bit-tech.net

Intel NUC - a mini-PC revolution?

Posted on 25th Feb 2013 at 10:00 by Antony Leather with 22 comments

Antony Leather
It’s an immensely exciting time for anyone interested in small form factor hardware. Whether you’re gaming and performance focused or interested in gear perfect for an HTPC, there’s plenty of new stuff arriving on shelves at the moment.

The Raspberry Pi phenomenon has ignited a growing obsession with ultra-small embedded motherboards – wallet-sized pieces of silicon with soldered-on low-power CPUs. They’re not of much interest to gamers, for the simple reason that the CPUs included in most of these new dinky motherboards are picked to be able to deal with HD movie playback and that’s about it.

Many can’t even run Windows, although there’s clearly plenty of scope for Linux-based systems and HTPC interfaces such as XMBC.
However, leaving Linux to one side, there is one new miniature motherboard that I find pretty interesting, especially from an HTPC perspective.

Intel NUC - a mini-PC revolution?
Click to enlarge

Intel's NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is essentially a sub mini-ITX motherboard with an embedded Intel Core i3 CPU. There are two models available at the moment, both sporting an Intel Core i3-3217U, and they can be bought with or without a case. Features are a little lacking, namely in the USB 3 department, but for a case, Core i3 CPU and motherboard, the asking price of a little over £200 isn't unreasonable, given that a mini-ITX system with CPU, cooler, motherboard and case retail for not a lot less. There are reports that a cheaper model will be released soon too.

Intel NUC - a mini-PC revolution?
Click to enlarge

One model has Thunderbolt, the other a LAN port (they lack WiFi as standard too) but they both have one half-height mini PCI-E slot and above that a full-height one. The obvious choice here is to install a half-height WiFi card and m-SATA SSD. However, mini PCI-E to PCI-E adaptors do exist, which means you could then use a SATA 6Gbps PCI-E card, or even a combined SATA 6Gbps and USB 3 card. Whether these would be compatible we're not entirely sure but as soon as we get our hands on a unit, we'll let you know.

Intel NUC - a mini-PC revolution?
Actual size of the NUC compared to mini-ITX in the centre and micro-ATX on the right - click to enlarge

Size-wise, it's undeniably dinky. In fact it makes mini-ITX look big. It's not even that deep, despite the cooler being integrated and this is thanks to the ultra-low power mobile Core i3-3217U, which is of the Ivy Bridge architecture and has a TDP of just 17W. Seeing as you can run a full-fat desktop Core i3 with the lowliest of coolers, Intel is clearly playing to its strengths.

Intel NUC - a mini-PC revolution?
Click to enlarge

However, along with size and low power, the NUC has more than enough grunt to deal with tasks that would have flummoxed an Atom CPU, such as streaming high definition video. In that sense, I'm quite taken with Intel's new offering. It's not going to make a big entrance on the gaming or power PC scene, but its size alone will undoubtedly make it a worthwhile addition to your shopping list for an HTPC for example, and we've already seen pictures of it strapped to the back of monitors.

Personally I hate PCs that take up more space than they need to, and it's one reason I love small form factor cases and hardware. For this reason alone the NUC is very interesting, at least for general use, especially if you're not into demanding games.

What do you think about the Intel NUC? Let us know in the forum.

22 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Tynecider 25th February 2013, 12:09 Quote
Small enough to mod into an atx case, nice.
SchizoFrog 25th February 2013, 12:22 Quote
As the focus from hardware manufacturers continues to be towards taking small performance steps forwards while leaping forward with regards to power draw and TDP, I can see over the lifespan of the next gen consoles we will have micro sized units that will actually outperform the consoles, be cheaper to build with, offer far more features and also come in for a cheaper all round price.
If you are not a professional using high end PC hardware or an extreme game gaming at resolutions far and beyond that of 1080p then I see the next 2 years being very, very interesting indeed.
jrs77 25th February 2013, 12:38 Quote
It's a nice thing to see intel leaping forward with this NUC, but imho it lacks a SATA-port for a big storage-HDD. Otherwisse this would be a very nice HTPC with enough power to throw some encoding/decoding-tasks at it.
tonyd223 25th February 2013, 12:38 Quote
Too much old hardware lying around - my media pc is based on a dual core socket 939 - completely out of date but it plays video at 1080, and does the general web browsing, video watching, youtube thing adequately. I know it could use less power, be smaller, run quieter, but it cost me nothing...
EvilRusk 25th February 2013, 12:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
As the focus from hardware manufacturers continues to be towards taking small performance steps forwards while leaping forward with regards to power draw and TDP, I can see over the lifespan of the next gen consoles we will have micro sized units that will actually outperform the consoles, be cheaper to build with, offer far more features and also come in for a cheaper all round price.
If you are not a professional using high end PC hardware or an extreme game gaming at resolutions far and beyond that of 1080p then I see the next 2 years being very, very interesting indeed.

I agree. I have played about with Pi and my android phone docked to my monitor and they really make my desktop look like some kind of antique.

I have my Pi set up as a NAS / VPN / DLNA server but I'd like something with a bit more power like the Odroid http://www.hardkernel.com/renewal_2011/main.php but this Intel NUC looks more interesting still.

Practically every electronics device is a mini-pc these days so interesting times it is!
Andy Mc 25th February 2013, 12:53 Quote
The idea of Intel's NUC is great. Shame the availablity a bit of an issue and that there is no SATA port, meaning you have to use more expensive MSATA hd.
Sheiken 25th February 2013, 16:32 Quote
I like this a lot more.

When it comes to small pcs I honestly believe that ARM is the future.

http://apc.io/products/paper/
azazel1024 25th February 2013, 16:32 Quote
Meh, it would work as an HTPC for me. Some point soon I am going to be yanking the 32GB mSATA SSD out of my ultrabook (as well as its 500GB 2.5") to put a 240GB 2.5" SSD in there. I already have a spare 4GB SODIMM.

So I have the memory and storage taken care of. I'd just get the one with the network port and I have my HTPC. I stream everything off my server already, so I don't need more than 32GB of storage.

That is sufficient for OS and a few add-on applications as well as maybe an installed game or two...the kind of ones I'd used on an HTPC, such as a PSX or PS2 emulator and an ISO or two (granted only one at a time, but again, network connection, pull down or just run current ISO off the network. Server has dual intel NICs in it teamed right now as well as a pair of 2TB drives in RAID0, so bandwidth across the network is not an issue).
SchizoFrog 25th February 2013, 18:57 Quote
Correct me if I am wrong but ARM is only a temporary solution. Intel and AMD are working on some seriously low power x86 based processor and eventually they will over take ARM not just on the performance levels but on the efficiency front too.
Maybe we will see a swing away from x86 as Microsoft has embraced ARM but with the likes of next gen consoles going the way of x86 based processors I can't see x86 going anywhere too soon. As I said, once x86 can keep it's instruction sets, performance AND bring in the small scale and efficiency... there just won't be a need for ARM.
stupido 25th February 2013, 20:12 Quote
Boscoe 25th February 2013, 23:25 Quote
What's the Thunderbolt for? I thought it was an Apple thing?
SchizoFrog 25th February 2013, 23:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boscoe
What's the Thunderbolt for? I thought it was an Apple thing?

Uh, another one? It was developed with Intel as a development of Intel's original tech called 'Light Peak'.
It's a high speed data link, fast enough to run and several high end devices or even a fairly powerful GPU card externally.
faugusztin 25th February 2013, 23:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boscoe
What's the Thunderbolt for? I thought it was an Apple thing?

As said, it's an Intel thing, and it's a mini Displayport combined with a PCI-E 2.0 x4.
Gradius 26th February 2013, 04:44 Quote
I hate that kind of cooler (same as on notebooks). They won't last at all!

Btw, this thing will need a new case for it. I might get one just for log purposes.
Xir 26th February 2013, 08:06 Quote
Hmmm, with the HD4000 it's easily powerfull enough to make a HTPC, and also to replace a common grey office box.
I'd use it for that, suppose someone puts a big cooler onto that thing, you'd have a passively cooled office box, no maintainance required. Not bad at all.
(just silly to omit USB3 though)
play_boy_2000 26th February 2013, 08:19 Quote
If the likes of the WDTV wern't around, maybe I'd take interest. Other than digital signage and people who want a windows htpc, I see this as little more than intel trying to create a new market that, just like the netbook is under powered and needs to be upgraded regularly.
aLtikal 26th February 2013, 12:25 Quote
Ahhh if only they had given this a MOLEX power input or a SATA Power connecter, Then we could fit this inside a PC....and have a PC, within a PC ha.
PingCrosby 26th February 2013, 17:16 Quote
Ha ha ha haaaaaa, there's no such thing, next you'll be telling me there's a device for telling the time off your very own wrist, stuff and nonsense
Boscoe 27th February 2013, 10:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boscoe
What's the Thunderbolt for? I thought it was an Apple thing?

Uh, another one? It was developed with Intel as a development of Intel's original tech called 'Light Peak'.
It's a high speed data link, fast enough to run and several high end devices or even a fairly powerful GPU card externally.

Thanks, I haven't really looked but the only thing I had seen Thunderbolt on was Apple gear. Apple also kind of made it their own really...
faugusztin 27th February 2013, 10:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boscoe
Thanks, I haven't really looked but the only thing I had seen Thunderbolt on was Apple gear. Apple also kind of made it their own really...

Really ?
http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/Z77%20Extreme6TB4/
http://www.asus.com/Motherboard/P8Z77V_PREMIUM/
http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4280
http://www.msi.com/product/mb/Z77A-G45-Thunderbolt.html
LightningPete 10th March 2013, 02:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boscoe
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boscoe
What's the Thunderbolt for? I thought it was an Apple thing?

Uh, another one? It was developed with Intel as a development of Intel's original tech called 'Light Peak'.
It's a high speed data link, fast enough to run and several high end devices or even a fairly powerful GPU card externally.

Thanks, I haven't really looked but the only thing I had seen Thunderbolt on was Apple gear. Apple also kind of made it their own really...

Its also an email client from firefox ;) :-P
LightningPete 10th March 2013, 02:19 Quote
Nice a mini mini mini PC thats actually capable of doing some lean-mean time in the multitasking department. Something able to run windows also (as were all windows haters we most capable of using it).
Log in

You are not logged in, please login with your forum account below. If you don't already have an account please register to start contributing.



Discuss in the forums
Asus Z97i-Plus Review

Asus Z97i-Plus Review

20th October 2014

Asus ROG Gladius Review

Asus ROG Gladius Review

15th October 2014