Custom build your own PC for college or university the easy way using a barebone system. Simply choose your memory and storage and in some cases, your choice of processor and you are off to a flying start. Nothing is more satisfying that having a hand in building your own computer.
While a laptop is fine for working in the classroom or lecture hall, nothing beats a full size screen, keyboard and mouse for work and some downtime. Unlike the beige towers and clunky PCs of the past, today’s custom build PC are small, light and compact. They are also cheaper to put together, easier to upgrade and personalise than off-the-shelf desktops. Barebone PCs with equivalent class desktop processors are also faster. If you are a PC enthusiast and do not mind getting your hands dirty, not that it will, then a barebone mini PC is a great starting point to building your own PC.
I have built my own tower PCs in my college days, but when I had to go to university, I decided on a small and compact PC based on a barebone system that I can pack in the luggage bag. Those days, even a small desktop is still at least twice or three times the size of today’s mini PC. Still, I was able to get a keyboard, mouse and monitor when I am all settled at the dormitory and enjoyed full desktop experience through my uni days.
Benefits of Choosing a Barebone Mini PC
Barebone PCs come equipped with enclosure, power supply, motherboard, integrated graphics, sound adapter, network and sometimes processor and WiFi in a box. There is no need to buy individual components to complete your personalised PC, just pick up the amount of memory and storage to suit your application and budget. If you need convincing, here are ten reasons to build your own PC using a barebone system.
- Quick and easy to put together, saving money and time
- Better value and more affordable than full size desktops
- Reliable as the key components such as the power supply (PSU) motherboard and processor are designed to work together
- Need not start from scratch, just add memory and storage (plus processor on some)
- Compact, light and portable, fits in a backpack so you can take it anywhere
- Upgradeable, add or swap out with bigger memory and storage when required
- Supports multiple displays. Connect more than one display.
- High performance options, powerful enough for gaming, creative and CPU intensive applications
- Mountable with VESA-ready design and included screws and fixings
- Little or no footprint on the desk, if mounted behind the monitor or TV
- Better design as the enclosure, compact power supply, motherboard, front and rear I/O ports work together
- Great as a desktop upgrade and replacement, continue using your keyboard, mouse and display
- Can be a dedicated network appliance (file, network, backup, media server) or entertainment system
Top 8 Best High Performance Barebone Mini PCs
Now that we got the reasons for high performance barebone systems out of the way, it is time to look at some of the best options out there. The keyword here is high performance. As such, we are leaving out mini PCs with low-powered processors.
- ASRock DeskMini A300 Mini PC
- Intel NUC Frost Canyon Performance Mini PC
- ASUS PN50 Barebone Mini PC
- ZOTAC ZBOX MI662
- MSI Cubi 5 10M Barebone Mini PC
- ZOTAC ZBOX CI642 Nano Silent Passive Cooled Mini PC
- Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit “Ghost Canyon”
- ASUS PB50 Barebone Mini PC
Touted as the smallest Ryzen system ever, the ASRock DeskMini A300 Mini PC has been the avid barebone PC choice for many enthusiasts due to the sheer flexibility of Ryzen APUs. Just insert a Ryzen 3 2200G or Ryzen 5 2400G into its system, and it can be a beast of a machine when it comes to standard photo-editing and medium-settings 60fps triple-A gaming. Its design is also built in a minimalist way. Probably not as subtle as the Mac Mini, but it can certainly hide away from plain view pretty easily.
|AM4 Socket CPUs (Picasso, Raven Bridge, Bristol Bridge, up to 65W)|
|SO-DIMM non-ECC DDR4 RAMs (x2, Max 64GB, Ryzen – 2933Mhz, A-series – 2400Mhz)|
|SATA 6Gbps 7mm/9.5mm HDDs (x2, RAID 0/1)|
|M.2 (1), M.2 (2): Type 2280 PCIe Gen3 x4|
|1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort (both 4K@60Hz), 1x D-Sub|
|1x Head Phone with Mic Jack, 1x Mic-in, Realtek AL C233|
|1x Front USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C, 1x Front USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A|
|1x Rear USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A, 1x Rear USB 2.0 Type-A|
|1x M.2 (key E 2230) slot for Wi-Fi + BT module|
|Dimensions: 155 x 155 x 80 mm|
As the item code indicates, the one that we will introduce here is the version that is installed with the Core i7-10710U CPU. If the CPU isn’t a dead giveaway to its performance potential, then just think about this: it has the technical capability to outperform a lot of the higher end non-gaming laptops that was introduced at the end of 2019. You know, those machines that are rocking similar-ish hexa-core CPUs. Ports are also very plentiful, though it does tend to look a lot messier than most barebone PCs when fully-rigged. One tiny downside though, the fans do get that grinding noise at full load, a bit distinct from the usual vacuum cleaner noise of other similar units. A gaming equivalent of the Intel NUC series based on earlier 9th generation Intel Core i9 Processor with 8 cores is also available in the form of Intel NUC 9 Extreme Ghost Canyon.
|M.2 slot with PCIe x4 (22×42/80)|
|One SATA 6.0 Gbps for 2.5-inch storage|
|2.5-inch HDD/SSD + M.2 SATA SSSD (RAID-0 RAID-1) configurable|
|Supports Intel Optane Memory|
|SDXC with UHS-II support (SD card)|
|SO-DIMM non-ECC DDR4 RAMs (x2 Max 64GB, 2666Mhz)|
|HDMI 2.0a, USB-C (DP1.2), no of supported displays 3|
|7.1 digital audio (HDMI mDP); L+R mic (F)|
|2x Front USB Type-A and Type-C|
|3x Rear USB 3.1 Gen2 (Type-A and Type-C)|
|Intel Ethernet Connection I219-V LAN|
|Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 and Bluetooth|
|Dimensions: 117 x 112 x 51 mm|
Other Intel NUC Performance Mini PC to consider:
The much-hyped fourth generation mobile Ryzen CPUs promised even better combined CPU and GPU performance than its already impressive third generation predecessors. The ASUS PN50 carries this spirit of absolutely superb quality, bringing to the table integrated graphics capabilities that only Islay Canyon NUCs can surpass with their dedicated Radeon 540X GPU. We look at this in our earlier post and considered the choice of processors used.
The lack of Thunderbolt 3.0 can be a bummer for external discrete GPU enthusiasts. But apart from that Asus made sure to really bump up all other connectivity options this time. Powered by soldered on AMD Ryzen 4000 series Renoir mobile processor with Radeon Vega 7 Graphics you get the best of performance and efficiency in a space saving package. To start using the PC, simply add memory and storage of choice and your standard KVM (Keyboard-Video-Mouse) for interface.
|SATA 6Gbps 2.5” HDDs (up to 1TB)|
|M.2 slot with PCIe (up to 512GB)|
|SO-DIMM DDR4 RAMs (x2 Max 64GB, 3200Mhz)|
|3-in-1: SD/SDHC/MMC Cards|
|HDMI port, VGA/LAN/DisplayPort configurable port|
|Audio Jack, Microphones|
|1x Front USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 1x Front USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A|
|1x Rear USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 2x Rear USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A|
|RJ45 LAN port|
|Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200, BT 5.0|
|Dimensions: 115 x 115 x 49 mm|
This particular barebone PC might seem a little too barebone in terms of expandability. But, it defines perfectly the purpose of its design; as a subtle, somewhat quiet system that can handle multimedia and multitasking. Besides, rocking a Core i7-10510U is hardly a crime for its seemingly limited customization room, as this still provides performance levels that are directly comparable to recent Intel NUCs. Though conversely speaking, this is also directly the reason for its rather steep price tag.
|SATA 6Gbps HDDs (1 x 2.5″ SATA 6Gbps HDD/SSD Slot)|
|SO-DIMM DDR4 RAMs (x2 Max 32GB, 2400-2666Mhz)|
|HDMI 2.0 (up to 3840×2160@60Hz) and DisplayPort 1.2 (up to 4096×2160@60Hz)|
|Standard stereo, microphone, 8ch HDMI audio|
|1x Front USB 3.0, 2x Front USB 3.1 Type-C|
|4x Rear USB 3.1, 3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)|
|RJ45 LAN port (2 x 10/100/1000 Mbps)|
|802.11ac Wi-Fi, BT 5.0|
|Dimensions: 128 x 126 x 51 mm|
Last but not the least, the MSI Cub 5 10M gives you both pre-set options and free expandability like the Asus PN50. For the CPUs, you are given the choice of flavors at least three different processors, all with varied level of office and media center performance that will allow you to balance your budget with it. It gets somewhat pricey at the far end with a Core i7-10510U, but we suppose that for its design purpose the lower choice the dual-core i3 CPU would be adequate enough.
|Intel Core i3-10110U, Core i5-10210U, Core i7-10510U (10th-gen Intel Core CPUs)|
|2.5” SATA HDDs|
|SO-DIMM DDR4 RAMs (x2 Max 64GB, 2666Mhz)|
|1x Front USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-C, 1x Front USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A|
|2x Rear USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A, 2x USB 2.0|
|RJ45 LAN port|
|Intel Wireless AC 9462, Intel Wireless AX201, BT 5.0|
|Dimensions: 124 x 124 x 54 mm|
Second ZOTAC on our list, this time the ZBOX CI642. This small and slimline mini PC is passive cooled making it completely silent. It is equipped with the 10th generation Intel Core i5 10210U quad-core processor clocking in at 1.6GHz with turbo boost frequency up to 4.2GHz (25W TDP). The fanless unit supports up to two display both at 4K 60Hz via HDMI2 and DisplayPort 1.2 outputs. Aside from that it also comes with dual Gigabit LAN, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 5 for network connectivity. The passive cooling system is really impressive with custom heat sink built around the entire system. Still, it offers an easy tool-less access to the memory slots and HDD/SDD bay to complete the setup. However, what is most impressive is its size. With a height of 68mm, width of 204mm and depth of 129mm, it is no bigger than a box of chocolate.
|Intel Core i5 10210U 1.6GHz (Turbo 4.2GHz) pre-installed|
|SO-DIMM non-ECC DDR4 RAMs (x2, Max 32GB)|
|1 x 2.5-inch SATA 6.0 Gbps SSD/HDD slot|
|No other storage option|
|HDMI 2.0 (up to 3840×2160@60Hz)|
|Display Port 1.2 (up to 4096X2160@60Hz)|
|Digital 8 Channel Audio, Loss-less Bitstream via HDMI, Microphone in|
|Front: 2 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x USB 3.0, Rear: 4 x USB 3.1, 2 x 10/100/1000Mbps|
|External Antenna, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5, VESA Mount|
|Dimensions: 204mm x 129mm x 68mm (8.03in x 5.08in x 2.68in)|
The previous Intel NUC 8 Performance G mini PC for gaming with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics and 8th generation Intel Core i7-8809G processor may not have caught buyers attention but the Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit has certain made then sit up and listen. Now a cube versus the flat rectangular box design, the NUC 9 targets virtual reality gaming creators with its 9th generation Intel Core i7-9750H on the NUC9i7QNX model. A higher model NUC9i9QNX is also available with Intel Core i9-9980HK processor. For graphics it uses the onboard Intel UHD Graphics 630.
|Intel Optane Memory Supported|
|SO-DIMM non-ECC DDR4-2666 RAMs (x2, Max 64GB)|
|Total SATA ports: 3, RAID: 2x M.2 SATA/PCIe SSD, SATA header (RAID-0 RAID-1)|
|M.2 Storage: 2x via PCH + 1x via CPU (NVMe)|
|11 USB ports: 4x rear USB 3.1g2, 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB 3.1g2), 2x front USB 3.1g2, 2x USB 2.0 via internal headers, 1x USB 2.0 internal.|
|Audio Channels: 7.1 digital; L+R+mic (F); L+R+TOSLINK (R)|
|Additional Headers: CEC, 2x USB2.0|
|1x Rear USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A, 1x Rear USB 2.0 Type-A|
|Intel® Wi-Fi 6 AX200, Intel® Ethernet Connection i219-LM and i210-AT LAN, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions: 238 x 216 x 96mm|
Another barebone with AMD Ryzen APU, this time from the Ryzen 3000 series desktop variety, the ASUS PB50 is a business class barebone. With the Integrated-Radeon Vega 10 Graphics and three display outputs (HDMI and Dual DisplayPort) for up to three displays. For networking, it comes with 802.11AC WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit LAN. For storage, the PB50 is calable of dual stroage with one M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD and one 2.5-inch drive via SATA 6Gb/s for high storage capacity. Finally, the ASUS PB50 support VESA Mount and can be mounted to the back of a display for zero footprint setup.
|AMD Ryzen 7 3750H mobile processor with Radeon RX Vega 10 OR|
AMD Ryzen 5 3550H mobile processor with Radeon Vega 8 pre-installed
|SO-DIMM non-ECC DDR4 RAMs (x2, Max 32GB)|
|FRONT: 1x USB 3.1Gen 2 Type-C, 4x USB 3.1Gen 1, 1 Audio jack, 1 mic in|
|REAR: 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2, 1 x HDMI, 0 x DisplayPort, 1 x RJ45 LAN, 1 x Kensington Lock, 1 x DC-in,|
|1 x Configurable (COM, VGA, DisplayPort)|
|802.11 a/b/g/n/ac , Bluetooth V4.2 and Intel 10/100/1000/Gigabits Mbps LAN|
|90W Power Supply, VESA Mount Kit|
|Dimensions: 175 x 175 x 34.2 mm (WxDxH), 1.19 kg|