STX

If you want to build the smallest fully-custom, high-powered PC available anywhere, this is the guide for you! It's not often that we get to help promote a brand new form factor, so we're excited to share the wonders of the mini-STX format with our readers. Building on all that has come before it, most notably mini-ITX, the mini-STX format takes into account the vastly different PC ecosystem that exists today. That means fast M.2 and 2.5" drives, compact DDR4 SODIMM memory chips, ultra-efficient desktop processors with potent built-in graphics that can run off laptop power supplies, and cutting-edge connectivity. What does this all add up to? A system that is literally half the size of our previous mini-ITX-based home office PC, despite costing the same and offering the same expandability. Indeed, at under 2 liters, this PC is downright tiny, nearly as small as Intel's NUC, but vastly more powerful and expandable. We've just published a step-by-step assembly guide, so you can rest assured that you'll be able to get your system up and running in less than an hour, just as we did!

OK, so you know this system is tiny, but what kind of computing power does it offer? How about an Intel Pentium G4560 3.5GHz dual-core CPU with Hyperthreading, Intel 610 graphics, 8GB of RAM, a blazing-fast 240GB PCIe-based SSD, and a 120W external power supply. And you can upgrade it an impressive number of ways, adding up to two 2.5" hard drives or SSDs, swapping in a massively-powerful Core i7-7700 CPU, or equipping it with 32GB of RAM. In other words, unless you're a serious gamer, this system will do anything you want it to, and is a true replacement for a full-size desktop. 

To see past versions of this system, just flip to The Archive, and to ask questions about this build, feel free to stop by our Reader Forum. And if 2 liters isn't quite small enough for you, feel free to stop by our NUC Buyer's Guide for more info on the smallest full-fledged PC you can buy!

The $500 Home Office / Theater Mini-STX PC - May 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 $70. 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:

    If for some reason you feel the need to turn your bookshelf PC into an absolute rocket ship, feel free to upgrade the CPU to the Intel Core i7-7700. Yes, this system can handle it with no other upgrades, and for a total price of under $750, you'll have a PC that can outperform most full-size desktop PCs, let alone every ultra-compact PC ever released!

    Motherboard:

    AsRock H110M-STX Mini-STX

    This tiny STX board has all the right features at a very nice price! It has a full-size M.2 slot that supports PCIe 3.0 x4 solid-state drives (the fastest models on the market), plus HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort out. It uses laptop-style SODIMM memory modules to save space, just like every STX motherboard, and has four USB ports (one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 in the rear, plus one USB 3.0 and a USB Type-C in front).

    The Guru's Tip:

    With out of the box support for the new Pentium G4560, this is the only STX board we recommend - most only accept older CPUs like the inferior G4400. And yes, we purchased this very board to ensure that AsRock's support claims were true - and they were!

    Memory:

    Crucial 2x4GB DDR4-2400 SODIMM

    For this build, we recommend an economical 2x4GB kit. The CPU and motherboard support up to DDR4-2400 RAM, so that's what we suggest here, meaning you'll get the best performance possible out of the platform. Need more RAM? Well, the sky's the limit, because you can equip this little beast with up to 32GB of RAM, using the potent HyperX Impact 2x16GB DDR4-2400 Kit.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that we do not recommend equipping this system with one stick of RAM, whether it be a 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB 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:

    MyDigitalSSD BPX 240GB NVMe PCIe

    There's no better way to make a PC feel really fast than to equip it with a solid-state drive, and PCIe-based drives like this one are leagues ahead of standard SATA-based drives, offering sequential data rates up to 4x higher and random data rates around 2x higher. And please take note: the motherboard we've selected only supports PCIe-based M.2 drives, not the similar-looking SATA-based M.2 drives, so we strongly recommend you stick to our recommendation here. It's by far the best drive for the money, and the best pick for this system (a 480GB version is also available if you need more capacity).

    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:

    SilverStone VT02B

    At just 6.5" wide, 2.87" tall, and 6.16" deep, this amazing case is barely larger than an STX motherboard. Despite its small stature, it features two 2.5" drive bays, providing plenty of room for storage expansion. That being said, most users will probably be happy sticking to a slot-type M.2 drive, meaning you'll use no SATA cables at all. Interestingly, due to the ultra-compact nature of the STX standard, all ports are attached directly to the motherboard and are accessible through the chassis both front and rear. That means that STX cases don't actually have or need ports of their own.

    The Guru's Tip:

    The VT02 is the smallest STX chassis that can fit Intel's stock CPU heatsink, which is what we recommend you use with this build. Based on our extensive cooler testing, you won't find another cooler that will fit in this case and actually provide better overall performance than Intel's model.

    Power Supply:

    SilverStone AD120-STX 120W Power Supply

    This powerful PSU will support any CPU you can install in the VT02 chassis. It's a laptop-style unit, meaning it simply plugs right into the back of the PC with a round power plug. There are no internal connections necessary.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that this isn't exactly a small power adapter - it weighs about as much as the entire PC. But to get 120W from a silent fanless power supply, it has to be large to allow for natural heat convection.

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Flash Drive

    Windows 10 was released way back in July 2015, 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.

    Wireless Card (Optional):

    Intel 7265 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Adapter M.2 2230 (Opt.)

    This is the wireless card you'll want to purchase if you need built-in wireless. It slots right into the motherboard, and provides both dual-stream 802.11ac networking and Bluetooth functionality. In our testing, it was able to achieve over 200Mbps throughput, which is about 20x faster than the average Internet connection in the U.S.!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Please, please, please, do not buy the antennas that Amazon recommends that you purchase with this card. They will not work, which we know because we bought them to ensure that they were correct.... and they weren't. The antenna kit below is the one you'll need. And yes, you really do need antennas - the card won't pick up a signal without them (we tried!).

    Cable (Optional):

    Porjet M.2 (NGFF) WiFi Antennas (Opt.)

    These are the M.2-specific antenna you'll need to use wireless with the Intel 7265 WiFi card. Due to the tight attachment mechanism, you'll probably need a pliers to snap them on. As for the antennas, they can be easily affixed through two "punchout" holes in the back of the VT02 case, and undocumented feature that we tested to make sure it would work!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that this kit is not available outside the U.S., so for our Canadian and European readers, we've linked to a different product that's designed for desktops, but should work with the Intel 7265 card.

    Hard Drive (Optional):

    Seagate 2TB Barracuda 2.5" (Opt.)

    Pair this high-capacity hard drive up with the SSD recommended earlier in this guide 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:

    The motherboard comes with the STX-specific SATA adapters required to connect this drive, and the case has all necessary mounting hardware and two open 2.5" bays.