Time for a new shack PC–any suggestions?

My trusty Gateway tower PC here at SWLing Post HQ is finally showing signs of wear–the boot drive is getting noisy, the cooling fans are being taxed and Win 10 can’t even complete the latest update. I purchased the Gateway in 2012 as a “shack” PC and loaded it with SDR applications, logging programs and very little else. It has an Intel core i5 processor 2320 which has handled running multiple SDR applications simultaneously with little problem.

I could tear apart this PC, try to find the issues and replace parts, but I think I might do better simply upgrading the whole system.

I no longer feel like I need a tower PC configuration–I’d rather have something with a smaller footprint–though I do appreciate the accessibility inside to swap parts and make incremental upgrades. I also like having a built-in optical drive and SD card reader which are typical features on tower PCs.

Since I connect no less than three or four SDRs and an external hard drive all at once, USB ports are a necessity.

Any recommendations?

I’m out of touch with current PC models, but here are a list of my needs and wants.


  • Recent generation Intel i5 or i7 processor
  • Minimum of four USB 3.0 ports
  • Quiet power supply (to minimize RFI, of course)
  • Affordable: $500-600 budget
  • Windows 10 operating system
  • Potential for longevity (6 years+)
  • 12+ GB of RAM (or the ability to add)


  • Solid state boot drive (or the ability to add later)
  • Dual display support
  • Optical drive (CD/DVD)
  • Small footprint
  • No bloatware to delete
  • Quiet

I’m currently considering:

Any other suggestions or advice?  Please comment!

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21 thoughts on “Time for a new shack PC–any suggestions?

  1. Edward

    My suggestion may be to refurbish it yourself. I hope you saved the Windows install disc. Replace the fans with ball bearing fans. Hopefully it has writable CD Rom drive . Save all your data files onto CD ROMs .
    Find out what software is installed on the system and get the install discs ready. I would completely disassemble the PC, PS and evict all the dust hippopotamuses, and wipe down all surfaces with a damp rag. Re assemble then restart to see if it still works. Get a similar hard drive and swap it out. Reboot system with install disk then reinstall OS onto new system. It is an involved process. I always built my PCs from castaway parts at flea-markets swap-fests ect.

  2. TomL

    Don’t buy Gateway or Acer, not impressed. HP and Dell are good, perhaps Lenovo. Everything has some bloatware now, especially Windows 10 too. Hp has its own Support software but is somewhat useful sometimes. Delete win 10 appx apps with two PowerShell commands, and manually uninstall the others. Not sure about quiet power supplies.

    I personally do not like refurbished, too much horsing around with old specs.

    I like win 7 better but it is going away….

    1. TomL

      Powershell – Run As Administrator (even if you are logged in as the Admin), run these scripts:

      Get-appxprovisionedpackage –online | where-object {$_.packagename –notlike “*store*”} | Remove-AppxProvisionedPackage –online

      Get-AppxPackage -AllUsers | where-object {$_.name –notlike “*store*”} | Remove-AppxPackage

      Each will give a bunch of errors but dont mind them. Exit Powershell and Unpin remaining tiles off the Start menu and Uninstall any apps still showing if it lets you like CandyCrush. I do this at work for ALL Windoze 10 machines. I also set Settings– Personalization– Start to stop showing Suggested apps.

      A new machine will be nice but just clean it up the way you like. Hope this helps.

  3. Paul Sobon

    I will second Golan’s reco of an Intel NUC NUC7i7BNH. I have one, very happy with it. Small footprint at reasonable cost since you add in your own memory and SSD drive for the performance you want.

  4. David Bley

    I tend to buy off lease Dells. You can buy them several places, I usually get them from Newegg or Tiger. They have been in service for a couple of years and are refirbished with a warranty and a new OS. Mine have been about half the price you are looking at but may not have all the RAM that you are looking for. I have had my share of many machines but Dell provides best support. I have two win 10 machines and a Ubuntu Mate 16.04 machine.I use linux except for taxes and wife uses win. My experience with HP is not good.

  5. Chris L.

    One option, which might be a bit more expensive but still a good machine is the meerkat from system76 (www.system76.com). It is rather customizable, and a small footprint. You can have a latest-generation I7 if you want, all storage is SSDs, and there are three display ports. The only downside for your requirements is that it comes with Linux on it, which I understand is not what you’re looking for. Still, I can say from experience that they support windows, although I don’t use mine for this purpose.

  6. Golan Klinger

    While I’m a long time user and advocate of macOS, I wouldn’t recommend buying a Mac mini at this point. The current models haven’t been updated in quite some time and do not currently represent very good value. Moreover, while I feel macOS is superior from a technical standpoint, there is a much wider array of radio-related software for Windows.

    As for hardware, I would recommend the Intel NUC NUC7i7BNH. It’s powerful, tiny and reasonably priced. They come as “kits” meaning you will need to add RAM and storage to meet your particular needs (doing so doesn’t require much in the way of technical know-how.) A NUC would tick all your boxes ecept for an optical drive. A USB external drive is < $100 so that's not much of a limitation.

    There are all kinds of mini PCs on the market but my professional experience indicates it's worth paying the small premium for one from Intel.

    1. Thomas Post author

      I like the look of the NUC. I see that New Egg has a number with the OS pre-loaded, too. I like the form factor a lot–essentially the Intel version of the Mac Mini. Thanks!

  7. John Beckwith

    If you want a small footprint, you might consider a Fit PC4. They come in different configurations but all are about half the size of a cigar box. Mine is all solid state. SSD drive and 4 gig of ram. You can go to 16 gig of ram and two ssd or mechanical drives. Mine has 8 usb ports, two hdmi ports, wired and wireless internet .
    I have a linux version but windows versions are also available. There are no fans or mechanical devices and the power supply is separate, so you can use it as a portable device. Under full load mine never gets hotter than 85 degrees. Made in Israel and designed to run 24/7 in industrial applications. They are totally sealed except of drive and memory slots. As I recall, max. power requirement is 35 watts.
    Mine has been running for two years, no problem. I put my Tecsun Pl-880 beside it with no RFI problems. Great warranty. Got mine from Amazon.
    No DVD drive. As I recall, I paid $389 for mine.

  8. Frank M. Howell

    If all these are new, you might try a refurbished unit from Dell. They also sell on eBay. All offer some warranty. The Optiplex 990 comes in three form factors. Since you’re experienced in replacing parts, you could max the RAM up to 16GB, make sure the latest Dell BIOS is installed, and the prices of SSDs is great right now. Installing an inexpensive nVidia CUDA card will also allow you more added benefits. Simon Brown’s SDR Console 3 will utilize CUDA for enhanced performance. Btw, I use two of these in my own shack.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Thanks, Frank. I had already checked out Dell refurbs on their site, but not on eBay. If it’s a big savings, I might give it a go.


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