B2-1WUS shoehorns a lot of computing into a small case.

Powered by an Intel Core i3 6100U processor that runs between 2.3GHz and 2.8GHz, this Brix comes with 4GB of RAM (it can handle up to 16GB), and a 1TB hard drive that runs at 5,400rpm. About one-third the size of the VivoMini, the system measures 1.8 x 4.7 x 4.4 in. and weighs 1.3 lbs.

gigabyte brix Gigabyte

Gigabyte Brix

Gigabyte also sells other models: one that offers an Intel Core i5 processor and retails for $580 (Amazon price), and other with a Core i7 processor and a retail price of $700 (Amazon price).

The patterned gray case is easy to open if you want to change the memory modules. While there isn't room inside for another 2.5-in. drive, the Brix system can accommodate an 80mm M.2 SSD -- it took me about two minutes to add a 128GB module.

The Brix system relies on Intel's HD Graphics video accelerator, which has 128MB of dedicated memory and can use up to about 2GB of the system's memory for up to 2.1GB of video RAM. It tops out at Ultra-HD (4029 x 2304) resolution.

In front of the unit are two USB 3.0 ports along with audio-in and -out jacks. In the back are another two USB 3.0 ports as well as an HDMI port and Mini DisplayPort for video. On the downside, it lacks an SD card slot. A triangular power button is located in the corner of the top. The system supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0; there's an Ethernet port in the back.

The Brix tested as using 13 watts of electricity and kept its cool when it was mounted on the back of my monitor.

Nicely, the system comes with a mounting bracket. It took me about a minute to attach it to my display, and the Brix's small size and dark color meant that it blended in nicely.

The Brix comes with Windows 10 Home and Intel's Small Business Advantage suite; the latter has apps for security, updating software and file sharing.

Bottom line

The Brix squeezes a powerful desktop computer into something the size of a paperweight. It provides the ability to add storage space and offers the more performance per cubic inch than the others.

InFocus Kangaroo Pro

As if it weren't enough that you could carry it around in a shirt pocket, the InFocus Kangaroo Pro can run on battery power for more than an hour. But while it's clearly the most innovative of these four mini-PCs, it still has its share of gotchas.

Measuring 0.5 x 3.1 x 4.8 in. and weighing 0.36 lbs. (0.93 lbs. when combined with its dock), the black computer has a power switch indicated by a circular LED that lights up when it's turned on, a micro-SD card slot and a micro-USB port for power.

kangaroo pro InFocus

InFocus Kangaroo Pro

The Kangaroo Pro is, at heart, a minimalist system that's built around an Intel Atom Z8500 processor; it runs at between 1.4GHz and 2.2GHz, depending on its workload. It comes with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash storage.

The Kangaroo Pro includes Intel's HD Graphics video with 128MB of dedicated memory that can be augmented with up to 1GB from RAM. But the system can't go beyond HD (1920 x 1080) resolution. There's also wired Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.

This smallest PC is the most secure -- alone of the four reviewed here, the Kangaroo Pro has a fingerprint scanner for local authentication; it also contains a TPM for airtight remote log-ins.

Another thing that sets the Kangaroo Pro apart is its docking station. The dock, which is included with the unit, has ports for two USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 connections as well as VGA, HDMI and an Ethernet port.

If you unscrew the dock's top, you can add a 2.5-inch drive. It took me about two minutes to install a 480GB SSD Pro.

Unlike the ECS and Gigabyte systems, the Kangaroo Pro doesn't include a mounting bracket for attaching it to a display. While the Kangaroo Pro is practically small and light enough to be attached using Velcro tape, Kangaroo engineers told me that too much heat might build up if it were strapped to a display, so I didn't try it.

Like the Liva X2, the Kangaroo Pro doesn't have a fan and under normal use was bordering on hot to the touch at 125-degrees Fahrenheit.

Unlike the others, the Kangaroo Pro can work on battery power -- in tests, its internal 2,200mAh battery was able to power the system for 1 hour and 17 minutes (as measured by the PCMark 8 battery life test) and took me through 1 hour 31 minutes of nonstop YouTube videos. Unfortunately, the battery isn't strong enough to power an external monitor as well -- you'll have to plug the monitor into a separate AC outlet rather than have it get its power through the computer system (as with normal desktops).

A big bonus is that, along with Windows 10 Home, the Kangaroo Pro comes with Devguru's OSLinx Windows Monitor app that allows the Kangaroo to use an iPad as a display. After connecting an iPad Pro to the Kangaroo using a Lightning cable, I was able to see the Kangaroo's Windows output on an iPad Pro's display, but to connect using Wi-Fi requires a $3.99 software upgrade.

Bottom line

All told, the Kangaroo Pro provides a lot of PC for $200. It innovates with room for a hard drive, a way to use an iPad as a display and the ability to run on battery power. If you don't mind its relatively low performance, it could be an interesting addition to your technical arsenal.

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