Petite PCs: slick and small living room computers

We run through your many options for small form factor PCs. There are so many good reasons for keeping a PC in the living room.

Nic Healey
1 of 9 Philip Wong/CNET

Asus VivoPC

With the growth of smart TVs and the ever-increasing feature sets of media players, the idea of a PC specially designed for the living room has lost some of the currency it had a few years ago.

However, there are still some great reasons for wanting a small form factor PC tucked into your entertainment unit.

First and foremost, a good home-theatre PC (or HTPC) can still give you the best option in terms of the breadth of video and audio file formats that can be played, with a wide range of players and codecs all easily found and installed.

Some users stick with an HTPC for easier access to software that disguises your computer's geo-location to get access to overseas streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer.

The interface is another big draw card with the HTPC. Rather than putting up with whatever default smart TV or media centre interface your device comes with, an HTPC allows you to choose the software you want, with Plex and XBMC being two very popular options.

The other reason that a lounge room PC might be your kind of thing is for gaming. Thanks to Steam's Big Picture interface, gamers can now easily access their entire Steam-based library of games conveniently from the TV set.

While it may not be exactly what hardcore FPS gamers want, it's a good rival to the console age and certainly makes Steam a very viable platform for some of the indie developers and even more casual-style games. It's also why there are constant rumours about Valve partnering with PC manufacturers to build a small form factor gaming PC: the fabled Steam Box.

We've assembled a list of some pre-built PCs from well-known names, some more DIY-style kits and even just a few PC cases that would look good in the lounge room to show you where to get started.

Revealed at Computex, the VivoPC is a stylish spun-metal case, with an absolute port frenzy happening: three USB 3.0, four USB 2, one HDMI, one VGA, three audio jacks, one SPDIF out and one Ethernet. All in a frame just 56mm high.

Inside, it's powered by Intel and can apparently take a massive 16GB of RAM.

It's rounded out with 802.11ac built in a Bluetooth 4. Strangely, Asus has also included its SonicMaster audio technology and a pair of speakers.

2 of 9 Silverstone

Silverstone GD01

At 170mm tall, it's not exactly tiny, but the styling of the GD01 case means it would look perfect in any home-theatre setting.

Silverstone designed it to be whisper quiet, with anti-vibration drive mountings and low-noise exhaust fans.

Speaking of drives, the GD01 can pack in six drives, meaning your NAS just got redundant.

3 of 9 Fractal Design

Fractal Design Node 304

Another case that's popular with the home-theatre set, the Node 304 looks more like a subwoofer than a PC.

It's not the smallest, but the design does allow for full-sized graphics cards, so the Node 304 can work as either an HTPC or a lounge room gaming rig, or even a combination of both.

4 of 9 Alienware

Alienware x51

Alienware is renowned for its gaming PCs, and despite the smaller size on the x51, it's certainly no slouch when it comes to power.

The PC is designed to work either flat or in tower mode, and is roughly the size of a current-gen PlayStation.

One of the nice, if unnecessary, touches is the iconic Alienware logo on the front. It rotates to be the in the correct position, no matter how you use the x51.

5 of 9 Intel

Intel NUC

Strange name, great concept. Intel is not so humbly calling its tiny PC offering the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC.

It's designed for anywhere you need a small, yet powerful PC — from commercial applications such as digital signage, right through to home entertainment.

The NUC uses third-generation Intel Core processors, but still sports a motherboard only 4 inches square. And thanks to Intel innovations such as Rapid Start and Smart Connect, the NUC is fast to boot up and can be updating email and the like even when in sleep mode.

6 of 9 Shuttle

Shuttle DS47

Although it's been designed more for commercial use, the Shuttle DS47 can certainly do a decent impression of a home entertainment device.

The form factor is the winner here — 190mm long and just 43mm high — along with a fanless design that reduces noise by as much as 40 per cent compared to a traditional PC.

7 of 9 Xi3

Xi3 Piston

Due out at the end of the year, the Piston is a gaming rig made by small PC maestro Xi3. The Piston packs in a quad-core processor and 8GB of RAM, all in a device you can hold in your palm.

Although it's not cheap, the use of an SSD will not only keep noise to a minimum, it also vastly increases the start-up and disc-access time, meaning you can get up and gaming ASAP.

8 of 9 Antec

Antec ISK 300-150 Mini-ITX Case

This is another tiny case popular with the DIY crowd. The Antec ISK is just under 10cm tall, but packs in three drive bays.

USB and SATA front ports make for great connectivity options, while the exhaust fan is designed for whisper-quiet operation.

Packed with the right components, this could be the perfect lounge room entertainment all-rounder.

9 of 9 Apple

Mac Mini

Want design minimalism with that Mac OS feel? The Mac Mini is small, fast, powerful and a perfect example of what Apple can do.

The newest models have the power supply built in, so there's no power brick to hide — just a normal cord like any other home entertainment device.

If you're more of a Mac than a Windows person, this might be the option for you.

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