Barebones Gaming PC: The Best Bare Bones Computer in 2018

barebones gaming pc

After spending 43 hours of extensive research and comparison, we finally concluded that the best barebones gaming PC is the Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK. It is packed with an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor that’s unlocked, has a lot of connectivity ports, and a graphics card that’s VR capable-- perfect for dead serious gamers who want power in a portable box.

All-Rounder (Our Pick)
Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK

Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK

A VR-Ready barebones gaming PC

The skull logo on the box says it all-- it’s a monster caged inside a small box. A monster that can handle AAA games at 1080p and VR titles.

A small gaming PC with a skull on its chassis, indicating that this is a beast of a rig. It comes with an Intel Core i7-8809G processor and a Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics card. These should be more than enough to play your favorite AAA games at a steady 60FPS on high to ultra settings.

On top of being compact, it’s light, rich in I/O ports, and can handle VR games.

The Fervent Performer
Zotac Magnus EN1060K-U-W2B

Zotac Magnus EN1060K-U-W2B

A solid choice for traveling competitive gamers

A solid choice for a quality gaming experience. It’s packed with a powerful graphics card that can handle 1440p (2K) resolution at a stable 60FPS.

If you’re a more competitive gamer, you’ll want to get all the performance you can-- this is what you’ll want.

It has a more powerful graphics card than the All-Rounder, and you can also get one that comes with storage and RAM included.

The Elegant Barebones
Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950

Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950

A barebones gaming PC you can use as a decoration

It’s not just elegant-looking but it’s also powerful enough to handle triple-A title games in the 1080p territory at 60FPS.

This barebones PC kits comes with a powerful 6th gen Core i7 processor paired with a GTX 950 for an overall solid performance. If you’re fine with a 1080p resolution and a frame rate at or near 60FPS, then this should give you what you need.

Out of this World Plug-and-Play
Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580

Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580

A mini Steam console for newbie gamers

If you want a plug-and-play barebones gaming PC to play your favorite Steam games, this is for you.

Fan of hundreds of Steam games but don’t really want to go through the hassle of building from scratch? This is yours for the taking.

While it comes preinstalled with the Steam OS (likely meaning you will want to install Windows 10) the Intel Core i3-4130T processor and GTX 860M will provide a respectable gaming experience.

Beefy Budget Pick
ASUS UN65U-M022M

ASUS UN65U-M022M

A very affordable barebones gaming PC

This packs a very powerful processor that can handle CPU intensive games and applications no problem-- just needs a decent external graphics card.

This is packed with a powerful Intel Core i5-7200U processor. Sadly its Intel HD 620 graphics card holds it back. While this might not be the best GPU on the list (it is the worst), pairing this CPU with the right external graphics card will boost its performance tenfold.

How We Choose

The most important component that you need to check when investing in a barebones computer is the included graphics card. In fact, this was one of the determining factors that led us to choose the 5 kits in this article.

Barebones PCs are usually not designed for gaming purposes because their compact size isn’t designed to dissipate hot air efficiently. But we scoured the internet to find barebone computer kits that are preinstalled with a good graphics card and has good airflow.

All but our budget pick comes preinstalled with a decent graphics card that’s more than enough to deliver a quality experience in the 720p to 1080p territory. In fact, our second pick can handle games smoothly at 1440p resolution.

Things You Should Check Before Buying a Barebones Gaming PC

Barebones gaming PCs are preferred by a specific group of gamers who travel a lot or just prefer a small setup. They’re light, compact, and can even pack a more powerful punch than a regular gaming desktop if paired with the right hardware.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike ready to go mini-PCs, barebones PC kits don’t usually come prebuilt with a RAM and hard drive, which makes them relatively cheap upfront. However, this also means you’ll have to buy a hard drive and RAM for it to even start to work.

Now with that covered, here are the features you should look into before buying one:

Processor (CPU)

The processor is usually-- but not always-- included in the package. This is why you have to carefully choose a mini-PC that comes with a CPU that can handle your needs with ease.

Today, you can find barebones gaming PCs that are powered with the latest processors. In fact, some of the items on our list below utilize an 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor. And that’s more than enough to deliver a smooth gaming experience.

Graphics Card (GPU)

Most barebones gaming PCs usually come with an integrated mobile graphics card; others come pre-installed with a dedicated graphics card.

While it’s true that some of the models mentioned below utilize a graphics card that performs just as good as a GT 1030 dedicated graphics card, it still isn’t enough to deliver a quality AAA gaming experience.

You’ll need a more powerful graphics card if you wish to play at 1080p on ultra or max settings, such as a GTX 1060, a GTX 1070, or a GTX 1080 and their respective Ti variants (for GTX 1070 and GTX 1080) to experience a far better quality gaming graphics and performance. So make sure you know which graphics card is best for your gaming rig and needs if you aren’t sure.

Sadly, a lot of these rigs are too small for larger, more powerful GPUs. However, thanks to technology like Razer Core X and Gigabyte Aorus Gaming Box, you can hook up a dedicated graphics card to your minicomputer (or laptop) by plugging your dedicated GPU inside and hooking it up to your rig via a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C).

Size and Weight

Make sure you’re aware of its dimensions and weight. Although they’re known to be small and light, barebones gaming PCs come in different sizes and weights. Barebones gaming PCs can be as large as a laptop or as small as a gaming mouse’s box.

If you travel a lot and you want one that’s very compact and light, then you’d be better off going with a very small one.

Storage and Memory (RAM) Compatibility and Limit

Some barebones gaming PCs don’t come with a storage device and RAM while some do.

You’ll want to get at least 250 GB of SSD storage (but more is better) and at least 8GB of RAM.

While you can use 2.5” SSDs (or external SSDs) RAM compatibility can differ from one barebones gaming PC to another because of their diminutive size-- so make sure you double check.

Connectivity

You’ll also need to pay attention to the I/O (input and output) ports included on the model you buy, since it can vary greatly. Most barebones PCs should have some (if not all) of the following:

  • Mic and headphone jack
  • USB port
  • LAN port
  • HDMI/DisplayPort
  • VESA mount

How To Choose the Best Barebones Gaming PC for You?

Are you going to use it for CPU intensive games/apps? There are a lot of CPU options these things come with. From really slow Atom/Celeron/Pentium based processors to quad-core i7 mobile processors.

If you’re going to be using it to play browser games, lower end indie games, and other light games, a Core i7 won’t be necessary. A lower-end CPU should do just fine. In fact, for some of these games, its integrated mobile graphics card chip should shoulder most of the burden.

On the flip side, go with Core i5’s and i7’s if you wish to play AAA-titles. You’ll also want to consider pairing it with an external graphics card dock/enclosure as mentioned above; although you might not have an option.

How much memory do I need? Most of these can support at least 32GB of RAM, while some even support up to 128GB. If you’re going to be using this for streaming, you’ll definitely benefit from having at least 16GB of RAM.

Now that we have everything covered, here are the 5 best barebones gaming PC we would recommend buying.

The 5 Best Barebones Gaming PC

ProductDetails
Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK

Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK

  • cpu gpu: Intel Core i7-8809G / Radeon RX Vega M GH
  • dimensions l x w x h: 10.8 x 7.8 x 4.8 inches
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Zotac Magnus EN1060K-U-W2B

Zotac Magnus EN1060K-U-W2B

  • cpu gpu: Intel Core i5-7500T/GTX 1060 (6gb)
  • dimensions l x w x h: 8.27 x 7.99 x 2.45 inches
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Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950

Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950

  • cpu gpu: Intel Core i7-6700HQ/GTX 950
  • dimensions l x w x h: 10.43 x 10.43 x 7.48 inches
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Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580

Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580

  • cpu gpu: Intel Core i3-4130T/GTX 860M
  • dimensions l x w x h: 7.87 x 7.87 x 2.17 inches
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ASUS UN65U-M022M

ASUS UN65U-M022M

  • cpu gpu: Intel Core i5-7200U/Intel HD 620
  • dimensions l x w x h: 5.1 x 5.1 x 2 inches
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#1

Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK

An all-rounder barebones gaming PC like the Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK is what most gamers need. It’s small, but packs a powerful punch under the hood while having a glowing skull logo on top of the hood.

Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK unbox

Looking at the connectivity department, you have the following:

  • 3x USB 3.1 (Gen2)
  • Type-C ports (two rear, one front), two of which support Thunderbolt 3
  • 2x mini-DisplayPort 1.2 output
  • Can support up to 6x 4K displays (5 at 60Hz)

This NUC (Next Unit of Computing) model is also loaded with a Core i7-8809G processor on top of having a decent Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics card-- that’s more than enough to handle VR games!

Its compact size and design makes it ideal in offices and small spaces. Out of the box, it comes with the power adapter and VESA plate. This means you can hook this to the back of the monitor or television to hide it or save space.

Just keep in mind that you’re going to need a DDR4 RAM stick and an SSD to fully take advantage of the power this beast has.

#2

Zotac Magnus EN1060K-U-W2B

If you play competitively and don’t want to buy an external dock for a dedicated GPU, then forget about the rest of the list as the Zotac Magnus EN1060K-U-W2B packs the most powerful graphics card among them (GTX 1060) paired with a competent processor (Intel Core i5-7500T).

Like the all-rounder, this is a VR-ready machine, so you can enjoy your favorite VR games anytime, anywhere. It also comes preinstalled with a Windows 10 OS.

That aside, you won’t just have to stick with 1080p gaming with this machine; you’ll start to climb into 1440p territory with this sheer power.

If you prefer a ready-to-use option, you can do so easily by choosing the package that also comes with 120GB SSD + 1TB HDD for storage and 8GB RAM. It’s also surprisingly quiet despite having so much power.

Zotac Magnus EN1060K U W2B unbox

You’ll also find a handful of ports in this machine:

  • Mic and Headphone jack
  • 2x Ethernet ports
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 1x USB 3.1 Type-C
  • 1x USB 3.1
  • 2x USB 2.0

All in all, this is a very solid choice for those who prefer a plug-and-play high-performance barebones mini PC-- it’s small and compact although you have to remember that this is the most expensive item on the list.

#3

Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950

The Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950 has the most unique design on the list. Sure that “unique” design is “trash can”, but it still gets points for being unique...

Thankfully, the performance is much better than the appearance. Inside you’ll find the Intel Core i7-6700HQ and the GTX 950 graphics card (comparable to a GTX 1050). But it does not have a preinstalled operating system.

It supports 4K resolution natively and can support multiple displays. So if you want to have multiple displays for productivity or you want to stream, it is possible.

Unlike the regular ports-on-the-side setup, this has the ports located on the corners to complement the asymmetric design. The design also directs the airflow in one direction-- cool air enters from the bottom and warm air goes out of the top.

Gigabyte GB BNi7HG4 950 unbox

It’s no surprise that this has a lot of ports, and these are as follows:

  • 1x HDMI
  • 3x mini DisplayPort
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 2x USB 3.1 (1x USB type C)
  • 1x LAN port
  • 1x Kensington lock slot

One thing that really sets this apart from the rest of the barebones PC kits on the list is the fact that this has a Kensington lock slot which lets you secure this small machine by attaching it to something stationary.

You’ll also need a storage device, preferably an SSD for maximum performance. This also has 2 SO-DIMM RAM slots, which supports up to 32GB max of 2133MHz of DDR4 memory.

#4

Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580

The Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580 is actually unique in that it is installed with the Steam OS. Much like a Linux OS, this has a dedicated purpose; in this case, that would be for Steam gamers.

It should be noted that most games are not supported by Steam OS, so you will likely want to install Windows 10 ASAP.

Alienware Alpha ASM100 1580 unbox

Inside you’ll find an Intel Core i3-4130T processor inside along with a GTX 860M graphics card which is more than enough to run most indie titles and even older AAA games smoothly at 720p 60FPS or 1080p 30FPS, depending on the graphical settings. New AAA-titled games will definitely need more power for a decent experience.

It also comes preinstalled with 4GB of DDRL3 memory at 1600MHz (although you’ll like want 8GB of RAM) and a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive.

Connectivity isn’t as rich as the others above but you still have enough:

  • 2x USB 2.0 (at the front)
  • 2x USB 3.0 (at the back)
  • 1x Ethernet port
  • 1x HDMI out 1.4
  • 1x HDMI in
  • Mic and audio jack

Upgrading the processor to an Intel Core i7 chip is also possible AND recommended so you can play the latest games.

#5

ASUS UN65U-M022M

The ASUS UN65U-M022M is our budget pick thanks to its relatively powerful Intel Core i5-7200U. You know how earlier we said you should always get a powerful processor, even if the GPU isn’t great? Well, this is a sterling example of that at play.

Keep in mind that this one does not have RAM, HDD or SSD, or an OS. Even factoring this in, however, it will still be cheaper than the 4 above options.

ASUS UN65U M022M unbox

For the price, this has enough connections at your disposal:

  • 4x USB 3.0 ports
  • 1x 4-in-1 card reader
  • 1x HDMI port
  • 1x DisplayPort
  • 1x Ethernet port

Overall, this barebones gaming PC is enough if you’re starting out. It’s compact and lightweight and just powerful enough to give you an acceptable performance on titles that aren’t too demanding. However, if you plan on doing some serious gaming, you will need to invest in an external graphics card and a device that lets you utilize it, like the Razer Core X and Gigabyte Aorus Gaming Box.

Which is the Right Barebones Gaming PC For You?

Choosing a barebones gaming PC for you to enjoy for hours on end should not be hard. By following this guide, you should be able to make the right choice.

  1. The Intel NUC8 NUC8i7HVK is well rounded with a decent processor and graphics card that should stay relevent for the foreseeable future.
  2. Choose the Zotac Magnus EN1060K-U-W2B has a GTX 1060 graphics card that will let you push the higher frame rates needed for competitive gaming.
  3. If you’re just going to play some indie games, the Gigabyte GB-BNi7HG4-950 is an ideal option.
  4. While the Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580’s Steam OS might be cumbersome, once you get Windows 10 installed, you’ll have a competent, portable machine.
  5. The ASUS UN65U-M022M is the most cost-efficient barebones gaming PC with a solid CPU that lets you upgrade with an external GPU down the line.

Parting Words

There you have it! If you’re still reading this now, chances are that you already have a good hint at what you want. Consider sharing it down in the comments or tell us if you have a better idea in mind. We’d love to hear from our audiences!

Sources

  1. Alaina Yee, Hades Canyon NUC review: Intel taps AMD's Radeon Vega graphics for a powerful mini-PC, PC World, March 29, 2018
  2. Cameron Faulkner, Zotac Magnus EN1060, TechRadar, December 01, 2016

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