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Review: Mini Computers for Business

The newest miniature desktop PCs are priced right, easy on your utility bill and really pack a wallop.
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When it comes to your business, you want to think big. But when it comes to computers for your business, it could pay to think small. Really small.

The newest miniature desktop computers are compact and energy-efficient, and while they are made to handle mostly basic business functions, they boast some surprising power and features.

Mini desktop PCs are all about avoiding the drawbacks of their full-size PC cousins. They're cheap (about the same price as many tablet computers); save valuable desktop real estate; and use considerably less power, generate less heat and make less noise. Properly configured, a tiny-PC office will be easier to cool and have lower utility bills.

Just remember, you are buying a PC, and each must be equipped with a monitor, keyboard, mouse and other peripherals not included in these prices.

Mac Mini (Starts at $599)
The Mac mini is everything you'd expect from an Apple product: It's easy to use, it plays well with other Apple devices and the 7.7-inch-square, 1.4-inch-high device looks surprisingly professional on your desk. Businesses will appreciate the mini's computing oomph, with its choice of high-performing core i5 and i7 processors, high-definition graphics processor and Mac's latest operating system: OS X Lion. The unit comes with 500 GB storage and 2 GB memory but is upgradable to a beefy 8 GB via a removable panel underneath the unit. Hard-core Mac users will miss many of the slick features of the mini's bigger brothers--but for a cheap, fast Mac fix, the mini definitely works.

Optiplex 160 Tiny Desktop (Starts at $539)
Dell's Optiplex 160 tiny desktop is a good choice for businesses that need basic computing features such as word processing and internet access, as well as a range of administration and security tools. The tiny desktop, which is 9 inches tall and less than 2 inches wide, runs quiet and cool. The unit can be mounted on a wall or tucked underneath a desk. Security features include core OS passwords and an optional smart-card reader that protects against unauthorized data access. The device can also be used with a cable security kit to prevent anyone from walking away with it. Unfortunately, it will be easy to overwhelm this Dell with heavy-processing computing, but for basic office work on say, Microsoft Office, the efficient Optiplex will make your office look cool and keep it cool at the same time.

X13 Modular Computer (Starts at $849)
The 4-by-4-inch, honeycomb-shape Xi3 Modular Computer is the smallest device on this list. And its unique shape reflects the company's unique approach to computing. The Xi3 splits the core computer functions into three separate, replaceable components--one for the processor, one for external communications and one for video and power management. The idea is that instead of buying an entirely new device every few years, the separate components can be upgraded piecemeal at a much cheaper price. The company boasts that its Xi3 will last up to 10 years, rather than the two to three years that is typical for a PC. Considering the construction quality, that's actually possible. For tech-savvy shops seeking a unique approach to the office computer, the Xi3 is an intriguing option.

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