Why is a MiniPC better for retrogaming?
For some time now we have seen how retrogaming hardware has appeared based on low-end smartphone technology, which has enough power to emulate video game systems up to the mid-90s without performance or emulation problems, but it is go beyond the first PlayStation and see how the problems appear both on one side and on the other. The other alternative is the Mister FPGA, but due to its limitation in the number of logic gates to be configured, it cannot go much further and it is a solution that we can call without fear of making a mistake in a pure niche.
The ideal would be to be able to mount a PC for it. The problem? Well, the grace is being able to play in the living room and a tower is always cumbersome and uncomfortable in that aspect. Luckily, for years what we colloquially call MiniPC or NUC have appeared, which can be placed taking up much less space than a conventional PC. It is also a much better option than having collections of classic consoles taking up space at home, especially now when retro speculators are raising their prices.
Also, you won’t run into the issue of scan lines on consoles with analog video output, and you’ll be able to play games at higher resolutions than on the original hardware, as many emulators have the ability to do so. run games at higher resolution than original hardware. Of course, do not expect miracles either, many games are already several years old.
How powerful should a MiniPC be for retrogaming?
Well, it depends on the systems that we want to emulate, and this is where the problem lies in terms of performance. Since if we are talking about 8 and 16 bit systems, then a simple TV Box with a small modification will suffice. These are not PC based and cost a fraction of what the cheapest MiniPC can cost you. Actually today if we want to emulate any retro system that appeared before the first PlayStation we don’t need to buy a PC.
From the consoles of the second half of the 90s is when we start to need more performance and most TV Boxes and even the popular Raspberry Pi 4 fall short, and if we go to the generation of the first decade of the 2000s that’s when we need to jump to the PC. Especially since for processors with ARM instruction and register sets there is no decent PlayStation 2 emulator.
It is precisely now, when the consoles of twenty years ago begin to fail after many years, with these out of the market and with speculators riding freely, that is when having a MiniPC for retrogaming in order to play old consoles, but not the classics from the 80s and 90s, but the one from the early 2000s onwards.
Processor power and graphics are important
And this is where we come to the issue of performance in the face of emulation, the large number of MiniPCs in NUC format that are usually based on a low-end processor from Intel and sometimes even AMD. The problem with these MiniPCs is that when it comes to emulating they are not an advantage if we take into account the power they offer us, since most have been created for office tasks. Many of them come with a very low-power integrated GPU, especially those from Intel. Instead, AMD, thanks to the technology of its Radeon graphics, has shown to have this part covered, at least in theory, later we will see how it really is not.
Nor can we leave aside the CPU, in old consoles and systems custom hardware is used that has no equivalent in PC and requires emulation through the main processor. Therefore, we are not only going to need the graphics to be powerful in order to achieve the best possible emulation, especially in the most advanced systems due to the complexity of their architectures and the fact that in most cases it is the CPU that has to emulate much of the hardware itself, not just the processor.
Are MiniPCs good for retrogaming?
When we decided to write this article, our goal was to find a MiniPC that would allow us to do the following: emulate the consoles of the early 2000s, specifically the SONY PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo GameCube without performance problems and if you rush us, we can also Wii. However, their high price made us even more demanding, and given the advances in emulation of much more powerful systems, we decided to put them to the test at a higher level. How is its performance when it comes to emulating HD consoles?
For this we chose three different models, two of them are MiniPCs that do not have an integrated graphics card and are based on Ryzen APUs of different generations. The third, on the other hand, is an Intel NUC with an RTX 2060 inside and honestly, we have been extremely disappointed in the performance they offer for the price they have.
MINIS FORUM Mini PC AMD Ryzen 5 3450U
The retrogaming MiniPC that tops this list is powered by an AMD Ryzen 7 3750H CPU, which has a 2.3 GHz 4-core, 8-thread CPU based on the first-generation Zen architecture coupled with an AMD Vega 10 Compute Units GPU. at 1.4 GHz. All this with a dual-channel DDR4-2400 memory.
It is an excellent system if we want to emulate systems like the GameCube or Wii, since it emulates games at high resolutions without any performance problems or frame drops at resolutions as high as 1440p. On the other hand, when it comes to emulating PlayStation 2 via the popular PCSX2 we are going to have to settle for doing it at native resolution in the vast majority of games. In case you want to run the games at 720p then you will have to pull speed hacks for the emulator, so it is not powerful enough.
And what about more powerful consoles? On PS3 we will not be able to play all the games, the less technically demanding ones we will run without problems, but forget about being able to play the heavyweights of the console in conditions with this configuration. The same thing happens when it comes to emulating Wii U, you won’t be able to emulate the entire catalog and you’ll have to make do with the simplest games.
MINIS FORUM Elite HX90
This MiniPC is ideal for retrogaming thanks to the use of an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX with 8 cores and 16 threads of Zen 3 architecture at 3.3 GHz with a Boost at 4.6 GHz and an integrated AMD Radeon Vega GPU with 8 Compute Units at 2.1 GHz. As for RAM, we have 16 GB DDR4-3200 in dual channel. So clearly we are not facing a beast in terms of a gaming PC, but in terms of emulation. And what about its performance? It can seamlessly emulate anything you throw at it that came out before 2005.
The problem comes when we talk about emulating the so-called systems in HD. For example, if we take CEMU, the emulator for Nintendo’s ill-fated Wii U, then we’ll see that the game can maintain 30 FPS with some boosts to a little over 40 if we play at 900p, which is the resolution that the game has in TV mode on the Nintendo Switch. On the other hand, if we decide to play it in Full HD we can find ourselves in the orbit of 20 FPS. .
However, it has no problem emulating games from the early 2000s generation, so if you want to have a system to recall your games to classic consoles like PlayStation 2 or GameCube, this is an excellent system for it. The question is whether its price of more than 1000 euros is worth it for this task.
Intel NUC PHKi7CAA1
The powerful Intel NUC based on its Tiger Lake-H processors for laptops combined with a GeForce RTX 2060 with 6 GB of memory is one of the options to consider and it is the most powerful hardware that we can find. The problem is that its price is through the roof and is placed at almost 2000 euros, which even with the inflated price of the RTX 2060 today, they can be found for 600 euros, it seems to us exaggerated no matter how much it carries an i7 of the eleventh generation of Intel, but it does not use hardware for desktops, but for laptops and hence its high price.
Its powerful GPU will allow us to play most of the PS3 catalog at 4K and constant 60 FPS in the vast majority of games, however there are exceptions such as Killzone 3 where instead of setting at 60 FPS it will do so at just over 30 The popular The Last of Us that is between 20 or 30 frames per second, curiously the speed at which the original console was going. What pulls us back? The high price of its hardware for the performance it offers.
So what is the best option?
We are not going to point the finger at anyone, but the manufacturers of MiniPCs with gaming graphics cards know that their systems are not good enough to compete with a conventional PC tower, nor could they compete in performance with a well-assembled HTPC of the Mini-ITX type. . Not surprisingly, we can get to build such a computer for parts and give us the performance of the Intel NUC with the RTX 2060 for a fraction of the price.
The initial objective at the time of writing this article was to decide which was the best MiniPC for retrogaming, but after testing the performance of some of them, our conclusion is clear. We do not recommend them, especially when we have AMD who just released their Ryzen 6000 APUs on the market with RDNA 2 as the GPU and double the graphics performance. We have no doubt that when the Ryzen 6000G, the desktop version for the AM4 chipset, it will be possible for us to build ourselves a MiniPC with much higher performance and lower price for us than the MiniPCs that are now on the market.