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

Getting Inside the NUC

Intel made it super simple to get inside the NUC to service or upgrade parts. There are four Phillips screws sunk into the rubber feet that need to be loosened, and once you've done that, the bottom panel pops right off (you may need to wedge it a little bit). The screws in the feet are non-removable so you don't need to worry about losing them.

There's not a ton you can do inside the NUC, but the parts that are available to tinker with are easily accessibly, starting with the RAM. Two SO-DIMM memory slots sit at the top, supporting up to 16GB of DDR3-1066/1333 RAM. We installed a pair of 2GB sticks for a total of 4GB, which is probably the sweet for a system like this.

On the opposite side is where you'll plug in your mSATA SSD. For the purposes of this evaluation, Intel supplied us with an unreleased 180GB mSATA drive from its 520 Series. It features a SATA 6Gbps interface and is powered by LSI's SandForce SF-2281 controller.

Underneath the SSD is where you'd plug in a wireless card, like the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 that Intel bundled with this test system. This, along with above mentioned SSD, will not come with the consumer package.

Here's the NUC without any components installed. Notice there are two wires dangling in the lower left corner. These are antennas for the wireless card, which snap into place if you choose use one. As we said before, this particularly model doesn't have a LAN port, so if you need Internet access, you either have to install a wireless card or use up one of the three USB ports on wireless dongle.

Getting at the underbelly of the NUC is only slightly more tricky. You need to remove two black Phillips screws in the bottom corners of the motherboard (next to the rear I/O ports). With a little bit of finagling, the mobo lifts up and away, just if you were removing it from a desktop tower.

Flipping it over reveals the CPU cooler, fan, and exhaust apparatus. The fan is separate from the heatsink, so if it fails for any reason, it's a quick and easy fix.

Underneath the fan and heastink is an Intel Core i3-\ 3217U (Ivy Bridge) processor soldered onto the motherboard. It's a dual-core CPU clocked at 1.8GHz with 3MB of cache, HyperThreading support, integrated Intel HD Graphics, and a 17W TDP. The GPU has a base frequency of 350MHz and a max dynamic frequency of 1.05GHz. Overall it's a pretty potent chip for a such a small sized system.

Here's a closer look at the wireless card and mSATA SSD arrangement. This also happens to be the source of system lockups, though we're not entirely sure why. The most obvious culprit seems to be heat. The wireless card tends to get very hot during use, and on several occasions, the system would freeze up, forcing us to physically detach the power cable (if we held the power button to turn the system off, the SSD wouldn't be recognized when powering back on). This would happen during large file downloads, file transfers, system updates, and even when loading a benchmark.

The reason we suspect it's an issue with the wireless card is because once we removed it, the NUC performed just fine, albeit without Internet access. There were no more lockups. We typically don't like to glance at other reviews when working on our own (to avoid setting ourselves up for a predisposed bias), but we did peek around to see if others had run into similar issues, and sure enough, we weren't the only ones.

Apparently Intel is aware of the issue is working on a BIOS update to resolve it. This is something we suspect will be fixed before launching to retail (this is a pre-production model, after all).

Tags:  Reviews, Intel, systems, NUC

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