I couldn’t find a better PC for around $500, can you?

GMKtec Nucbox K1

Best workstation PC around $500

CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 6800H | GPU: AMD Radeon 680M | RAM: 32GB DDR5 | SSD: 1TB

Very good value for money
32GB RAM/1TB SSD combo
Compact footprint
Windows 11 Pro
No next business day support
Limited expansion capabilities
PCIe 3.0 SSD
No Thunderbolt ports

Shop the deal

GMKtec Nucbox K1 mini workstation $599.99 $519.99 at Amazon
Just over $500 for a recently released 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 with 32GB RAM and a big 1TB SSD? That’s a steal, especially as it comes with 24 month warranty and Windows 11 Pro.

For anyone looking for a fast workstation PC that’s also portable and relatively affordable, there’s the Nucbox K1 mini PC. At the time of writing (and until June 4, 2023), you can purchase it from Amazon for $519.99 after a $80 instant coupon. I love the fact that all this power and storage is neatly packaged in a metal box that’s barely bigger than a DVD boxset.

(ed: That’s definitely a candidate for both our best workstation PC and our best mini PC buying guide)

As expected from any workstation worthy of the label, this one runs on Windows 11 Pro: it has a powerful processor, an 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 6800H, plenty of memory (two 16GB DDR5-4800 modules arranged in dual channel mode) and a large 1TB SSD (albeit PCIe 3.0 rather than 4.0).

You should be able to add an additional 2.5-inch SSD as well. There’s no dedicated graphics card, only an AMD Radeon 680M onboard GPU, so any workload that involves 3D rendering or GPU hardware acceleration will likely be slow on the K1; the lack of Thunderbolt ports mean that you won’t be able to plug in an external GPU to compensate.

Speaking of ports, you can connect up to three monitors and there’s even a 2.5GbE LAN connector; note the presence of a VESA mount as well, great if you want to convert a monitor into a pseudo-all-in-one PC. The K1 comes with a two-year warranty but no next business day support. We haven’t reviewed it yet but we’re getting one very soon.

How to choose the right workstation for you?

It’s not always about the best but it is always about the right fit for your applications. With that in mind, answering the following three questions will help you narrow down the choices available to you.

Are you brand agnostic? Being brand agnostic means that you can explore the entirety of the market rather than just a subset of it. There’s no real reason to be brand agnostic these days (unless if you are an Apple user, in which case, you will probably need to stick with your Mac workstation). On the contrary, big brands tend to be more conservative than others when it comes to component choices; which explains why some smaller vendors have adopted AMD’s Epyc server CPUs.
What is your budget? Knowing how much you can spend will inform what you can choose. In theory, any PC can be a workstation but some of their features (e.g. Windows 11 Pro, after sales support, enhanced expansion capabilities beefier components) means that desktop workstations are generally more expensive although deals can be had. You can get good all-rounder workstations for around $500 but you will have to fork out up far more (several orders of magnitude) for something like AI development.
What sort of support do you need? Standard warranty will not cut it in most cases for professionals and businesses that reply on their workstations to work. This is where the big brands, with their extensive after sales network have the upper hand and can offer accidental coverage, next business day support and more.
What applications do you plan to run? Different applications require different types of workstations. 3D rendering requires a powerful GPU, whereas machine learning and data science need as much memory as they can. Your toolbox will determine what sort of workstation will fit the bill.

So there we have the four questions you should ask yourself when choosing the right workstation for the job. Just bear in mind that there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to which question comes first.

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