Performance Summary & Conclusion
Performance Summary: Point blank, Intel delivers big performance in a little package with its Next Unit of Computing (NUC). Your own performance will depend on what parts you use to flesh it out, but with 4GB of RAM and a Intel 520 Series SSD, the NUC puts up some big numbers. It's PCMark 7 score was particularly impressive, as it was higher than even some dedicated gaming rigs we've recently tested. Don't mistake that to mean the NUC is a gaming PC -- it lacks a discrete GPU -- but for day to day computing and most non-gaming tasks, it will blow most mini PCs out of the water.So, is this the future of computing? Intel certainly things so, and we have to admit, the NUC makes a strong case for diminutive desktops that are small enough to hold in your hand. Heck, the NUC almost fits in your pocket. The reason a system like this even exists and can be viable to begin with is largely due to the strength of Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture. The Core i3-3217U is the heart and soul of this machine, and combined with a fast solid state drive, the NUC delivers a formidable one-two punch that can pummel almost any task you throw at it.
There are exceptions. Without a discrete GPU, you're not going to do much gaming on the NUC, or at least not anything intense. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 is great for mainstream users, but not for gamers who want to fire up Batman: Arkham City. It just doesn't have the muscle. Workstation chores and CAD level work are also a stretch.
While we're picking on the NUC's shortcomings, we have to call attention to the stability issues we encountered related to the wireless card. We're not sure what's going on there, only that we ran into several instances of system freezes that were only rectified when we removed the wireless card. That's an unacceptable solution, especially since there's no LAN port for a wired Internet connection. Keep in mind, however, that this is a pre-production model we've been playing with. Intel is currently working on a fix for the issues we ran into, and we suspect it will be ironed out by the time the NUC makes it to retail.
What we're left with, then, is a small size system that introduces a brand new form factor. We firmly believe the desktop is still very much relevant, but for those with an aversion to full- or mid-size towers, the NUC might be just what they're looking for. There are a lot of applications for a system like this, from the ones Intel explicitly points -- digital signage, home theaters, kiosks -- to wherever a space saving system makes sense. With its VESA mounting bracket, you could slap the NUC on the back of a monitor and hook up a wireless keyboard and mouse for a nifty all-in-one type machine for your home office or college dorm room. There are a lot of possibilities here.
It will be interesting to see if the consumer market embraces the NUC, especially considering the overall price tag when you're finished fleshing out. If nothing else, it's definitely intriguing.