Desktop computers, once the size of small cupboards, have become shoebox-sized mini PCs and all-in-ones hiding behind their screens, or a mini-computer the size of a lunch box to take away. Despite their small size, however, mini PCs pack plenty of computational punch. Some of the best mini PCs stack up fairly well against well-assembled PCs and laptops. The best mini PC can even outperform formidable computers. Below, we’ll explain what a mini PC is and consider the advantages of using one. We’ll also review one in particular, the Intel NUC11TNKi5 Pro Mini Tiger Canyon, to see where it stacks up in the world of mini PCs and determine if it can handle a photographer’s workflow.

What Is a Mini PC?

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© Intel Corporation

The term mini PC refers to small form factor computers. These variants of computers are midrange and feature all the capabilities of a desktop in a tiny physical form. As they take up very limited desktop space, they are ideal for people with simpler needs. A mini PC is so small that you can even attach it to the back of your monitor.

In terms of functionality and operation, it’s a complete computer with a CPU and memory. The CPU executes all the instructions by fetching relevant data from memory and then uses the ALU to perform an operation and store the result back into the memory.

Advantages of Using a Mini PC

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It doesn’t matter if you are a visual content creator working from your studio or from home, having a smaller footprint on your desk is always going to be a plus for a better workflow. This is the most important advantage of having a mini PC, on top of the affordability compared to higher PCs or laptops, as you can tailor it according to your budget, and needs. Meaning that the flexibility will please expert photographers as well s those who are starting their path on a budget.

  • Size: You can tuck a mini PC away where it is essentially invisible and save a significant amount of space.
  • Versatility: A mini PC can have all the power of a standard desktop PC and you can easily change components like the RAM and hard drive. Hook it up to your screen of choice, whether that is a regular monitor, open frame display, or a TV screen.
  • Cost: Mini PCs are more affordable and very cost-effective to operate.
  • Energy consumption: A mini computer consumes less power. It uses approximately 10 times less power. As a result, its components experience less wear and tear. Therefore, they need less maintenance.

Mini PC Usability

Are you a photographer working from home and you would want to use your gear for other applications besides content creation? A mini PC is a workhorse capable of providing enough power for diverse solutions.

  • Content creation: With good quality parts, a mini PC is capable of running multiple high-compute applications, rendering interactive visuals in real-time, accessing large files for a project, and improving anyone’s workflow.
  • Casual gaming: If your primary goal is to do some work and play some games, then the mini PC will suffice.
  • Home-Theater: Mini PCs can be mounted on the back of a TV to be used as a home theater or set-top box.
  • Work: Capable of performing business or home-office tasks with the possibility to make the workplace less cluttered.
  • Entertainment: They have far more processing grunt and capabilities than tablets. Cheaper than buying another laptop or a desktop PC for the family to use.

Barebones Vs. Ready-Configured Mini PCs

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© Intel Corporation

Not all mini PCs ship as complete systems; more so than any other class of PC, they tend not to. To complete the kit, you have to shop for and install a storage drive (a hard drive and/or a solid-state drive, depending on the model), RAM modules, and install your operating system. This arrangement is what’s called in reseller lingo a “bare-bones PC.” Such types of mini PCs are popular among tinkerers and hobbyists who love customizing their machines for various projects. Therefore, the value relies on the flexibility to configure the hardware depending on each photographer’s needs and budget, whether you’re a professional visual content creator or photographer looking forward to having affordable solutions.

Ready-configured machines are prepared to be used right out of the box. No assembly or juggling with different components is necessary to get them working. Although these machines are pricier than barebone mini PC kits, they come with all the features a general user may need in a single chassis. These factors translate into convenience, time efficiency, and easy to use.

Recommendation for Photographers: Intel NUC11TNKi5 Pro Mini Tiger Canyon

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The Intel NUC is a small form factor computer. NUC stands for Next Unit of Computing. Intel started back in 2013 to produce these mini PCs and currently, they are on their 11th generation of devices. The hardware specifications make these computers suitable for photo and video editing.

Intel’s NUC devices are small yet powerful PCs that pack enough power to edit photos on, while also being tiny enough to hide away and not take up too much space on a desk.

The NUC11TNKi5 gives you the power of a PC multiple times its size in the palm of your hand. And while diminutive desktops have traditionally attracted very specific customers and niche use cases, the new power budget of options like this one might start to change that narrative for good.

Size

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This mini PC body is a tiny solution that’s brilliant for photo editing while keeping a small footprint.  It measures 117x112x37mm which is roughly 4.5 inches square and about as tall as the average desktop mouse. You can place the NUC 11 Pro on a table, and it will be pretty unobtrusive. A VESA mounting bracket is included in the box so you can also screw it to the back of a compatible monitor or use a wide variety of industry-standard mounts.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your editing space is, it will be always more comfortable if your mini PC is attached behind the monitor, remaining unobstructed, especially if you are working with high-end monitors for photo editing, which tend to be bulky already.

Connectivity and Ports

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The NUC11TNKi5 comes with a surprising number of connectivity options packed into its small chassis. On the front, you’ll find two USB 3.2 ports with Type-A connectors. On the back, there’s an RJ-45 Ethernet jack, two HDMI video outputs, another USB 3.2 Type-A port, a USB 2.0 Type-A port, and two Type-C USB4 ports, one of them supporting Thunderbolt 4 and one Thunderbolt 3. The internals of the machine also includes one USB 3.2 on M.2, as well as two USB 2.0 headers. The NUC11 Pro-Kit supports up to four displays in various configurations, depending on the ports you use, the resolutions you’re displaying at, and varying refresh rates. You also get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.

If you are a photographer that is using lots of peripherals for editing, such as editing consoles, then don’t be afraid to consider this mini PC as your work solution as it will provide enough ports to satisfy your needs.

Processor

At the heart of this particular NUC 11 Pro is a Core i5-1135G7 processor, from Intel’s 11th Gen ‘Tiger Lake’ family. This new processor is able to provide an extra oomph for heavier duties like video or photo editing

The Core i5-1135G7 has four cores with Hyper-Threading, and in this implementation, the CPU will run at a 2.4GHz base speed with a single-core boost speed of up to 4.2GHz. The integrated Iris Xe GPU is one of Intel’s big pushes for its mobile 11th Gen CPUs and is built off a new architecture that has been taking shape for years.

Storage

The NUC 11 Pro Mini has a unique storage setup with its two asymmetric M.2 slots. One slot supports 2242 SATA III SSDs only while the second slot supports up to 2280 PCIe 4.0 drives. Owners can easily upgrade if desired.

Power Consumption

Consumption can be as high as 74W when under extreme processing loads, but this draw is only temporary due to the limited Turbo Boost of the system.

Pros

  • Excellent overall performance for editing
  • Lots of ports and connectivity
  • Compact, quiet, and versatile
  • Easy access to RAM and storage

Cons

  • Bulky external power adapter
  • Must factor SSD, RAM, and OS costs/installation into kit version

Final Thoughts

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With the NUC11TNKi5 you will get an exceptional performance when working with creative software and large files for video editing, photo editing, and graphic design. Overall, this is a very nice mini PC unit. If you’re looking to power some digital signage or just want a reasonably peppy desktop that takes up almost no working space, the NUC11TNKi5 is a good contender for both professional photographers and amateurs.

Perhaps it’s not the most powerful machine for gamers and videographers who look for a graphics monster. However, as a cost-value alternative, we commend it for squeezing out as much performance as it does, especially for workday productivity and extreme multi-display scenarios for editing and working from home.

This mini PC offers a great middle-ground – no bulky desktop tower, but it can’t be used on the go – and that should be just fine for plenty of photographers and videographers in their homes and studios. It’s possible to obtain a ready-configured model or upgrade the machine with software and hardware according to your own needs and budget. That’s a lot of flexibility with enough power on a tiny size.