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The skinny on Barebone PC computers

Sometimes things aren't sold exactly the way you want them, right off the shelf. A barebone PC comes partially assembled to allow you to build and customize the rest of the computer to suit your specific needs and desires. Available as platforms or kits of parts, for desktops, notebooks, and servers alike, barebone computers come in almost any form factor, even those that are non-standard or specialized. So whether you want a home PC for multimedia entertainment, a fast and efficient business computer, or a top notch gaming system, barebone PCs provide flexibility for you to forge a path to your own personalized dream machine.

Typically, a barebones desktop PC comes with the basics, or bones, of a system: a computer tower or case, pre-fitted motherboard and power supply, and sometimes an optical drive, media card reader, and cooling accessories as well. What's left is outfitting the system with your choice of CPU, RAM, hard drive, and additional input and output devices, as well as a graphics processor if the one built into the motherboard is insufficient for your needs. Accessories will also need to be chosen to help enhance your user experience. A keyboard, mouse, monitor, operating system and software, as well as a mass storage device, are purchased separately. A mini PC system is similar, but much more compact and comes with low-power basic components that are often small enough to mount to the back of a large monitor; however, it is not built for gaming, and doesn't have all of the customization options of a barebone.

It's important to look at the upgradeability and compatibility of a barebones system when shopping for one; for example, motherboards need to have the right amount of memory and PCI card slots, and space for I/O devices. They should also be compatible with the right processor, which gets tricky when you're looking for lightning speed units to support heavy gaming. Use the CPU type, socket, and core information to help you find barebones with corresponding CPU sockets and chipsets. Consider the memory type, data rate, memory channel mode and capacity to ensure RAM compatibility, and whether you want to use onboard video or add on a separate card.

You can use a barebones PC system to build almost any type of computer you want. If you have the DIY drive and resources, you may find that it's more fun and rewarding than buying a pre-made device.

Want more info? Check out some of our resources:

Desktop Buying Guide