The Best $700-$1000 Ultra-Compact NUC PC Builds – June 2021
Need a powerful PC for work-for-home or small business use, but can’t stand the thought of a big, bulky desktop tower on your desk? Then go for the most powerful palm-sized PC on the market today, which leverages a stellar AMD Ryzen CPU. While ultra-compact PCs have previously been defined by Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC, pronounced “nuck”), Intel has fallen behind in the launch of its 11th-Gen NUC kits, which were due in March. Its dual-core models have finally arrived, but they pale in comparison to the six- and eight-core AMD-powered systems that have been on the market for months. AMD simply offers far greater performance per dollar, and a better overall ecosystem as well. The AMD-based system uses a high-performance Ryzen CPU and a custom 10cm x 10cm motherboard to give you the smallest high-end desktop on the market.
For June 2021, we recommend the ASRock 4×4 barebones kit, which features the AMD Ryzen 5 4550U six-core processor. It also has the excellent AMD Radeon Vega graphics solution on board. Because this is “barebones” kit, you need to add your own RAM, solid-state drive, and operating system. We suggest 16GB of DDR4-3200 RAM, plus a fast 500GB PCIe solid-state drive, although you can certainly go with higher-capacity components if you’d like, and many people choose 32GB and a 1TB PCIe drive. To complete your PC Build, we recommend you pick up a copy of Windows 10 Home on USB. By the way, this system also has WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, and both front- and rear-mounted USB Type-C ports.
Need even more power? Well, we list an incredible upgraded version of this PC later in this guide, which features the top-of-the-line AMD Ryzen 7 4800U, an eight-core, 16-thread CPU. It brings the total cost of this PC from around $700 to around $850, but wow, is it fast! With all that said, if you decide you want extreme power but don’t need something quite this small, check out the other options in our Small Form Factor Build Guides, which leverage the power of midrange and high-end desktop-class processors.
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Barebones Mini PC –
ASRock 4X4 BOX-4500U @Newegg$420
While the NUC class of PCs has primarily been defined by actual Intel-branded NUCs, AMD-based systems have seen explosive growth over the past few years, and we believe it’s time to move on from Intel as it struggles to release its long-delayed next-gen NUC, announced in February but not shipping in quantity until June. Instead, we suggest this amazing little machine from ASRock, sporting an AMD Ryzen 5 4550U six-core processor. It brings with it a host of advantages, including high-end performance (equaling Intel’s 10th-Gen Core i7 that costs far more), much better graphics performance thanks to the built-in Vega GPU, along with dual USB Type-C ports, three USB Type-A ports, HDMI 2.0 plus DisplayPort. It also has built-in WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. This tiny system is designed for use with a single M.2 solid-state drive, and also has space for a single 2.5″ drive, making it very versatile.The Guru’s Tip
Another advantage of the AMD platform is support for much faster RAM than what Intel allows, so we recommend that below.
Crucial 2x8GB Ballistix DDR4-3200 C16 SODIMM$88The ultra-compact PC format has always required the use of laptop-style memory modules, and the latest systems support memory with speeds up to 3200MHz (well above the more typical 2133 and 2666 speeds). That’s what we recommend here, in a 2x8GB configuration.
Any system you intend to keep for the long-haul should have 16GB of RAM, especially systems like this one with just two RAM slots (which limits upgrades). You might even consider picking up the Crucial 2x16GB kit!
Solid-State Drive –
Samsung 980 500GB$60
There’s lots of competition in the SSD market, but SSD pioneer Samsung has put all the other mid-priced offerings to shame with its 980 500GB, launched in early 2021. You simply can’t do better than this awesome SSD, which uses the speedy PCIe 3.0 interface and Samsung’s superior TLC NAND to vastly outperform every other PCIe 3.0 drive! Note that to install this drive, you’ll affix it in an M.2 slot on your motherboard using a jeweler’s-type screwdriver.The Guru’s Tip
Need more capacity? Then jump up to the 1TB version of this drive, listed on the same product page.
Operating System –
Windows 10 Home USB Flash Drive$130Windows 10 was a big step up from Windows 8.1, and Microsoft continues to support Windows 10 users not only with regular security updates, but with major content releases every six months. And the USB version installs in under 5 minutes, meaning you can get right into using your system!
Microsoft is phasing out the USB version of Windows. We like it because it's so easy to use, but if it's out of stock, you can go for the downloadable version from the same product page.
Barebones PC Kit, Case –
Gigabyte BRIX 4800U Ultra-Compact PC Kit$555 The Guru’s Tip
This model has multiple display connectors, including mini-DisplayPort, DisplayPort over USB Type-C, plus a full-sized HDMI 2.0 port.
The 24-inch Small Office Monitor –
HP 24mh IPS Monitor$125 The Guru’s Tip
If you'd like to use the built-in speakers on this monitor, make sure to connect it via HDMI.
The Basic Wireless Keyboard/Mouse Combo –
Logitech MK270 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo$25 The Guru’s Tip
A critical benefit of this duo is the single USB adapter it uses, which is great for a PC with limited USB ports!
The Deluxe PC Headset –
Corsair HS70 BT$100 The Guru’s Tip
This headset will also work with your smartphone, thanks to its Bluetooth capability.