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Posted on September 13th, 2012 by Darien Graham-Smith

Intel NUC mini-PC review: first look

NUC1It’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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21 Responses to “ Intel NUC mini-PC review: first look ”

  1. Damian Says:
    September 13th, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    “£250 before taxes” – Suddenly it doesn’t look ‘that’ attractive as I could just put a laptop or tablet there instead. Will probably get one though as I do have spare ram and a spare mSata from a Dell Latitute St slate.

  2. Roger Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Can this do 5.1 out via hdmi? I see two hdmi ports on one model – is it able to pass sound out of each?

  3. BedfordTim Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 9:34 am

    £250 plus VAT. That is a lot to pay for the reduced size. Hopefully that includes the OS.

  4. David Wright Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Interesting, it looks nice and is cheaper than the industry PCs we currently use…

    But 2 serial ports and VGA are missing, for industrial uses.

  5. M Baldwin Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Hmmm…. Oversized/overpriced Rasberry Pi ????

  6. Paul Kennedy Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    One of these or 10*raspi’s.
    Hmm… which way will you spend you hard earned?
    Intel just do not get it.

  7. Chirag Bajaria Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    This really needs to work on Power over Ethernet (PoE) so that no bulky power brick is needed.

  8. Tim Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    It is cheaper because it will only be available for a year or so before it is replaced with a newer model. When it fails you will have the hassle of replacing it with something different.

  9. Obi Two Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    This will be swept aside by a tsunami of ARM powered Android/Linux systems. Unless Intel gets the price low enough.

  10. Tony Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Is there a fan in that box? Is it quiet enough to be used as a home theater front end?

  11. Jack O'Shyte Says:
    September 15th, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Now, if Intel NUC can just sweep the marketing wankers aside and give consumers what they want, we’ll have some fun. It is not the Mac Mini (yuck) that must be dealt with, but the Fit PC.

  12. milliganp Says:
    September 16th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    For those who want a “more than toy” computer the HP Proliant N40L with 2Gb/250Gb can be had for £130 during the current special offer period.

  13. David Wright Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 5:09 am

    @Tim I know, one of the reasons why Industry PCs cost “proper” money. We are currently guaranteed a minimum of 5 years delivery for the current specification.

    The form factor is nice though, but it is lacking useful ports. USB and HDMI haven’t infiltrated industry yet, you get VGA and serial. Although many peripherals seem to be modernising, but they are skipping USB and going straight to TCP/IP.

  14. AlanS Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    If the mSATA supports expansion then at last we have something better to put in microservers than the grossly underpowered Atoms.

    However the bare board pricing has to be much lower. Also the top (red) one has the thunderbolt port.

    A short HDMI lead and this would be ideal velcro’d onto the back of monitors with network boot in a training room.

  15. Tim Says:
    September 19th, 2012 at 1:35 am

    A lot of people don’t seem to get the idea behind this. It’s not SUPPOSED to compete with the raspberry pi – neither in function or price. This machine can replace desktops in office environments completely, the raspberry pi’s abilities are very limited thanks to its lack of processing power and that it can’t run windows. the price of the NUC may be higher but it is designed as a low end desktop replacement for use in the real world – not just for developers and enthusiasts. Considering it’s capabilities I think it is very reasonably priced for a new product. I would expect it to come down too.

  16. cping500 Says:
    September 20th, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    It’s about the same price as the Foxconn models but smaller, Foxconn” can be mounted on the back of a TV etc.

  17. ev1lspammer Says:
    September 21st, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    2 GigLan ports and at least 4x usb3.0 ports; all connected to full pci-express backend and less then 25 watts = i buy sure!

  18. Gz_mags2mk669ed0 Says:
    September 26th, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    To Darien Graham-Smith et. al.
    Do you have any details on the chipset, NIC-chip, PCIe version? Just curious about GNULinux compatibility (drivers etc.)

  19. aku Says:
    October 2nd, 2012 at 1:29 am

    seems and priced like a Mac Mini.. but Mac Mini is better in term of specs.

  20. aku Says:
    October 2nd, 2012 at 1:30 am

    *but not the SSD part. for me SSD is not that important, CPU and RAM does matter most

  21. aku Says:
    October 2nd, 2012 at 1:34 am

    sorry, USD399.. in MYR (malaysian ringgit) around RM1,200.. Mac Mini around RM1,800.. saved few hundred ringgits. seems a good deal. hopefully i5/i7 will be released soon.


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