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Best thin client of 2021: SFF computers for cloud computing and more

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(Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Surely no one is looking for the best thin clients these days, we hear you ask. Didn't they die out years ago? Well, not quite; thin clients remain easier to deploy, manage and maintain than their full-fat PC counterparts.

Not only can you update and maintain all the thin clients on your network from a central server, you can also push application updates and manage antivirus without having to physically attend to your workforce’s machines.

Thin clients are marginally more interesting than they were 10 years ago, today arriving in several different shapes and sizes – from unique triangular chassis designs to mini HDMI sticks that are plugged into TVs or monitors.

Of course, you may be looking for a traditional plain black box, and we’ve also listed plenty of those below in our list of the best thin clients currently available.

  • Want your company or services to be added to this buyer’s guide? Please email your request to deisre.athow@futurenet.com with the URL of the buying guide and the subject line.

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On paper it’s the best mini PC yet

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i3-5005, 2C/4T, 2GHz, 3MB
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000
RAM: 8GB DDR3
Storage: 256GB
Ports: 3x USB3.0, 1x USB-C, 1x HDMI, audio jack, RJ-45 gigabit Ethernet
Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Dual-band WiFi 2.4GHz/5GHz , Dual wireless antenna, Bluetooth 4.0
Reasons to buy
+Capable CPU+DisplayPort plus HDMI+Dual Gb LAN ports
Reasons to avoid
-No card reader-USB 2.0

If you’re in the market for a capable thin client/mini PC combo, the L55 from Chinese vendor Beelink, which runs a bloatware-free version of Windows 10, has a few tricks up its sleeve. Even before lifting it out of its box, its spec sheet makes for great reading – a Core i3 PCU and 512GB is included in a sub $300 package. It shines in the connectivity department, with a pair of 4K-capable video ports couple with two LAN ports and more system memory and storage than you can shake a USB stick at. Speaking of which, its outdated USB 2.0 ports are one of only a few annoyances to be found.

Read the full review: Beelink L55 thin client mini PC

Chuwi LarkBox micro PC - $169/£199 at Amazon
The Chuwi LarkBox is a great buy at its normal price of $300, but becomes an absolute must-have at $169. Featuring components you’d struggle to find in PCs costing twice the price, this machine is also extremely compact and surprisingly well designed. Check it out!View Deal

Intel Ghost Canyon NUC

(Image credit: Intel)

2. Intel Ghost Canyon NUC

Small, but powerful

Specifications
CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i5 – i9
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 630
RAM: 8GB – 64B DDR4
Storage: 128GB SSD – 2TB + 2TB
Reasons to buy
+Affordable at its low configurations+Highly upgradeable+Great performance
Reasons to avoid
-Can get pretty pricey at the highest configurations

Intel’s NUC has come a long way from its humble beginnings. For example, while the previous Hades Canyon didn’t come with a RAM or storage, the newer Ghost Canyon has both. In fact, not only does it have more offerings now in terms of specs, but it’s also highly configurable so you can personalize it to your liking before hitting that buy button. With 9th-generation Intel Core chips, up to 64GB of memory and up to 4TB dual storage, we’re all for it. The only catch is that it's pricier now as well. The lower configurations are still quite affordable, and a terrific option for the budget-conscious. However, you may want to stay away from the highest configurations.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Acute Angle AA B4 desktop mini PC

Sports a unique triangular design

Specifications
CPU: Intel Celeron N3450/4C/4T, 2MB, 1.1GHz
Graphics: Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 500
Storage: 64GB + 128GB SSD
Ports: 3x USB3.0, 1x HDMI, audio jack, RJ-45 gigabit Ethernet
Connectivity: Intel Wireless-AC 3165, Bluetooth 4.0
Reasons to buy
+Excellent value for money+Unique design and finish
Reasons to avoid
-No user-accessible parts-No card reader

The only thing more interesting than this mini PC’s name is its design, which is more akin to something you might find in an art gallery than a server room. Despite its gorgeous design and quality finish, the Acute Angle AA B4 is actually pretty good value on the back of the, on paper, relatively modest specs inside. We just wish that the SSD inside was used to accommodate the Windows 10 operating system as that would have made it a real steal.

Read the full review: Acute Angle AA B4 desktop mini PC

(Image credit: Future)

4. Minix NEO J50C thin client PC

Can drive a pair of 4K monitors using USB Type-C

Specifications
CPU: Intel Pentium Silver J5005
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 605
RAM: 4GB DDR4
Storage: Samsung BHTD4R 32GB 128GB Minix
Ports: 3x USB 3.0, 1x USB-C, 1 x HDMI, audio jack, RJ-45 gigabit ethernet
Connectivity: 802.11ac Dual-Band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Reasons to buy
+Well-designed+Powered by USB-C
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for what it offers-No card reader

A well-balanced and smartly-designed workstation, the portable Minix NEO stands apart from the crowd in its ability to drive a pair of 4K monitors – a boon for productivity fans who have multi-monitor setups in various locations. It can also be powered by a USB Type-C connection meaning that you could feasibly power it using a battery charger or smartphone on the road, which would be handy for using it at trade shows or conferences. It ships with Windows 10 installed which thankfully isn’t slowed down too much by the eMMC storage it’s installed on. We’re hoping for an SSD upgrade in the future.

Read the full review: Minix NEO J50C thin client PC

(Image credit: Future)

5. Mii Mini PC

A Mini Mii that doesn’t break the bank

Specifications
CPU: Intel Celeron J4205 quad-core up to 2.6GHz
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 505
RAM: 8GB LPDDR4
Storage: 128GB SSD
Ports: 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x HDMI, audio jack, Gigabit LAN, SD card slot
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+SSD rather than eMMC
Reasons to avoid
-Excellent connectivity-Can’t open the case

The Mii Mini PC is a thin client that looks like a typical Android or Windows TV box, but it offers much more under the hood. It ships with Windows 10 installed on its SSD drive, which instantly makes it feel snappier than rival devices in its category that rely on eMMC storage instead. That was reflected in our benchmarks, where the Mii Mini shone with read and write SSD speeds that almost hit SATA theoretical transfer limits – reaching an impressive 515Mbps and 530Mbps write speeds.

Read the full review: Mii Mini PC

(Image credit: Future)

6. AcePC AK7 thin client PC

Affordable thin client is suitable for dual-screen setups

Specifications
CPU: Intel Celeron J3455 quad-core 2.3GHz
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 500
Storage: 64GB eMMC Samsung CJNB4R
Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x HDMI, audio jack, Gb Ethernet, TF card reader
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Reasons to buy
+Excellent value for money+Two HDMI ports
Reasons to avoid
-Noisy in operation-Still uses USB 2.0

If you ignore the whirring sound that comes from its internal fan, this affordable thin client is a winner for fans of multiple-monitor setups. Its ports include two HDMI interfaces located around the back for hooking up multiple monitors. Inside is an integrated Intel HD Graphics 500 GPU, which at the very least would be capable of driving one 4K monitor and another of a lower resolution. The AK7 comes free of bloatware, which his always a bonus, and is titchy enough to be picked up and chucked into a bag, or placed inconspicuously in the corner of an office.

Read the full review: AcePC AK7 thin client PC

(Image credit: Future)

7. CHUWI GBox Pro thin client PC

Flaunts an eye-catching fanless design

Specifications
CPU: Atom X7-E39504C/4T, 2M, 2Ghz
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 505
Storage: 64GB eMMC Sandisk DF4064
Ports: 2x USB2.0, 2x USB3.0, 1x USB-C, 1x HDMI, audio jack, RJ-45 gigabit Ethernet
Connectivity: Intel 3165, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Dual-band WiFi 2.4GHz/5GHz, Bluetooth 4.0
Reasons to buy
+Modern design+Can add another HDD
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for what it offers-Poor CPU performance

The CHUWI Gbox Pro finds itself going up against a number of solid competitors on its list, so you should only check it out if you haven’t seen anything else that’s caught your eye. It has arguably one of the best-looking designs of any thin client PC, it runs silently and comes with no bloatware installed. We also liked its legacy VGA port. But all of that is let down by its Atom CPU’s poor performance, none of which is helped by its 64GB eMMC onboard storage which suffers from sub-par read and write speeds.

Read the full review: CHUWI Gbox Pro

(Image credit: Future)

8. Azulle Access3 Mini PC

Only consider if the form factor is a must

Specifications
CPU: Intel Celeron J4105 quad-core 2.6GHz
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600
RAM: 4GB LPDDR4
Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, microUSB, audio Jack, Gigabit LAN, microSD
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Reasons to buy
+Relatively cheap+Surprisingly powerful CPU
Reasons to avoid
-Flawed form factor-32GB of storage far too small

Remember HDMI sticks? Yes – they’re still around. Unfortunately the Azulle Access3 Mini PC is one that leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s a feasible option if you absolutely must opt for this format. It’s whisper quiet in operation due to having no fan inside, and the device is small enough to slip into a pocket for taking on the road and it’s robustly built to withstand knocks and scrapes. So, what gives? Unfortunately, its CPU and storage performance are very poor, and we hate the way that the stick dangles in the air in absence of a VESA mount. Added to that, its short power cable makes for a frustrating ride.

Read the full review: Azulle Access3 Mini PC

(Image credit: Dell)

9. WYSE 3000 3040 Thin Client

Dells smallest and lightest thin client

Specifications
CPU: Intel Atom X5-Z8350-2 1.44Ghz
Graphics: Integrated
RAM: 2GB LPDDR4
Storage: 8GB flash memory
Ports: 3 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x audio-mic combo jack, 2 x DisplayPort, 1 x RJ45
Connectivity: 10Mb/100Mb/1Gb Copper RJ45 (Wired Ethernet)
Reasons to buy
+Excellent connectivity options+Supports two monitors+Strong security features
Reasons to avoid
-Modest CPU

This is Dell’s smallest entry-level client, and despite its compact design comes with a slew of connectivity options. You can hook up two monitors making it ideal for certain scenarios where you need a lot of screen real-estate without requiring bags of computing power. It comes with ThinOS installed, which is a security-conscious OS, and there’s plenty of computational grunt inside to perform in a wide range of use cases.

(Image credit: HIRUNS)

10. T5 Mini PC Intel Z8350 Windows 10 Pro computer stick

A PC in a stick that can display 4K content

Specifications
CPU: Intel Z8350 1.44GHz up to 1.92GHz
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics
RAM: 4GB DDR3 RAM
Storage: 64GB eMMC
Ports: 2 x USB 2.0 and 3.0
Connectivity: Built in 2.4G/5G AC WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2
Reasons to buy
+4K video support+5GHz AC Wi-Fi support
Reasons to avoid
-Chunky design-4K occasionally stutters

The second PC in a HDMI stick on our list, we stand our aforementioned comment that the form factor can prove irritating at best. However, looking past that, this one at least shows that good things can come in small packages. Its integrated graphics onboard are capable of displaying 4K video, making the T5 Mini PC an interesting option for streaming (or showing pre-installed) content on a monitor or TV, which could come in handy at a trade show. It provides ample connectivity grunt too, with built-in 2.4GHz and 5GHz AC Wi-Fi for streaming content from nearby.