In 2013 Intel launched a line of small-form-factor barebone computers called "Next Unit of Computing" or NUC. Now it is the most frequently internet-recommended hardware platform for setting up an amateur server at home for pretty much everything.
While Intel discontinued the NUC business in 2023, there are a lot of units available from retailers around the world and a cheaper used NUC could be a good alternative for a new one. But what about alternatives for an Intel NUC itself? Maybe a cheaper one or just the one that is widely available in your location? What do we need for our homelabs in wardrobes? Something small, quiet, and energy efficient? Let's see...
Liked by many homelab owners a line of desktop computers from Dell has models in Mini and Small form factors.
Shipped with Intel and sometimes with AMD CPUs, used or new, it can become a strong core of your homelab, or just an addition to more professional hardware platforms.
OptiPlex units officially shipped fully built, with all components installed. However, some local retailers around the world have used barebone units available. Less powerful but much cheaper Intel Celeron or Pentium-powered units could be found on your local boards.
Made by a Chinese technology company you definitely heard about, ThinkCentre PCs shipped not only in regular "tower" boxes but also in a Tiny form factor with Intel and AMD CPUs:
Those are shipped with all components installed and ready to be added to your lab.
Asus Mini PC
My favorite alternative for the NUCs is the Asus Mini PC series. Shipped as barebone kits as well as fully built units they have the widest variety of CPUs installed, from Intel Celeron to AMD Ryzen.
While the PN series has the exact form factor of Intel NUC and some of them are even fanless, the PD series is larger and can fit more hardware inside.
Hope this quick overview will help you choose the right PC for your self-hosted projects. Sure you need to choose the specifications as well, but choosing the right CPU, RAM, and storage is a topic for another article.