NUC

If you want to build the smallest high-powered PC available for $500, this is the guide for you! Based on the impossibly-small Intel NUC ultra-compact form factor, it packs in everything you need, and nothing you don't. This ensures that you get a system that can be tucked away anywhere or put on display as a conversation starter!

For May 2019, we've hit "reset" on this build, completely reimagining what the cost-conscious home office or home theater PC enthusiast should strive for. Rather than a full do-it-yourself mini-ITX-based PC with a low-powered desktop chip, we go with Intel's amazing NUC (pronounced "nuck"), a high-powered ultra-mini PC that uses one of Intel's class-leading laptop CPUs. Specifically, you're getting the Core i3-8109U, a 3GHz dual-core processor with Hyperthreading (which adds two virtual cores), plus a Turbo speed of 3.6GHz. Because the NUC is technically a "barebones" system, you still get to select and install a few components, and to make this build complete, we suggest 8GB of fast DDR4-2400 RAM and a speedy 500GB solid-state M.2 drive, along with a copy of Windows 10 Home on USB. And the best part is you'll still have room for expansion, as this system can actually fit a 2.5" laptop-style hard drive or SSD, allowing you to add up to 2TB of additional low-cost storage!

To see past versions of this system, just flip to The Archive. And to learn more about building your NUC, see our hands-on assembly guide. As always, please keep in mind that your use of the links we provide below helps support further development of these guides.

The $500 Home Office / Theater Mini PC - May 2019

    Case:

    Intel NUC8i3BEH

    Leap into the future with Intel's NUC platform! While the product line has been around for several years, with the latest CPU releases, these tiny systems have become incredibly competitive. The  Intel Core i3-8109U processor pre-installed inside this system runs at 3GHz with a boost speed to 3.6GHz, and includes Intel's advanced Iris 655 graphics. You'll wonder why you ever had a huge desktop PC in the first place!

    The Guru's Tip:

    This system even includes built-in 802.11ac wireless networking and a cutting-edge USB Type-C port!

    Memory:

    Ballistix Sport LT 2x4GB DDR4 2400 SODIMM

    For this build, we recommend an economical but fast 2x4GB kit. The CPU and motherboard support up to DDR4-2400 RAM, and that's what we go with here. Note that we specifically recommend equipping this system with two RAM sticks rather than one, as it results not only in 2-3% faster CPU performance, but also a very significant 20-25% boost in graphics performance.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you'd like to completely future-proof your system, go for the 2x8GB version of this kit. 16GB is probably more RAM than you'll need now, but in a few years, you'll be glad you have it.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Western Digital Blue 3D 500GB M.2

    There's no better way to make a PC feel really fast than to equip it with a solid-state drive, and this one is the very best value you'll find in the ultra-slim M.2 format.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Thanks to a massive price drop, this 500GB drive is now just a few dollars more than 250GB drives!

    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, with complete OS updates every spring and fall. 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:

    This USB 3.0 version of W10 will load in under 5 minutes!

Optional Components

    The Basic Wireless Keyboard/Mouse Combo:

    Logitech Wireless Combo MK270

    Complete your system with this incredibly-economical wireless keyboard and mouse system from Logitech!

    The Guru's Tip:

    This combo uses a single tiny USB receive, leaving you plenty of USB ports free on your system.

    Hard Drive:

    Seagate FireCuda 2TB Hybrid Hard Drive

    Pair this high-capacity hard drive up with the SSD recommended earlier in this guide to create the ultimate high-capacity mini-system.  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:

    This drive includes 8GB of solid-state cache, allowing it to launch often-used data and apps far faster than a standard hard drive.