Micro PCs were something unimaginable 20 years ago. At least for the general consumer. Actually, even laptops were at pretty high levels when it came down to price. Luckily, now a regular smartphone has more computing power than the standard desktop computer from the 90s, therefore the prices went down with time. In terms of scale modeling, everything changed too. It was inevitable when you come to think of it: almost every book for tanks, ships or airplanes is now available in some computer format, plus tons of historical sites that contain plenty of information. Information, without which a decent model cannot be built as expert modelers know from experience.
That made the computer a required /if not mandatory/ accessory for the modeling room of every modeler. But that presents a different problem. Standard PC as the regular modeler remembers it /we are mostly in our 40s or above, that is where the hobby thrives/ is big and noisy, with fans making serious wind and consuming power, all factors that are not suitable for a modeling room.
Modeling rooms are usually small or are detached from the main homes and present somewhat limited space. That is only one of the reasons though. Fans from big desktop boxes pollute the atmosphere with dust, something that is highly unwanted feature on a freshly painted model. Not only that, but when you sand your plastic, the last thing you need is a fan blowing the poisonous dust all over the place and getting it into the computer box. Not even talking about resin, where the particles are cancerogenic.
All that are factors, that once taken into consideration leave the modeler with few choices. However, nowadays we live in a technological boom pretty much for two decades already and with that come few solutions. Those are the Micro PCs.
They are usually small boxes, without fans and with minimalistic footprint, that require wireless keyboard/mouse and wired a monitor. The benefits are many, while the letdowns concern only consumers that need high computer power for gaming or software, which in most cases is not a necessity on the modeling bench.
There are few choices that we will mention here, just to outline the general idea. All of those are only the PC boxes, without mouse/keyboard combos or the monitors, where it all depends on one’s preferences. Workspace too, especially for the display size. Because the latter one will be the most expensive and the most large of the accessories needed for your work bench computer station.
Azulle byte 3 is one very popular option. You might be able to find it with keyboard/mouse add-on and you can easily fit it into your modeling room. It will work perfectly to stream your Netflix or YouTube videos, but most importantly, can satisfy the basic needs for every modeler. They come with 32GB + expandable storage in the form of SD card. Both of those are plenty to cover the literature and picture references for your current projects.
Lenovo Thinkcenter M720 Tiny is a bit different in terms of shape and size, but with that comes bit more in terms of storage. The vertical appearance of this Micro PC makes it very nice to be placed behind a monitor, where it will be somewhat protected from the dust and particles that are spread around after sanding or spray session. Because let’s not fool ourselves – even the best spray booths dose not suck all the paint dust that comes from the airbrush. It might be an overkill for some though. Price-wise only of course.
Shuttle XPC Nano is another good choice, although more modest compared to the previous ones. Again, it can be stored behind the monitor and it is one of those Micro PCs that you can easily detach every time you leave your modeling room. In theory of course. The 120GB of storage is plenty for all the reference materials and the price is very tempting too. It is one of the nicest options here.
Intel NUC Nuc6 with its 2 x 4.5 inch footprint is a legendary device for Micro PC fans and users. Depending on your specific needs and budget, you can order yours in various modifications, but what we think will be great to satisfy the basic modeling needs is 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage. Tested for modeling and working satisfactory! Next comes something different:
Apple Mac Mini, as well as the PRO series of tablets are good options too, however they have some limitations. First one is the price. They are expensive because they are Apple product and you are paying of the brand. Second, having a tablet on your modeling bench is not a good idea for some, although plenty of modelers have iMac with huge monitors on their desks. Tablets can be removed every time of course, but the connector to the TV might loosen up with time. However, even flexible, Apple Tablet option is pricy.
With that said, Apple Mac Mini might be an option, however it can be hardly comparable to the ones stated above. One of the reasons for that is depending on where you are located on the Globe, PCs might be more friendly for finding and preferred for sharing information in PDF formats. For example Russia. And the format mentioned is the most used method for books and reference materials in the hobby. Another reason is the availability. Not everywhere you go, you can find an Apple Store.With all that said Apple is still an option, especially with older models which work just as fine as the new ones. And if you are an avid Apple user, you cannot turn to another operating system.
Of course, that article covers only a small fraction of options and here we have mentioned the ones that we already know that are on some modeling benches. The fellow modelers use them regularly and gladly shared their experience with us. So we are sharing it with you. Laptops are out of the question and even though you might have an old one that you want to put to work, don’t forget that keyboard is partially an opening for cooling for some laptops and all that airbrushing dust will eventually go inside. So you can ruin it even though unwillingly.
You might want to start with picking the right monitor size, continuing then on with one of the many options stated above, as well as others that could eventually fit your choice. Keyboard and mice options are plenty and since they are mostly Bluetooth or wireless, you can leave only the USB dongle attached. It can stay on the monitor or on the Micro PC and you can stash the rest in a drawer to keep it from unwanted damage. Problem solved in regards to keyboard and mouse.
And let’s not forget that any of those Micro PCs mentioned can be easily covered with a simple food storage box, the one that will mysteriously disappear from the fridge only never to be seen again. This will easily solve your problem with protecting the Micro PC from plastic particles or paint dust. Easy does it.
The monitor is another issue, but nobody has found a way around that, because there size does matter. However, so does the size of the bench…