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 April 2019, this build features the budget-friendly AMD Athlon 220GE, a 3.4GHz dual-core, four-thread CPU with built-in Vega 3 Graphics. It's paired up with a feature-rich B450 motherboard, along with 8GB of fast DDR4-2666 RAM and a speedy 500GB solid-state M.2 drive. All told, this system will vastly outperform anything you can buy off the shelf at its pricepoint. As for the case, we recommend the compact, stylish Antec ISK110 (or its premium competitor, the aluminum-clad In-Win Chopin). You can learn more about the Athlon series in our full hands-on review!

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 quiet 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 - April 2019

    CPU:

    AMD Athlon 220GE

    For this system, we now strongly recommend the 3.4GHz AMD Athlon 220GE. 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 220GE, it comes in way, way under $100, while still offering fantastic performance! It's a dual-core, four-thread CPU, with built-in Vega 3 graphics, and includes a 39mm-tall cooler, making it the perfect pick for an ultra-compact PC.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Read more about the Athlon series in our full hands-on review! We believe the 220GE is by far the best value among the three Athlons on the market, and a far better value than any Intel Pentium now that Intel has stopped producing them!

    Motherboard:

    MSI B450I Gaming Plus AC

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

    The Guru's Tip:

    We strongly recommend the use of a B450-based motherboard, as there's a significant chance that older B350-based motherboards won't have the proper firmware updates to support the new 220GE 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. 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. 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.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you need more memory for extreme multi-tasking or high-end content creation applications, go for the 2x8GB version of this kit. Just note that you really should stick with 2666MHz "single-rank" RAM. RAM that's 3000MHz or above, and any "dual-rank" RAM (which most 8GB sticks are), may cause bootup failures on AMD's AM4 platform.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX500 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 the 250GB version we used to recommend!

    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 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

    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 220GE 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:

    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 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:

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