Intel NUC review
A basic but irresistibly tiny PC that sets a new standard for compactness and power-efficiency
Review Date: 14 Jan 2013
Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith
Price when reviewed: DC3217IYE, £185 (£222 inc VAT); DC3217BY, £204 (£245 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Despite the pompous name, Intel’s “Next Unit of Computing” is actually one of the most modest PCs we’ve seen. Measuring less than five inches square, and standing a squat inch-and-a-half tall, it’s an attractively diminutive box that manages to make even Apple’s Mac mini look big – and at first glance the price appears sensational.
What you’re buying isn’t a complete system, however. Whether you choose the all-black DC3217IYE (£222 inc VAT) or the pricier maroon-topped DC3217BY (£245), all you get is a motherboard, processor and case. There’s no OS included, nor any memory or storage; there isn’t even a power cable in the box.
The requisite extra components aren’t at all difficult to install – with the right screwdriver you can fit everything in sixty seconds – but they up the budget significantly. And if you were hoping to populate your NUC with old spare parts, be warned that Intel’s lilliputian design demands DDR3 SODIMMs and storage in the modern mSATA format.
The colour isn’t the only difference between the two NUC models. The DC3217IYE provides a Gigabit Ethernet socket at the back along with two HDMI sockets, while the DC3217BY bears a Thunderbolt connector instead, with a single HDMI socket. That means the DC3217BY has no networking capabilities at all out of the box – but both models provide an internal half-length mini-PCI Express slot with antenna connections, so you can add wireless networking if you wish.
The only other connectors on offer are a pair of USB sockets at the back, with a third at the front. Oddly, these all run at USB 2 speeds, rather than USB 3, which is crazy. With internal storage limited to a single mSATA drive, the NUC is crying out for high-speed external connectivity. The BY model does offer the possibility of hooking up external disks via Thunderbolt, but these are far more expensive than their USB 3 equivalents.
Inside, both NUCs are powered by a surface-mounted Core i3-3217U, clocked at 1.8GHz. Like all Core i3 systems the NUC lacks Turbo Boost, so you won’t see that frequency ramp up, even under heavy workloads. The processor does, however, offer two physical cores, with Hyper-Threading providing two additional virtual cores, and in practice we found Windows 8 running on a NUC (the DC3217BY in this case) with 3GB of DDR3-1066 and a 32GB Samsung PM830 system disk was perfectly smooth.
To quantify that, we ran our Real World Benchmarks on a system hooked up to a 1080p display: its Responsiveness score of 0.67 confirms that sense of slickness, while a more ponderous 0.37 in the Multitasking test exposes the limits of the dual-core CPU.
We also tried running our standard Crysis benchmarks, to test the NUC’s integrated HD 4000 GPU. Here, the system averaged a barely playable 28fps in our Low quality Crysis test, falling to 18fps in the Medium test and 8fps at High detail.
The NUC's low-power design has upsides. For one, cooling requirements are minimal. At all loads, the built-in CPU fan is barely audible, even when you stick your ear near the vent; use the VESA mount that’s included with the BY model to affix the NUC to the back of your monitor and you won’t hear it at all. Another benefit is power efficiency: sitting at the Windows 8 desktop, our NUC idled at an absurdly low eight watts, and even in the throes of our multi-apps test it never topped 20W.
Sitting at the Windows 8 desktop, our NUC idled at an absurdly low eight watts
With its frugal processor and limited connectivity options, the NUC will never be as capable or versatile as the Apple Mac mini – and the cost of adding storage, memory, an OS and a networking adapter eats away at the price advantage. Our test system would have set us back a total of £397 if we had bought all the elements from scratch.
Yet there’s something delightful about the tininess, quietness and overall simplicity of the NUC design. For a front-room system, an always-on server or a basic office desktop, a NUC could be just the ticket – and if Intel ever produces a version with USB 3, it will deserve serious consideration from anyone seeking a stylish compact PC. For now, though, while these first two models prove that the NUC concept has tremendous promise, they’re simply too limited for a general recommendation.
Author: Darien Graham-Smith
The German test review I read (c't magazine), said that the processor doesn't have sufficient cooling and the system throttles its performance under constant heavy load.
By big_D on 14 Jan 2013
I can't find the c't article to which you refer online, but I have to say we didn't observe any throttling problems: the benchmark scores our test unit achieved are just as we'd expect from a 17W Core i3 (cf. our review of the Asus VivoBook S200E which uses the same processor). Could it be that that the problem has been fixed in a BIOS update? Our NUC had the latest available BIOS, dated 13 December 2012.
By DarienGS on 14 Jan 2013
The article is in the current paper issue, so only available online behind the paywall.
http://www.heise.de/ct/inhalt/2013/03/060/ You can order the mag, leave a comment or send a letter...
By big_D on 14 Jan 2013
By DarienGS on 14 Jan 2013
Absolutely mental design decision to put USB2 ports on this. In fact, it's mental to put USB2 ports on ANYTHING. It's 2013 FFS!
By PaulOckenden on 14 Jan 2013
Mr Ockenden has put it very succinctly.....
I rather suspect that the V2.x will include the next generation "Haswell" chips\chipset (or a version thereof).
Failure to include both USB3 and better graphics will be just silly....
By wittgenfrog on 14 Jan 2013
It is Intel...
Therefore, they would prefer you bought Thunderbolts and Lighting instead of USB3...
By big_D on 14 Jan 2013
I want this for my main ubuntu station
Seriously tempted by this for my everyday machine - will install ubuntu.
The small form factor and quiet running v tempting.
Will be interesting to see what the v2 looks like.
By longn on 14 Jan 2013
Does it fit to the Vesa mount on the back of a monitor to produce an 'all-in-one' PC?
If not, why not?
By grimerking on 14 Jan 2013
A Chip on the old Block?
Sorry but I find the thing just looks like a brick!
Far better to have given it a good graphics card and put it inside a Hi Res, Hi Def, Television so that online games can be played from scratch.
OH so sorry... That exists already in the shape of other consoles.
Still rather a brick then?
By lenmontieth on 15 Jan 2013
Instant order from me! I have a spare 256Gb Crucial mSata sitting there along with 8Gb Vengeance ram which should ensure the HD4000 runs well.
By rhythm on 20 Jan 2013
I'm amazed this didn't get a more resoundingly positive response in Hot Hardware; this a great but if kit especially if a cheap upgrade is needed and you already own other items of hardware.
One question: by "five inches square," do you actually mean "five square inches?"
By captaintau on 23 Jan 2013
Hope they put Thunderbolt on it or Lightpeak.
By FRETPICK on 24 Jan 2013
I got one as replacement for my ASRock 330 ION that had started playing up and is running Windows 8 XBMC and MediaPortal and it is superb for this.
It is silent and very quick. Cost was a tad high for a media centre at £335 - with 8GB RAM and 40GB Intel SSD (NAS streaming running so no more needed).
Overall I am very pleased with it so far.
By kralcs on 25 Feb 2013
They did include 1 Thunderbolt port on the "Campers Lake" motherboard and "Box Canyon" barebone.
You can find it here: http://www.logicsupply.com/products/dc3217by
By mk3090 on 13 Mar 2013
The NUC will mount to VESA, but it requires an extra mounting plate.
Some providers are offering a solution that wouldn't need an additional mounting plate:
By mk3090 on 13 Mar 2013
- Google reveals why it thinks we'll buy smartwatches
- Windows 8.2/Windows 9: release date, features and free cloud version
- Apple's top reasons for rejecting apps
- Raspberry Pi unveils HTML5-optimised browser
- Apple and FBI "actively investigating" celeb photo hack
- Swatch Touch smartwatch in development
- Did iCloud flaw lead to celeb photo hack?
- Microsoft refuses to hand over customer emails
- Apple signs up credit-card companies for NFC payments
- Apple bans developers from selling your health data
- 20 years of PC Pro: our best covers
- Why we've closed the PC Pro forums
- How to turn off Google Location Tracking
- 20 years of PC Pro: our greatest review mistakes
- 20 years of PC Pro: our first A-List
- Wikipedia's "right to be forgotten" protest hits the wrong note
- 3D printing hits the high street for plastic selfies
- 20 years of PC Pro: What amazed us in our first issue
- How Google Glass ruined my lunch hour
- Smartphone battery packs: can a USB power pack beat the festival battery blues?
- Best of IFA 2014: what smartphones, tablets, smartwatches are expected to launch at IFA this year?
- How to uninstall a program on Windows: remove unwanted apps from your PC
- How to format a USB drive on a Mac or Windows
- What’s the best 4G network in the UK?
- How to set up a wireless hotspot for your business: give customers free or paid for internet access
- How to download YouTube videos: save YouTube videos to your iPhone, iPad, laptop or Android device
- How to access iCloud on a PC
- Nexus 5 vs Moto G 4G (2014 model)
- Chromecast vs Roku Streaming Stick vs Apple TV: what's the best TV streaming device?
- The 8 best small tablets of 2014: what's the best compact tablet?
- How to sell more ebooks on Amazon
- 10 ways to make your business more secure
- Top five VoIP mistakes
- How to add in-app purchasing to an iPhone, Android or Windows app
- Remote-control ransomware: TeamViewer and software hardball
- Why laptops with serial ports matter to the Internet of Things
- Make your mobile battery last longer
- Small steps into handling Big Data
- Nexus 5: does it really run stock Android?
- How to get broadband to a garden office