Skull Canyon

Specifically, what we're referring to is Barebones PC, a kit that you can buy that comes with all of the bare essentials required to make a PC. You'll 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.

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

Skull Canyon

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.

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 this Samsung EVO SSD and an 8GB Crucial RAM kit for another $150, and then add more to it as and when you need to.

See at Amazon

Mid range — MSI Cubi

MSI Cubi

Looking for a bit of power without going as crazy as the Skull Canyon? Something like the MSI Cubi might be right for you. In something the same size as many livingroom streaming boxes you'll still find an Intel Core i5 processor, albeit a 5th-generation. MSI has an updated model with seventh-generation Kaby Lake chips, but that'll cost a decent chunk more.

With Mini DisplayPort, you can output to a 4K display from this little box, which, thanks to its VESA mounting, can actually be fixed to the back of said monitor and kept out of sight. The Cubi also boasts HDMI, Ethernet and USB 3.1.

Throw in an mSATA SSD and up to 16GB of SODIMM DDR3 RAM along with the OS, and you're good to go. While supporting older spec parts, the Cubi can save you added cash, because things like DDR3 RAM are quite affordable now.

See at Amazon

Entry Level — Intel NUC

Intel NUC

For a good, really cheap entry-level product for some light computing, Intel's standard NUC is a great start. At this point, you're stepping down to a Celeron processor, but for right around $100, you're still getting a decent little computer that's better than a stick PC. The NUC is not exactly a giant itself.

With something that can easily fit in your palm, you'll be able to squeeze in 8GB of RAM and a 2.5-inch SSD for storage, both of which are substantially more than you'd find in a stick PC or even a similarly priced laptop. Throw in HDMI, full-sized USB and even an SDXC slot, and you've got a capable little box for not much money.

Add an affordable RAM stick from Crucial and a similarly affordable SSD, and you've got a great little mini PC for yourself or for the kids.

See at Amazon

Windows 10 license

You need to provide an OS for most of these barebones mini PCs. Since you're here on we'll assume you want Windows 10. So you'll be looking at around $100 for that software.

See at Microsoft

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.

If you have any suggestions, tips or tricks for folks interested in building their own mini PCs, drop us a line in the comments below.

Lead image courtesy of Newegg

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