ITX

If you want to build the smallest fully-customizable, high-powered PC available for $500, this is the guide for you! Based on the mini-ITX format, it packs in everything you need, and nothing you don't, ensuring that you get a system that looks as good as it runs.

For December 2018, this build gets a complete overhaul, starting with the CPU: we're now strongly recommending the AMD Athlon 200GE, a 3.2GHz dual-core, four-thread CPU with built-in Vega 3 Graphics. It's by far the least expensive processor on the market, now that Intel has shut down production of all its low-cost CPUs. Paired with a feature-rich B450 motherboard, 8GB of DDR4-2666 RAM, and a fast 250GB solid-state M.2 drive, thhe 200GE will allow this system to far outperform anything you can buy off the shelf at this pricepoint. As for the case, we recommend the Antec ISK110 (or its premium competior, the aluminum-clad In-Win Chopin).

The best part of this build is all the options you'll have for upgrades, including dual 2.5" storage drives, a powerful four-core processor with enhanced graphics, or up to 16GB of RAM. In other words, unless you're a hard-core gamer, this system will do anything you want it to, and is a true replacement for a full-size desktop. And for silent computing fans, we've added an optional CPU cooler upgrade that will make this PC virtually silent.

To see past versions of this system, just flip to The Archive. And if this system isn't quite small enough for you, feel free to stop by our NUC Buyer's Guide for more information on the smallest full-fledged PC you can buy! 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-ITX PC - December 2018

    CPU:

    AMD Athlon 200GE

    For this system, we now strongly recommend the new AMD Athlon 200GE. With Intel exiting the entire low-cost CPU market due to production problems, AMD is the only game in town under $100. And with the 200GE, it comes in way, way under $100! It's a dual-core, four-thread CPU with built-in Vega 3 graphics, making it the perfect pick for an ultra-compact PC.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This CPU requires an AMD 400-series motherboard like the one below. It may not work with 300-series AMD motherboards, and of course won't work with Intel-based motherboard.

    Motherboard:

    Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro WiFi

    Talk about packing a lot into a small and inexpensive package! This board offers six USB ports, dual HDMI video outputs, an Ethernet jack, and built-in 802.11ac wireless networking! Plus, it has a full-size M.2 slot located right on the front, making it very accessible. This allows you to use an ultra-slim solid-state drive with no need for bulky cabling!

    The Guru's Tip:

    We recommend against picking up older B350-based motherboards. They are almost certain to lack the necessary firmware updates to support the 200GE processor.

    Memory:

    Ballistix 2x4GB Sport LT DDR4-2666

    For this build, we recommend an economical but extremely-fast 2x4GB kit. The CPU and motherboard support up to DDR4-2666 RAM, and that's what we go with here. If you need more memory for extreme multi-tasking or high-end content creation applications, go for the 2x8GB version of this 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 AMD's built-in Vega 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 MX500 250GB 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:

    This build can fit three drives - one M.2 drive, plus two additional 2.5" drives (either SSDs or hard drives).

    Case:

    Antec ISK110 VESA-U3

    The ISK110 is the perfect case for an ultra-compact build. It offers up space for two 2.5" drives, includes a silent external power supply rated at 90W, and fits the CPU coolers up to 47mm high.

    The Guru's Tip:

    To learn more about this case, see our shootout review!

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Download

    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

    Case:

    InWin Chopin with 150W Power Supply

    Want a huge aesthetic upgrade for an extra $10 or so? Then go for the awesome Chopin case from In-Win. It fits the same components as the Antec case listed earlier, but offers a brushed aluminum exterior for a truly premium look.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is a limited-production case, so it sells out on a regular basis.

    CPU Cooler:

    Noctua NH-L9a-AM4

    Do you crave absolute silence from your PC? Then simply upgrade to the NH-L9a-AM4 from Noctua. It's literally silent!

    The Guru's Tip:

    At just 39mm tall, this cooler may not be larger than AMD's standard cooler, but trust us - it's so much better!

    CPU:

    AMD Ryzen 5 2400G

    Turn your mini PC into a portable powerhouse by going with the Ryzen 5 2400G. It packs in four cores, 8 threads, and the incredible Vega 11 graphics chip, which is four times faster than what the 200GE comes with.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that the 55mm-tall cooler that comes with this CPU is actually too tall to fit in the case we recommend, so make sure to also pick up the Noctua NH-L9a AM4 cooler listed above if you decide to go with the more powerful CPU.

    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:

    Remember, you can't use 3.5" desktop-class hard drives in this sytem.