3 easy-to-build mini PCs that can save you money
With just a screwdriver and some determination, you can build a small PC for significantly less than a comparable prebuilt one. Welcome to the world of the barebones PC.
A "Barebones PC" is a kit that you can buy that comes with all of the bare essentials required to make a PC. You' get a case, a processor and a motherboard, and that's about it. Occasionally you might find a kit or bundle from a retailer that also offers storage or RAM, but generally, you have to provide those yourself. You'll also need the OS, so you'll have to pick up a copy of Windows 10.
Why buy one of these kits? Beyond saving space and money, Barebones PC is also an easy way to break into the world of building your own PC.
Some of the main benefits of Barebones PC:
- Lower cost.
- Space-saving small form factor.
- Customization and only paying for what you need.
- Good performance despite the small size.
Better still, there is a whole range of options out there now, from the high-end to the entry-level and most places in between. Let's look at a few of the options and what you need to pick up to build your own.
High end — Intel Skull Canyon NUC
What you get with this option is essentially a powerful PC stuffed into a really compact box. It doesn't come cheap, but if you're looking for the least compromises, this is it. The only thing the Skull Canyon doesn't have is dedicated NVIDIA or AMD graphics, but everywhere else you'll get a powerful PC that's smaller than the keyboard you'll connect to it. And with Iris Pro 580 graphics from Intel, you're still going to get good mileage.
Intel includes the motherboard and a Core i7-6770HQ quad-core processor, along with the case and power cable. Also built in is USB-C Thunderbolt 3 and Gigabit Ethernet, which means you need only RAM, storage and an OS. And because it supports Thunderbolt 3, you can add a number of accessories to expand this tiny box, including an eGPU like the Razer Core X to turn it into a gaming rig.
The Skull Canyon supports up to 32GB of DDR4 SO-DIMM RAM in dual-channel, as well as up to a pair of m.2 SSDs for storage. Get going with something like the Samsung 970 EVO Plus and a 16GB Corsair RAM kit and then add more to it as and when you need to.
The Skull Canyon has been around for a few years now, but its successor, the Hades Canyon, is quite a lot more expensive. Right now the best way to get a Skull Canyon is through Amazon's Renewed program, where factory refurbished item can be yours for a significantly lower price than these used to cost brand new. If you would still rather a new one, Newegg has them for $569.
Still got it
Not the newest, but now incredible value
This tiny box packs a quad-core i7 processor, the motherboard and power supply and can be the base of a powerful, yet tiny desktop PC.
Mid range — ASUS PN60
ASUS not only makes components and PCs, it meets in the middle with barebones kits like the PN60 as well. This particular model is a good mid-range choice for a barebones PC, coming with an 8th Gen Intel Core i3-8130U dual-core processor with four threads. Case, motherboard, power supply and wifi are all taken care of, you just need to provide RAM and storage.
It supports SO-DIMM DDR4 memory up to 32GB in total at 2400 MHz, but a single 8GB stick is only about $36 to get started with.
The PN60 has great storage options, too, which opens it up as a potential HTPC. Not only can you attach a PCIe m.2 SSD like the Sabrent Rocket, but you can also install a 2.5-inch SSD or HDD drive for mass storage. A Seagate Barracuda will add 1TB to your mini PC for just $50.
Tiny box, big storage
A little barebones PC with space for lots of storage
With an 8th Gen Core i3, space for multiple drives and a stylish, but small case, this is a solid mid-range barebones PC that would also make a top HTPC.
Entry Level — ASRock Deskmini
For a good, really affordable way into building a PC with a barebones kit, the ASRock Deskmini is a great choice. One of the best bits is that it doesn't limit you to just Intel processors. There's also an AM4 version that will accept an AMD APU such as the Ryzen 3 2200G. The Intel version requires an 8th Gen processor up to 65W.
You get a stylish little case, a power supply and the motherboard which has a PCIe 3.0 m.2 SSD slot, perfect for an NVMe drive like the affordable Sabrent Rocket. It's also got two SO-DIMM DDR4 RAM slots good for up to 32GB at 2666MHz, and a single 8GB stick for around $35 is a good starter.
Whether you go Intel or AMD it's a really affordable and easy to use kit and a brilliant way to get into building a PC. ASRock BIOS is also really easy to use for beginners, so you'll be up and running in no time.
An Intel or AMD powered kit great for beginners
The ASRock DeskMini has choices for either Intel or AMD fans, doesn't cost a lot and has everything you need to get going with a top class, but very affordable PC.
Easy entry to PC building
With a barebones mini PC, you take away a lot of the hassle of choosing and buying parts, and a whole lot of the space requirement. In most cases, you'll save yourself a few bucks, too. With a lot of the choices out there, you'll be able to add more memory and storage as you need it, just as you would with a larger PC.
Lead image courtesy of Newegg
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Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine