Best Mini PC for Music Production | Intel NUC8i5BEK

best mini pc for music production - intel nuc8

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With the rise in popularity of the Apple Mac Mini, it seems that the PC market was beginning to consider its own alternative. The Mini PC became an excellent compromise for musicians looking for both performance and portability. Today, we’ll be looking at the best Mini PC for music production and also one of the most affordable computers.

The Intel NUC NUC8i5BEK is the best Mini PC for music production I’ve ever seen. It competes with the 2020 Mac Mini and it’s much more affordable. Intel also offers the ability to construct your very own NUC using their DIY kit. However, most of us probably just want something that works great straight out of the box. Let’s start talking about the potential of integrating the Intel NUC NUC8i5BEK into your recording system.

An overview of the best Mini PC for music production

Before getting started, there are a few things you need to know about the Intel NUC-series. First of all, you can purchase them as “kits” which still require additional components or you can purchase them ready out of the box.

I’m going to be recommending the model I’d personally choose.

best mini pc for music production - intel nuc haswell

Here are the specifications:

  • 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-8259U (overclock up to 3.8 GHz)
  • 16 GB DDR4 SDRAM
  • 256GB SATA-III SSD
  • Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655

I also chose this model because of its accessibility:

  • 4x USB 3.1
  • 1x Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 (gen 2)
  • 1x Micro SD
  • 1x HDMI 2.0
  • 1x Auxiliary Input/Output
  • 1x Ethernet

One of the most important elements I took into consideration was the Thunderbolt 3 support. I truly believe that every musician should have at least one Thunderbolt 3 port (even if they’re not using it at the moment).

Thunderbolt is quickly becoming the new industry standard and Windows’ support for the protocol is proving that statement more and more every day.

Other than that, the computer itself is truly miniature. It can fit in the palm of your hand and it’s certainly smaller than the Apple Mac Mini.

The quality is also phenomenal considering it’s made by Intel.

The Intel NUC8i5BEK is the best Mini PC for music production because it supports Thunderbolt 3

You’ll hear me talking about Thunderbolt 3 quite often. I use Thunderbolt devices on the daily, but I understand that certain musicians (especially Windows-users) haven’t made the upgrade. To be honest, most Windows-users aren’t even aware of its existence.

That’s because it was exclusive to Apple computers until recently.

best mini pc for music production - intel nuc motherboard

I’m really happy that Thunderbolt 3 has finally made its way to Windows-based computers like the Intel NUC8i5BEK, but most music producers aren’t even aware of the benefits. It has nothing to do with the increase in bandwidth (40GB/s) for our purposes.

It’s actually the technology in itself that provides all the new advantages.

One of these benefits is the process known as Direct Memory Access (DMA).

It basically allows any Thunderbolt device to bypass the CPU and to communicate directly with the hard drive. In other words, it significantly reduces audio latency and potentially solves the problem for good!

Instead of relying on drivers, the devices can operate at their fullest regardless of your CPU’s performance (although the NUC8i5BEK has more than enough).

Another advantage is the ability to pair/daisy-chain multiple Thunderbolt devices. USB audio interfaces, for example, cannot be synchronized together (if you were using more than one). The results would be atrocious.

On the other hand, Thunderbolt devices can operate in perfect synchronization with one another. It’s absolutely possible to pair multiple audio interfaces together to “scale” your recording system by adding more inputs.

If you want to find out more, you can read this blog post.

The Intel NUC8i5BEK is the best Mini PC for music production because it uses 8th generation processors

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m recommending computers with 8th generation processors when we’re currently working with 10th generation. Well, it’s simply because I’m currently using an 8th generation processor and it works great for music production!

The Intel NUC8i5BEK actually performs better than my 2018 Mac Mini and it costs MUCH less.

In 2020, 8th generation processors (depending on the model, of course) are still more than suitable for 99% of musicians. I rarely recommend 10th generation processors for music producers unless they’re working with hundreds of tracks.

I’m also talking about orchestral music that relies heavily on sample libraries.

That being said, I invite you to check out the Intel Core i5-8259U’s rankings compared to other similar processors by consulting this benchmark.

It has much better single/multi-core performance than the 2020 Mac Mini.

If you haven’t read my FREE ebook yet, I talk a lot about single-core performance and how it’s one of the most important elements for music production. That’s why I rarely look at clock speed first, although it does make an impact.

Either way, I’m sure you’ll be more than satisfied with the performance (if you’re anything like me, that is).

However, you can always configure your Intel NUC how you want (it’s customizable)!

The Intel NUC8i5BEK is the best Mini PC for music production because it uses SSD storage

Perhaps one of the most overlooked computer components for music production is storage. More importantly, I’m talking about solid state drives (SSDs) instead of hard disk drives (HDD).

If you want your machine to run in harmony with the next-generation of hardware, you’ll need to move away from mechanical HDDs (at least internally).

The best Mini PC for music production had to have an SSD. That’s one of the reasons why I chose the Intel NUC8i5BEK over all the other computers. Either way, it’s becoming pretty standard and the prices are starting to drop considerably.

Industry professionals have made SSD the new industry standard.

The performance boost when compared to HDDs is phenomenal. We’re talking about more than a doubling of the expected read/write speeds. I noticed immediately when I upgraded from my 2013 21.5-inch iMac to the 2018 Apple Mac Mini.

The Intel NUC8i5BEK’s SSD also works in perfect harmony with Thunderbolt.

As far as capacity goes, I think 256GB is plenty for your essential applications.

I still use an external HDD to host my projects, sample libraries and presets. I’ve had no complaints in regards to performance as of yet, so this recording system does in fact work! I’m actually working with 128GB of SSD storage believe it or not.

However, feel free to configure your machine with as much internal storage as you need!

The best Mini PC for music production is the Intel NUC8i5BEK

I was really pleased when I found out about the Intel NUC-series. When I searched for the best Mini PC for music production, I never imagined I’d find something that could actually compete with the Mac Mini.

However, it still falls short in certain respects (less Thunderbolt 3 ports).

Just keep in mind that you’re paying MUCH less than anything you’d find with Apple. The fact that you’re working with Intel at such an affordable price almost makes this too good to be true.

One of the best parts about the NUC-series is the ability to configure/build your own.

There are plenty of pre-built options at Amazon which I’ll be listing.

99% of musicians would be better off following my recommendations, but the 1% should probably consider shooting for more performance. More specifically, I’d recommend going with 9th generation processors, but that’s pretty much it.

RAM is at your discretion because 16GB is plenty!

Anyway, if you’re looking for personalized recommendations, I invite you to reach out to me. I’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction based on your unique needs. On that note, here are some of the products I recommend checking out.

Intel NUC8i5BEK

Were you as surprised as I was to find out about the Intel NUC8i5BEK? It’s pretty amazing that such an affordable and portable option even exists as an alternative to the Apple Mac Mini. However, I still swear by my 2018 Mac Mini! If you’re interested in refining your knowledge on computing for music production, I highly recommend reading my free ebook. I appreciate your support, thanks for reading!

Sources:

https://www.intel.ca/content/www/ca/en/products/boards-kits/nuc/kits/nuc8i5bek.html

https://ark.intel.com/content/www/us/en/ark/products/126147/intel-nuc-kit-nuc8i5bek.html

https://ark.intel.com/content/www/us/en/ark/products/135935/intel-core-i5-8259u-processor-6m-cache-up-to-3-80-ghz.html

23 Responses

  1. Stephan, you’re amazing, man! What a resource you are.

    Quick question: I’m trying to set up a very simple stand alone VST host for live music performance. This computer is actually overkill, but I can’t seem to find any suitable PC sticks that meet minimum requirements for Trilian ( https://www.spectrasonics.net/products/trilian/index.php#sysreq ) It requires a 2ghz processor and 8GB ram. Any ideas for something a bit cheaper than the NUC8i5BEK that will still make this a reality? I plan on using a cheap USB Audio output and connecting a midi controller. Might install Gig Performer or one of the free hosts like Cantabile or just run Trilian in stand alone mode. Will have it run after boot automatically. It’s critical that once it’s set up that the pc will run without a mouse or monitor or keyboard attached.

    Got the idea from this great mad scientist Floyd Steinberg. https://youtu.be/enoewy_-ECA.

    Thanks in advance for your reply and thanks again for your great article and helpful demeanor!

    1. Hey Max!

      I did some research for you and found that most of the PC sticks are using Intel Celeron or Intel Atom x5 processors.

      I benchmarked these against my Mac Mini’s i3-8100 and they were all mostly 50% of the performance.

      That being said, I’m running a pretty minimalist setup myself so I don’t think you can afford the 50% loss.

      I did find one PC stick that has a 2.70Ghz clock speed, but that doesn’t really change much. It’s the single-core performance that matters which is determined by the architecture/generation of the processor. What I’m saying is that you would theoretically have phenomenal results with a 1.00Ghz processor if only it was 10th generation Intel.

      That being said, I took into consideration that the NUC I recommended was slightly overkill for your particular project.

      I found this one with an i3 processor instead which significantly reduced the price. I think you’ll be much better off with that than a PC stick, personally.

      I did like the video though. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s viable if you’re looking for something reliable/professional.

      Thanks for stopping by, let me know if you need anything else.

      – Stefan

  2. Glad to find this article. My new Nuc8i5beh with 16 gb ram and 520gb m.2 ssd, 8259u processor arrives tomorrow. I am struggling with one thing. How best to connect my 6-pin FW400 audio interface to the USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port on the Nuc. Is there an existing cable with those ends, or do I need an adapter plus a cable, or some type of multi port hub? A perfect world for me would allow that Thunderbolt 3 port to provide the FW400 device and an additional 4 usb ports… But little else as I want to gig with this in the future. Thanks!

    1. Hello Buckner,

      I did some research for you and it looks like there’s a proven way to achieve this even with Windows!

      Here’s the link to the article I found.

      Basically, you’ll need THREE adapters to make this work correctly:

      – FW400 to FW800
      – FW800 to Thunderbolt 2
      – Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3

      I still can’t personally guarantee that any of this will work on PC, but according to the article, it can be done.

      To address your concern about providing additional ports, what you’ll need is known as a Thunderbolt Dock.

      Here’s the one that would suit your needs.

      It’ll basically provide your NUC with plenty of extra ports and functionality. They’re a little pricey, but worth it!

      I hope that answers your questions, let me know if you need anything else!

      – Stefan

      1. Hi, thanks for the response… I think taking the time to properly phrase my needs on this forum led me straight to that same link after I posted the comment, and, yes, although I looked for a while to find a dock or hub that connected by TB3 and included any form of Firewire, it was no good, so I ordered exactly the above, the two adapters and a cable for the final firewire conversion. It all comes tomorrow! I will just toss an unpowered 4 port USB hub on one of the the other USB ports in the machine, so finally I am now looking at small (5-inch or 7-inch), multi-touch screens for when I am not in the studio, but performing… thinking of something like this https://www.amazon.com/Capacitive-Raspberry-4-800×480-Touchscreen-Portable/dp/B082F3K84X/ref=sr_1_6?dchild=1&keywords=touchscreen+monitor&qid=1615760247&refinements=p_n_size_browse-bin%3A2633094011%2Cp_36%3A-15000%2Cp_72%3A1248880011&rnid=1248877011&s=pc&sr=1-6

        or this https://www.amazon.com/Raspberry-Pi-Touchscreen-SunFounder-Capacitive/dp/B087WKTFT6/ref=sr_1_25?dchild=1&keywords=touchscreen+monitor&qid=1615760478&refinements=p_n_size_browse-bin%3A2633094011%2Cp_36%3A-15000%2Cp_72%3A1248880011&rnid=1248877011&s=pc&sr=1-25

        1. Haha good, I’m glad you found your solution.

          Let me know how it works out, I’m sure others could benefit from it as well!

          Between the two monitors you listed, I’d personally go with the second one.

          Thanks again for writing. Take it easy!

          – Stefan

  3. Thank you kindly for the informative article. It really helps narrow down the required specs for a NUC that will do music production. I am currently using a laptop with an i7-7700 processor and 16 gb of ram. Would the i5 be a downgrade?

    1. Hey Chaz!

      The specific Intel NUC I recommended in the article would actually be a slight downgrade from your i7-7700 laptop. If you want an upgrade, I recommend the Intel NUC10i5FNK.

      It’s still an i5, but the fact that it’s 10th generation means it’ll perform MUCH better than your 7th generation i7.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have any other questions. Take care!

      – Stefan

    1. Hey Daniel,

      È sicuramente nella mia lista dei primi 5. i5 8a generazione (o superiore) e idealmente 16 GB di RAM sono i migliori.

      Spero che aiuti. Grazie per aver scritto!

  4. Could work with windows 7 home basic sp1 Pro? That’s what i’m using with my old dell notebook and it’s great for me. Best regards.

    1. Hello Edmundo!

      Windows 7 isn’t “officially” supported, but it can be done. The main issue you’ll have is that Windows 7 doesn’t support USB3.0 natively.

      Depending on which NUC you decide to go with, you may not have access to any USB2.0 ports (and definitely no CD drive). There are some solutions to make this work though and I found the perfect article to help you if that’s the route you decide to go with.

      Here’s the link:

      https://borncity.com/win/2017/06/08/how-to-install-windows-7-on-intel-nuc-with-usb-3-0/

      Once your OS is up and running, you’ll also want to install the appropriate Thunderbolt drivers.

      If you ask me though, I’d personally go with Windows 8.1 if you ever get the chance. That’s where I drew the line, I always depsised Windows 10 (especially for music production).

      However, I’ve been using Apple computers for the past 2 years now so I can only provide limited assistance. Best of luck!

      – Stefan

      1. Ah! Really? Bad news for me so. But, i’ll take seriously your sugestions. Two USB 2.0 and a hub with charger could be fix this, cause i need to plug not only keyboard and mouse, but my Audiobox 22vsl and three keyboard controllers too. Maybe this config: one USB 2.0 for the audio card, and the other for the hub and all i mentionated above. If you think this config couldn’t work let me know. And thank you! It’s really important to me to know and you are beeing very nice answering to fast.

        1. You’ll only need USB2.0 for the installation (because Windows 7 doesn’t support USB3.0 natively). That means that once it’s installed, you can simply install the USB3.0 drivers.

          Make sure to read the article I shared, it provides 3 solutions to overcome that. You’ll be capable of using your USB3.0 ports once you install the drivers, but not during the installation of Windows 7 (unless you follow one of the solutions which involves pre-installing the drivers inside the Windows 7 installation package).

          I hope that makes sense. Take care!

          – Stefan

          1. I understood, thanks! But i have one more question. And what about overheating? Do I need to do anything to avoid it, or this mini pc don’t have this kind of issues?

          2. And for the last, you said it depends on the model I get. Could you suggest the models for audio production, besides the mentioned, and some places where I could find? Because here in Brazil the model mentioned does not have. I know, i’m doing a lot of questions and hope this is the last. Be patient! kkkk thank you!

          3. Every computer has the potential of overheating when being pushed passed its limits and when in less-than optimal environments. That being said, the Intel NUC isn’t the best computer when it comes to heat dissipation. I could also imagine the weather getting very hot in Brazil, so that’ll play a role too.

            I’m not saying that the cooling system isn’t adequate though. If you keep it clean and provide adequate ventillation/AC, you should be fine. There are many articles/tutorials on optimizing your Intel NUC.

            However, I will say that as far as mini computers are concerned, the Mac Mini has one of the best cooling systems (that’s what I use).

            Since you mentioned having difficulties finding specific models of the Intel NUC, maybe you’d be better off with the new M1 Mac Mini. It’s the same price as some of the NUCs out there and/or only slightly more expensive, but the value and quality you’re getting is unbeatable. That’s my recommendation. You can read an article I wrote about it here.

            If you’re still determined to get a NUC though, tell me which models you have access to. There isn’t a model made specifically for audio production.

            I just recommend 8th generation processors (and above), 16GB+ of RAM and at least 256GB of SSD storage with the optional TB3 port. If you find anything along those lines, it’ll be perfect.

            Hope that helps! Thanks!

            – Stefan

  5. I just bought a intel nuc i5 8 , 1tb, 32 ram. have not got it in mail yet. but i enjoyed reading about it in the article you made. I bought it for its thunderbolt ability. are there any good interfaces that work well with windows? seems macs work best with tb3. so i asked. does your intel nuc open and operate your daw flawlessly? there so small, but seem equal to any laptop that i am currently on. thankyou michele. from seattle.

    1. Hey Michele!

      I’m happy to hear that you liked the article. If you’re looking for great TB3 audio interfaces, Universal Audio has some great devices with proven track-records running on Windows-based operating systems.

      I personally use the UAD Arrow with my Mac Mini because of its portability/affordability, but it’s just as revolutionary as the rest of them. You can read more about Universal Audio interfaces by consulting this article.

      As far as DAW compatibility, I haven’t been using Windows-based machines in over a year. That being said, I’ve been hearing of issues regarding audio latency with Windows 10 (it’s an inherent flaw with the OS, it’ll behave the same on any computer and there’s no fix). The latest version of Windows I had success with was Windows 8.1 Pro, so I highly recommend installing that (on another partition at the very least) if you want to guarantee the best possible performance out of your NUC. Other than that, there’s no reason why your DAW wouldn’t work flawlessly.

      Thunderbolt 3 works just as well on Macs as it does on PC nowadays.

      The only disadvantage with Windows is the fact that it’s not optimized for this kind of work.

      If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out. Thanks for stopping by, best of luck!

      – Stefan

  6. Hello,

    I have the option to buy an Intel Nuc8i5beh with 16 gb ram 240gb m.2 ssd 8259u processor for 300€, it’s used but very good condition. I need a pc for producing and recording my music. Should I go for it ?

    1. Hey Kendrick,

      What kind of music do you record/produce? In general, I’d say like it’s a great deal!

      If you’re into orchestral/classical music, you may need more RAM. However, it doesn’t sound like it’s your case.

      My only recommendation is to install Windows 8.1 if possible. Windows 10 is terrible for sound recording and music production.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you need anything else. Thanks!

      – Stefan

  7. Hi Stefan, you have a very interesting website here. I have to share your site with my brother. He is into music production and is on the look out for a new computer for his music. I bet the Mini PC would be perfect for him. I dont know much about music production but I am sure my brother will find value in your site. Thanks again Stefan for the informative article!

    1. Hey CeCemorgan,

      I appreciate the kind words. I’m sure your brother will be more than interested, there are few people who know about the Intel NUC-series. I just couldn’t believe that Intel made such an affordable product with zero compromises. It’s also the smallest mini PC out there!

      Thanks for stopping by, take it easy!

      – Stefan

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