The further development of computer technology in recent years bears several significant features. In addition to major increases in performance in the background, at first glance it was above all apparent in the increasing miniaturization. Desktop computers, once the size of small cupboards, have become shoebox-sized PCs and all-in-ones hiding behind their screens, or a mini computer the size of a lunch box to take away.
Nevertheless, mini-computers are now doing something similar to their much larger relatives. But do mini computers really have only advantages? Or do they have disadvantages? And what are their possible applications? Answers to these questions can be found in this article. But first:
What is a mini computer anyway?
Today mini computers with their compactness seem to be a consequence of the IT development of the last years. In fact, their basic idea – to make computers as small as possible – was pursued shortly after the beginning of the computer age. As early as the 1960s, efforts were made to shrink the computers that filled the room at the time to at least the size of today’s refrigerators. The quest for a mini-computer eventually led to the first desktop computers.
Because of their size, for many years they bore the name of a tower PC. At some point in the nineties, the towers began to fall. They first became midi towers, then mini towers, while at the same time mobile computers – notebooks and later netbooks – further strengthened the trend towards ever smaller computers. Sometime after the turn of the millennium, the development arrived at today’s mini computer – a small, tiny computer that combines all the essential hardware of powerful computers in the dimensions of a hand-sized piece of technology.
Since then, various computer manufacturers have shown their versions of these small PCs. Since 2013 they have also been coming from Switzerland. However, the Swiss Prime Computer AG is something special, because they not only produce the Mini Computer as one of many models like other manufacturers, but also rely exclusively on Mini Computers for their workstations and servers. There are many reasons for this conviction.
The advantages of mini computers
Important advantages of the small form:
- Can be placed directly on a desk and therefore all connections are easy to reach. PCs are thus also easy to reach for technicians.
- Can also be used in places where space is limited. For example at a reception desk.
- Very compact dimensions – therefore easy to transport and flexible in use
- With one screen – monitor or TV -, keyboard and mouse ready for immediate use
- Achieves the same performance with current hardware as comparable, but much larger desktop PCs
- Can work with all operating systems
- Suitable for private and business users alike
- Expandable and future-proof due to RAM or SSD replacement option
- Reduced power consumption compared to other PCs or notebooks, which also means less wear and tear of important components and thus a longer service life
Advantages of Mini Computers without fan
- The fanless Mini-PCs are suitable for installation solutions of all kinds.
- Works silently because of its fanless design
- Pollutes the room air less
- The absence of an active cooling system allows a completely closed design and makes the mini computers more resistant to dust or dirt coming from outside.
- This reduces, among other things, the regular expenses or costs for hardware
- That is why mini computers are particularly suitable for use in various dust or dirt polluted working environments
- Due to its mechanics-free construction it is reliable and fail-safe
Mini computers for more sustainability
Advantages such as lower power consumption or a longer life or operating time ultimately give the small computers the rating of sustainable or green IT. Users benefit directly from lower electricity costs and fewer new hardware purchases. The purchase of a mini computer therefore pays off. At the same time it has another positive ecological effect.
Lower energy consumption has long been demanded by the IT industry. The PCs and servers worldwide have an enormous power requirement, which in turn generates thousands of tons of climate-damaging CO2. The Mini PCs from Prime Computer AG show that there are other ways of doing things and how computers can work just as effectively with much less power.
With their longer service life, they provide additional relief for the climate. Because where PCs can work longer for several years, no new computers need to be purchased. Their production with scarce, valuable resources as well as high energy consumption and further CO2 emissions due to long transport routes is less necessary here.
The positive effects on climate and environment – or the costs – are enormous. An example illustrates this once again impressively:
- A company with 25 computers in use saves almost 2,000 CHF per year directly by switching from classic desktop computers to mini PCs at electricity costs of 0.23 CHF per kWh, because the new IT consumes significantly less electricity.
- Measured against the average European CO2 emissions from electricity generation, the lower power consumption of the mini computers means a reduction of more than five tons of CO2 per year for the climate and environment.
- Switching to a Mini PC thus achieves the same positive climate effect as planting around 400 trees – assuming a CO2 binding of 12.5 kilograms per year as for a beech.
But that’s not all: With the purchase of a PC or server from Prime Computer AG, you are actually planting a tree. Because the company is part of the global Trillion Tree Campaign and donates a tree for every computer sold.
Thanks to this support and with the help of many other participants, well over 13 billion trees have already been planted worldwide. The original goal of the project, which was once launched as the Trillion Tree Campaign, has thus been exceeded 13-fold after only a few years. Now the new target is one trillion trees. When they grow on this planet one day, they will be able to bind around a quarter of the CO2 emissions caused by humans.
After these many arguments for a mini computer, the question naturally arises: What are the disadvantages?
Mini computers and their disadvantages
The disadvantages are mainly limited to certain application examples or user requests:
- Mini PCs have no optical drive,
- Dedicated graphics card is missing,
- This means that for some hardware-intensive applications it is only of limited use.
However, each of these points can hardly be considered a general disadvantage or weakness of Mini PCs, as they all affect only a few users at a time. In addition, the restrictions also apply to many other computers or notebooks and ultrabooks. Some of them cannot be expanded or reconfigured at all, they do not have an optical drive and also do not have dedicated graphics.
In the end, after years of almost exponential growth in hardware equipment, almost all computer manufacturers have focused more on the actual hardware requirements of the vast majority of users and have adapted their devices accordingly in terms of configuration or expansion options.
If you are looking for more – for example, for professional video editing, CAD or high-end gaming – and need a communication or web server, you will still find many suitable, larger and more extensively equipped PCs, servers or workstations. In most other application areas, however, Mini PCs with their performance capabilities already cover the demand completely.
Possible applications for mini computers
Sales of classic desktop computers have stagnated for years. Contrary to this trend, the share of mini PCs in the computer market recently showed constant growth rates of 30 percent and more. Mini computers are enjoying increasing popularity and are being used in more and more areas or companies. The many advantages already mentioned here are convincing more and more users and decision makers to buy a Mini PC.
It is therefore not surprising that the small computers are being used in ever new applications. Especially in a professional environment with adverse environmental conditions, they score clearly with their robustness. In the same way, they are becoming increasingly popular as stand-alone systems. Here are a few examples:
- Digital signage: Digital signage has been one of the major trends in building services engineering in recent years. Whether for information, guidance or advertising – so-called digital signage players work behind many display signs. Mini PCs often take over this hardware application.
- Retail trade: The retail trade is also increasingly using digital signage. Here, however, the small computers just as often control the cash registers or cash register systems and scanners.
- Kiosk terminals: These interactive displays, such as those found at larger train stations or airports, mainly work with mini PCs behind their touch screens.
- Logistics: Mini PCs are often used for machine control – for example on assembly lines -, as terminals for manual access to databases or for further processing of scanner data.
- music server: In many retail stores and supermarket branches or even some public buildings, music, information or advertising from ceiling loudspeakers accompany every visit – these programs are increasingly controlled by mini computers.
- Office area: Here, mini computers have long had a firm place as space-saving, energy- and cost-efficient replacements for old desktop computers.
Production: In manufacturing companies, mini PCs can be found more and more frequently in machine control, similar to those in the logistics industry.
- Vehicle Computing: Police or rescue services and public transport are increasingly using computers on board these days. This calls for space-saving, compact yet powerful hardware – another perfect application for Mini Computers.
Almost all these application examples or locations have one thing in common: the working environment for the computers is rough. In professional use, they often have to withstand high levels of dirt and dust or extreme temperatures. This is where the advantages of the fanless construction of the PrimeMinis come into play. The fanless construction with a completely closed aluminium housing of the PrimeMinis makes it possible to stand up to these conditions, as they are particularly resistant and durable even under regular load.
The Swiss mini computers from St. Gallen also have another advantage. Their rugged all-aluminium housing gives them additional protection in such working environments. In addition, the space factor is always an important argument for using a Mini PC.
No other computer type with comparable performance has such small dimensions. On most desks, the small computers thus provide more space and working comfort. At other locations, comfort is not an issue, but there are compelling limitations on the size of the hardware. Without small Mini PCs, some technical solutions would not be possible at all or only at considerable additional expense.
Finally: The future of mini computers
The development of Mini PCs is impressive:
- Continuously improved hardware equipment
- Growing computer performance
- More and more applications
- As a result, demand from private users and companies regularly increases
- Increasing growth of Green IT with more sustainability through lower energy and other resource consumption
- Higher efficiency for the majority of computer applications
With all these factors, Mini PCs are more than just a brief trend, as the computer industry has experienced time and again. Mini PCs determine more and more IT landscapes, take over more and more important applications and, in the course of further digitalization, the future of computers is unthinkable without them.