Intel NUC mini-PC review: first look

It’s not just transistors that are shrinking at Intel. In an unobtrusive corner of IDF, the company has been demonstrating its new “Next Unit of Computing” (NUC) mini-PC, based on a 4in square motherboard and a tasteful moulded plastic case.

Internally, the NUC is powered by a 17-watt Core i3-3217U processor soldered to the underside of the motherboard. It's a dual-core, Hyper-Threaded Ivy Bridge part clocked at 1.8GHz with no Turbo Boost – not exactly a powerhouse, but considerably more capable than the Atoms we've come to associate with tiny PCs.

The motherboard offers two SO-DIMM slots, supporting up to 16GB of DDR3, an mSATA slot for storage and a mini PCI-E slot for adding a wireless or other card as required.

External peripherals can be connected via three USB 2 ports (one at the front, two at the rear). Video output and wired networking options come in two variants: one sort of board comes with two HDMI ports and an RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet socket; the other offers one HDMI port and one Thunderbolt port.

For more demanding customers, Intel plans future releases with Core i5 and i7 processors, and also intends to upgrade the peripheral ports to USB 3. But already, in its current form, the NUC is perfectly equal to everyday office tasks, media centre duties and even casual games, thanks to the onboard HD Graphics 4000 GPU.

Pricing and availability

The best part is that by thinking small and simple, Intel has kept the price low. The first complete NUC systems – populated with 4GB of RAM and a 40GB internal SSD – are expected to go on sale in the US next month for $399, equivalent to around £250 before taxes. Bare boards with cases will also be available for those who want to assemble their own bespoke systems.

It’s interesting to see Intel manufacturing and selling PCs directly to users – an escalation, perhaps, of the heavily Intel-branded Ultrabook initiative. Like Microsoft with its Surface tablets, the company seems to be gradually expanding into areas previously left to OEMs, though there’s no reason why other manufacturers can’t produce their own systems conforming to the NUC format.

If they do, though, they may have to move fast to catch the wave. The NUC has attracted a lot of positive buzz here at IDF, and I suspect pre-orders will be brisk. Indeed, while we don’t have a date for a UK launch, whenever it does reach these shores there’s a very good chance I’ll be among those queueing up on day one to get my hands on a NUC of my own.

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