Project idea #4: Mini gaming PC
WHETHER LOCALLY RENDERED OR STREAMED, THERE ARE EVEN NUCS WITH GAMING ABILITIES.
When it comes to gaming chops and mini-PCs, there are a few ways of going about securing the right performance to deliver the desired user experience. Paired with awareness of what is and isn’t asking too much of these diminutive PC solutions within the scope of gaming is important to consider in order to avoid some disappointment from the user experience and general implementation.
There are a few things you need to outline prior to even looking at specifications of different NUC-like mini-PC products on the market. These main questions are: What level of visual fidelity do you desire? What resolution will you want to output? Will the gaming processing be done locally on the mini-PC or on a dedicated gaming PC and streamed to the mini-PC’s inputs and outputs? If processed locally, how much graphics processing power do you require? Will an integrated GPU (iGPU) be sufficient for your planned solution or will you required discrete GPU (dGPU) levels of performance? If implementing a dGPU option, how is it implemented into the build specification? Will you it utilise a hybrid iGPU-dGPU loading solution for improved energy efficiency or will the dGPU be engaged as primary graphics processor and the iGPU completely disengaged? Understanding these questions, the subsequent answer(s) and whether the outcome is suitable for your intended goal is key to avoid a half-baked implementation that does the job but comes short of the desired experience.
Looking specifically at three examples from the NUC-like mini-PC roundup, the ASUS VivoMini-V VM65N, Intel Skull Canyon NUC (NUC6i7KYK) and Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD GB-BNi7HG4-950-MF, these three options present different levels of gaming competence and with it system presence within the home theatre.
The VM65N represents the use of mobile hybrid GPU technology as the unit automatically switches between the Intel HD Graphics 520 iGPU and the mobile tech derived GeForce 930M dGPU depending on graphical workload requiring processing. While the GeForce 930M would be considered by mainstream core PC gamers to be insignificant compared to their high-end desktop counterparts, but in these small form factor solutions the use of the GeForce 930M considerably boosts graphics processing power compared to the iGPU alternatives. A clear example of this is the almost doubling of 3DMark results when comparing the VM65N and VC65R benchmark results from the review roundup. Interestingly, you can see the gap close considerably between Fire Strike and Ice Storm Extreme results due to the simplified visual effects in Ice Storm Extreme compared with the comparatively brutal Fire Strike benchmark.
The Skull Canyon NUC demonstrates the potential pixel pushing power of a high-end Intel iGPU utilising the Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580 core. This unit is sufficient for many eSports titles such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and DOTA2. Packaged in the sleek, slender chassis and with plenty of connectivity for controllers, this could be a great console replacement PC for the home theatre.
The Brix Gaming UHD unit introduces a low-end discrete desktop GPU to the mix. This spec inclusion romps over every other mini-PC in the review roundup. This is thanks to the GeForce GTX 950 GPU and will help facilitate mid-graphics levels at 1080p resolution.
The need for a strong disctete GPU can be negated by utilising a networked dedicated gaming machine to do the majority of the gaming processing, then streaming over the network to the mini-PC with gaming software solutions like Steam. For best outcomes, ensure the mini-PC has plenty of CPU power and RAM, running on a Gigabit Ethernet connection — preferably wired to reduce latency.
Mini gaming PC in one hand, controller in the other — watch out lounge room!
A Thunderbolt 3.0 port with a 40Gbps transfer speed can provide high-end desktop GPU power to a tiny NUC PC, via an external bay like the Razer Core.