Intel's Tiny NUC "Next Unit of Computing" PC

Introduction & Specifications

Let's dispense with an emerging myth right now: The desktop isn't dead. Far from it. Rather, the desktop is evolving, and this is an exciting time to be a technophile. The advancements we've seen in just the past 12 months are nothing short of remarkable. Solid state drives (SSDs) are getting faster and cheaper, finally making for a viable alternative to the mechanical hard drive that has ruled the desktop for so long. Memory kits are bigger than ever, USB 3.0 is now commonplace, and architectures like Intel's Ivy Bridge have taken processor and integrated graphics performance to whole new levels.

These and other advancements are what make Intel's latest desktop evolution possible. The "Intel Next Unit of Computing" (NUC), as it's appropriately called, is an ultra compact desktop system that's small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, while packing a performance punch that belies its diminutive stature. Power users looking to game on their high-resolution 30-inch monitors need not apply, but there are plenty of markets for a system like this, not the least of which is the mainstream buyer. Intel says its NUC is also ideal for digital signage, kiosks, home theater setups, and anywhere else where space is at a premium.

When Intel first told us about the NUC, we were intrigued by its potential. It's rocking a 3rd Generation Core i3-3217U processor soldered onto the motherboard, two SO-DIMM slots with DDR3-1066/1333 memory support, onboard 8-channel audio, mSATA support, and several connectivity ports. All of this comes packed into a 4-inch x 4-inch frame.

"Imagine a computing device powerful enough to produce stunning visuals with responsive performance. Yet small enough to drive digital signage, kiosks, or other applications demanding performance in a tight space. We did. The result is the Intel Nex Unit of Computing,"  Intel pitches.

The NUC is essentially an Ultrabook in a mini destktop body. It's also a brand new form factor -- uCFF (Ultra Compact Form Factor) -- one that Intel will presumably push to make official. For now, is the world ready for such a device? And equally important, is it a capable machine for its intended purposes? To help answer these questions, Intel sent us a pre-production model to examine and put through its paces. Let's have a look.

Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) -- DC3217BY
Specifications & Features
Form Factor
AA# (Altered Assembly)
Processor Intel Core i3 3217-U (soldered down) w/ active heatsink
Memory Two SO-DIMM slots for 1066/1333MHz memory support
Display HDMI port supporting HDMI 1.4a output; Thunderbolt port supporting DisplayPort 1.1a
Audio Intel High Definition Audio (Intel HD Audio) in the following configuration:
> 8-channel (7.1) digital audo via one HDMI 1.4a output and/or via one ThunderBolt connector (DisplayPort 1.1a)
Expansion Capabilities Full size mini PCI Express w/ mSATA support
Half size mini PCI Express
Included in the box
19V, 65W power brick
VESA mounting bracket
Wi-Fi antennae (integrated into the chassis)
Core i3 logo
Dimensions 4.59 inches by 4.41 inches by 1.55 inches
Warranty 3 years
Pricing: $300-$320

As a barebones kit, consumers will have to add certain components to flesh out Intel's NUC system. Intel provided us with its 520 Series 180GB mSATA solid state drive (SSD) and Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 wireless card, both of which we're told will not ship with the consumer edition. We then added 4GB (2x2GB) of Samsung DDR3-1333 notebook memory and installed Windows 8.

Finalizing the NUC build highlights one of Intel's first challenges in pushing this system into the marketplace, and that's cost. The target price for the NUC box is ~$300-$320. Add another $190 for the mSATA SSD, $20 for a 4GB memory kit similar to the one we used, about $25 for the Wireless-N adapter (optional, but we highly recommend it), and the OS of your choice. The grand total comes to over $500 for a system that's only partially upgradeable (the CPU is soldered to the motherboard).

Tags:  Reviews, Intel, systems, NUC

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