(Guide) Budget and small systems guide - Mid 2016 (part 1)

Intro

Welcome to the first TFO budget and small (BaS) system guide. In this guide, I will give you recommendations on:

  • Which computer should you buy at a certain price point.
  • Why such computer suits your need and budget. What can the system do at that budget.

Some note on my recommendation:

  • My focus is always on reliability and build quality of the computer. It’s possible that you can find other system at similar price point and they can be faster, but why would you sacrifice reliability (also your time and effort troubleshooting problematic system) for just arguably a little gain in performance?
  • My system recommendations do not include monitor as well as keyboard and mouse. However you can find my monitor recommendation at the end of part 2 of this post.
  • Cost of all component/PC is at the time of writing. The cost of these systems are in Singapore Dollar, but the recommendations, as well as the choices of component, do still apply elsewhere outside Singapore.

With all that said, let’s look at the cheapest system of this guide.


~300 SGD

Intel NUC Celeron (System cost: 304 SGD or 503 SGD with monitor)

Intel NUC is an extremely compact system in which user only need to supply RAM, storage device and OS to complete the system. If you absolutely need the cheapest and decent PC, this one is for you.

System breakdown:

Component
Remarks
Cost
Source
Simlim’s pricing
Barebone computer
Intel NUC5CPYH
128 USD / 183 SGD
Amazon
249 SGD
RAM
4GB Crucial DDR3L 1600MHz Single
19 USD / 27 SGD
Amazon
28 SGD
SSD
120GB SanDisk SSD Plus
40 USD / 57 SGD
Amazon
65 SGD
OS
Windows 10 Home Premium
37 SGD
Kinguin
158 SGD
TOTAL
Without monitor and peripherals
304 SGD

500 SGD
 

Reasons behind component selection:

Barebone Intel NUC

The system’s dimensions are measured at just 115mm x 111mm x 52mm. It’s so small that you can put it anywhere. You can bring it anywhere with you as well (as long as you have a TV/monitor to plug it to, as well as mouse and keyboard).

In term of hardware, it’s equipped with:

  • Intel Celeron N3050, 2 cores running base frequency of 1.6GHz, which will boost to 2.16GHz.
  • Intel HD Graphics.
  • 1 DDR3L 1.35V RAM slot.
  • 1 Sata port for 2.5" HDD/SSD
  • SD card reader (support SDXC)
  • 1 HDMI with audio capability output.
  • 1 VGA output.
  • 2 headphones jacks. Front jack works as microphone jack as well.
  • 4 USB 3.0 ports. One port can be used to charge other devices.
  • 1 Ethernet LAN port.
  • Wireless-AC connectivity and Bluetooth 4.2.

The features set of the NUC is pretty impressive for such a cheap barebone since it got everything a standard user need. The only potential problem that we may face is actually the performance of the processor itself, it’s just slow (that's why it's so cheap). However, I will explain why it should not matter much in a moment.
 

4GB of RAM

The NUC is not powerful in any mean. It’s suitable for simple computing need such as watching video, listen to music and web surfing. As such, 4GB is actually more than enough.

Note: Only DDR3L running at 1.35V is accepted by the NUC. Normal DDR3 running at 1.5V won't work.
 

120GB SSD

There are several reasons why a SSD is chosen instead of a HDD in this system configuration, those are:

  • SSD is much faster than HDD, it will help a lot in term of system’s responsiveness in such a basic system by removing the storage bottleneck.
  • Such small NUC can be moved around easily and such movement can damage a HDD easily. SSD has no moving parts thus it not susceptible to such risk.
  • An OS only take up maximum 10GB of storage. As such, you will have ~100GB left for your music, movies and programs. If you need more storage for movie, I would suggest getting external HDDs.
     

OS

Why do we need to buy OS?

In my experience, a genuine OS is a must to ensure that your system is always up-to-date in term of security and features. A genuine OS will save you the headache whereby your system will encounter software issues in the future. It can also reduce the chance whereby the system is infected with viruses and malware.

Why is the OS so cheap?

This question is actually quite hard to answer. I get to know about Kinguin from Paul, a famous tech Youtuber who I have been following for quite some times. In one of his video, he recommended Kinguin as a place to get OS for cheap. Many people said these OSes are acquired illegally that’s why it’s cheap. However, there are no official report on any of this. Moreover, once bought with Kinguin, customers are ‘protected’ in the sense that if there are any issues with the OS license, Kinguin will replace the license with another one.

In my experience, I have not faced any issue buying licenses from Kinguin and I’ve bought 7 OSes from them.


How does it feel using the system, what is it good for?

Intel NUC beside a Lenovo A6000 for size comparison

Overall, the system is responsive for very standard and simple task like opening web pages on Chrome, opening documents and PDFs. I guess this is where a SSD helps. However, when it comes to more 'demanding' task, like zipping and unzipping, windows update, software installation, the system slows down considerably due to the slow 2 cores CPU. During these task, the system is still responsive and doesn't hang up.

For gaming, only those 2D games should be considered playable. I tested with Broforce and Stardew Valley, both are playable. Other 2D games where there are a bit more effects like Thomas was alone, the frame per second is considerably lower. Anyway, I would suggest not to buy this system for gaming purposes.

In conclusion, slow CPU can result in low performance during software installation and updates. However, with the above configuration, the system is still responsive. It's good for everyday computing, grandma computing or kid computing needs.


~370 SGD

Intel NUC Pentium (System cost: 371 SGD or 570 SGD with monitor)

The only difference of this system compared to the previous system is the CPU. This system is equipped with a Intel Pentium N3700, 4 cores running base frequency of 1.6GHz, which will boost to 2.4GHz (compared to Intel Celeron N3050, 2 cores running base frequency of 1.6GHz, which will boost to 2.16GHz).

In term of raw compute performance (not graphic performance), N3700 processor in this NUC is 127% faster than the N3050 processor in the cheapest NUC.

System breakdown:

Component
Remarks
Cost
Source
Simlim’s pricing
Barebone computer
Intel NUC5PPYH
175 USD / 250 SGD
Amazon
NA
RAM
4GB Crucial DDR3L 1600MHz Single
19 USD / 27 SGD
Amazon
28 SGD
SSD
120GB SanDisk SSD Plus
40 USD / 57 SGD
Amazon
65 SGD
OS
Windows 10 Home Premium
37 SGD
Kinguin
158 SGD
TOTAL
Without monitor and peripherals
371 SGD

550+ SGD

Beside the difference in term of processor used, other aspect of the 2 systems are the same.


What is it good for?

This system is more suitable for those who use their PC for more than just watching movie, listening to music and surf the internet. The system is more responsive under heavier load, I would say it is for anyone who have to deal with spreadsheets and documents, who need to open a few programs at the same time, but don't need any more processing power beyond that.

I would strongly recommend anyone to buy this system instead of the previous one. This is because it only cost 22% more to get more than 2x increase in processing power.

Note that this system is still not recommended for any gaming.


~550 SGD

Gigabyte Brix Core i3 (System cost: 550 SGD or 749 SGD with monitor)

Source: www.gigabyte.jp

Step up another notch, we have the Brix i3 where it's equipped with an even better processor. The i3-6100U in the Brix is 80% faster than the N3700 in the Pentium NUC in term of raw compute performance and more than 2x boost in term of graphic performance.

System breakdown:

Component
Remarks
Cost
Source
Simlim’s pricing
Barebone computer
Gigabyte Brix GB-BSi3H-6100
280 USD / 400 SGD
Amazon
~550 SGD
RAM
8GB Crucial DDR3L 1600MHz Dual
36 USD / 51 SGD
Amazon
52 SGD
SSD
120GB SanDisk SSD Plus
40 USD / 57 SGD
Amazon
65 SGD
OS
Windows 10 Home Premium
37 SGD
Kinguin
158 SGD
TOTAL
Without monitor and
peripherals
545 SGD

~825 SGD

Reasons behind component selection:

Gigabyte Brix Core i3

This Brix i3 is equally small compared to Intel NUCs. It's measured at 119mm x 113mm x 47mm. The system comes with:

  • Intel Core i3-6100U processor, 2 hyper-threaded cores (4 threads in total) running at constant 2.3GHz.
  • Intel HD Graphics 520.
  • 2 DDR3L 1.35V RAM slots.
  • 1 Sata port for 2.5" HDD/SSD
  • 1 M.2 2280 slot.
  • 1 HDMI with audio capability output.
  • 1 Mini DisplayPort output.
  • 1 headphones jacks. 1 microphone.
  • 4 USB 3.0 ports.
  • 1 Ethernet LAN port.
  • Wireless-AC connectivity and Bluetooth 4.2.

This system does give the user more flexibility in term of RAM slots, as well as an extra M.2 slot for storage expansion.

Moreover, the graphic upgrade from the standard Intel HD Graphics to Intel HD Graphics 520 allows the Brix to handle some basic 3D games like Dota2 and LoL at lowest settings.
 

8GB of RAM

I chose to equip the system with 8GB of RAM instead of 4 due to the fact that the system can handle a lot more concurrent running programs. It's also capable for very light gaming as well. 2D games and simple 3D games can be run comfortably. Games like Dota2 will need to run on lowest settings on 1080p monitor.

 

SSD and OS

The choice of SSD and OS for this system is the same with the previous 2 NUCs. Refer to the 300SGD Intel Celeron NUC for the explanation.


What is it good for?

Movie watching, music listening, web surfing, multitasking with light and casual gaming.

Compared to the previous Pentium NUC, you are paying 50% more for 80% increase in compute performance and more than 2x increase in graphic performance.



 

Disclosure: The content in this blog come from author's personal experience working with PC component and does not serve as any promotion to any of the company with name mentioned.
At the time of publishing this blog, the author is an employee of Micron Technology working as SSD Validation Engineer.