3 easy-to-build mini PCs that can save you money

Intel NUC
Intel NUC

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 (opens in new tab).

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

Skull Canyon

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. 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 (opens in new tab) and a 16GB Corsair RAM kit (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), but you can also install a 2.5-inch SSD or HDD drive for mass storage. A Seagate Barracuda (opens in new tab) will add 1TB to your mini PC for just $50.

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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab). It's also got two SO-DIMM DDR4 (opens in new tab) 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.

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 (opens in new tab)

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. 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 covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.