Antec ISK110-VESA

If you want the smallest PC you can build using an ITX board, you've just found it! This system, using either of the cases we recommend, would make for a perfect home office PC. It's so compact that you may not even realize you have a computer at your desk! Plus, given its small proportions and ample power, it can handle more than just office work - it also makes for a fantastic Home Theater PC. We like it so much that we published a step-by-step builder's guide using this case illustrating exactly how to put together a system with it. 

The March 2017 edition of this build continues with some big changes we introduced last month, and adds a few more based on new product releases and market conditions. The star of the show is no doubt Intel's new Pentium G4560, the best sub-$80 processor ever released. Despite a name similar to its predecessors, it packs in something very, very special: Intel's Hyperthreading technology. Previously available only on Core i3 processors that cost nearly twice as much, Hyperthreading gives this little 3.5GHz dual-core chip serious legs!

Also on the list of major changes is a new B250-based motherboard with all the latest updates, including built-in 802.11ac networking and a rear-mounted M.2 slot. You'll be putting that M.2 slot to good use with a new 275GB M.2 solid-state drive from Crucial, which will install without the need for cables while providing fantastic responsiveness for your OS and apps. Need extra storage? Just add a high-capacity 2.5" hard drive, which will fit neatly into either of the 2.5" drive bays in our recommended case, the Antec ISK110. While the case doesn't have an optical drive bay, we list an optional case in this guide that has one if that's something you want. By the way, if you're looking for a system that can offer even greater performance despite a size that's still ultra-compact, check out our High-End Home Theater ITX Build, which uses a quad-core processor and can be equipped with an add-in video card!

To see past versions of this build, just flip to The Archive, and to ask questions about this build, feel free to stop by our Reader Forum. One of our readers has even used this guide to build a silent touchscreen PC - check it out in The Gallery! If you build this system, let us know so we can profile your system too!

While this system offers a tremendous balance of performance and value, there are several pre-built systems that are actually a bit smaller (and less expensive) due to their use of custom components and discounted versions of Windows - see our Desktop Buyer's Guide for insights into those options. You might also consider Intel's awesome NUC, which is a bit more expensive but amazingly small - see our NUC Build Guide for more info!

The $500 Home Office / Theater Mini-ITX PC - March 2017

    CPU:

    Intel Pentium G4560

    Despite its unassuming name, the Pentium G4560 is a truly amazing budget processor, far more powerful than anything that's ever been available under $100. That's because Intel has endowed it with Hyperthreading, a technology that was previously reserved for its Core i3 lineup, starting at $120. That means its two cores running at 3.5GHz can emulate a quad-core PC, and combined with its potent built-in HD Graphics 610 chip, it's a perfect all-in-one home office solution!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that this processor is so popular that it's nearly impossible to buy at Amazon. Catch it if you can!

    Motherboard:

    MSI B250I Gaming Pro AC

    Based on Intel's new B250 chipset, this board is a perfect choice for a bookshelf PC. It has 6 USB ports, HDMI and DVI outputs, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 internal headers, and a host of other connections. Most important of all from our point of view, it has built-in 802.11ac wireless networking! That being said, if you don't need built-in wireless, you can save about $15 going with the MSI B250I Pro, which just drops the wireless capability (and the flashy red color!).

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that to guarantee compatibility with the new Pentium G4560, you need to use a 200-series motherboard like this one. Older 100-series boards might work, but only if they come from the factory with a required firmware update, which is something you probably shouldn't take a chance on!

    Memory:

    Crucial 2x4GB Ballistix Sport LT DDR4-2400

    For this build, we recommend this economical 2x4GB kit. It will fit perfectly into this system while producing very little heat due to its low 1.2V operating voltage. It also has enough capacity for any home office or home theater applications. And take note: the new B250 chipset allows the use of this faster DDR4-2400 memory, whereas the previous generation could only support DDR4-2133.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that we do not recommend equipping this system with one stick of RAM, whether it be a 4GB or 8GB stick. Using two RAM sticks rather than one results not only in 2-3% faster CPU performance, but also a very significant 20-25% boost in graphics performance. That's because Intel's built-in HD video chip relies on system memory for video data, and the higher bandwidth provided by dual sticks (which enable dual channel mode) is priceless in a system dependent on built-in video.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX300 275GB M.2

    There's no better way to make a PC feel really fast than to equip it with a solid-state drive. SSDs are so essential, in fact, that they've become the defining trait of modern PCs. And M.2 drives like this one are a perfect fit for an ITX PC, as it slips right onto the back of the motherboard, requiring none of the bulky cables of old-school 2.5" drives!

    The Guru's Tip:

    To install this drive, you'll need a jeweler's-type screwdriver, as a standard #2 Philips will be too big.

    Case:

    Antec ISK 110-VESA

    Featuring two 2.5" drive bays and a silent external 90W power supply, this case packs in everything you need and nothing you don't, making it the smallest case on the market with such features. Just note that to use all four of its front-mounted USB 2.0 ports, you'll need a USB 2.0-to-3.0 adapter, as modern motherboards are set up for dual USB 2.0 and dual USB 3.0 front ports.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is one of our very favorite cases - we've even put together a step-by-step builder's guide to help you use it! 

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Flash Drive

    Windows 10 is now well over a year old, yet Microsoft is adding new features to it all the time. It's a truly stable, powerful OS, and one that will go down in history as a true success story, much like the pioneering Windows 95.

    The Guru's Tip:

    We recommend the USB 3.0 Flash Drive version of Windows 10 as it's incredibly easy to use, taking around 5 minutes to install. And given that this system doesn't have an optical drive, the use of the DVD version isn't all that feasible.

    Hard Drive (Optional):

    Seagate 2TB Barracuda 2.5" (Opt.)

    Pair this high-capacity hard drive up with the SSD recommended above to create the ultimate mini media server! The Windows 10 "Storage" control panel makes it incredibly easy to designate on which drives your data and apps will go by default.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Packing this much capacity into a drive this small is nothing short of amazing!

    Case (Optional):

    IN-WIN BQS656 (Opt.)

    Need a case that can fit a slim-line DVD Burner? Then go for the In-Win BQS656. It trades one of the 2.5" bays of the Antec case for an optical drive bay, and ends up with nearly the same external dimensions.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Learn more about the BQS656 in our hands-on review!