Tiny, quiet, power-efficient and fairly quick - the best barebones PC we've ever seen
The Intel NUC, or Next Unit of Computing, is the smallest computer we have ever seen. It’s a remarkable 117x112x35mm, or about the size of two thick slices of toast. It also comes supplied with a VESA mount, so you can screw it to the back of your TV.
These dimensions make it far smaller than even a Mini-ITX system, but everything about the NUC is custom. You can’t easily buy a NUC motherboard and a case and put the two together, as with a normal PC. Rather, the NUC is sold as a barebones kit with a Core i3-4010U or Core i5-4250U processor soldered in, and you have to add your own storage, wireless card and RAM.
There’s room on the tiny case for USB3 ports front and rear for peripherals and expansion
Inside the NUC, which is very simple to open with just four screws on the base, you have easily-accessible slots for two sticks of DDR3 laptop memory, a half-height Mini PCI Express slot and a slot for an mSATA SSD for your storage needs. We kitted out our NUC with two 4GB sticks of Corsair ValueSelect 1600MHz laptop RAM (around £60 from www.ebuyer.com), an Intel Wireless-AC 7260 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adaptor (around £20 from eBuyer) and a 180GB Intel 530 series mSATA SSD (around £130 from www.morecomputers.com), which together with the £302 of the NUC barebones bring the price for a functional PC up to £512. These are all standard components, so you can shop around for cheaper parts.
The only fiddly part was clipping the integrated wireless antenna into the wireless card, but the whole process took less than 10 minutes, making the NUC comfortably the simplest-to-build barebones we have seen. Depending on what kind of display you want to use with the NUC, you may need to buy an adaptor, as the NUC only has Mini DisplayPort and Mini HDMI outputs. We understand that a certain amount of miniaturisation is necessary, but it would have been good for Intel to at least include a Mini HDMI to HDMI adaptor in the box. We bought a Belkin model for £3.60 from www.ebuyer.com.
It’s an HDMI 1.4 port, so will support 4K resolutions. We had no problems connecting to a 3,840×2,160-pixel screen over both HDMI and DisplayPort, but found Windows was limited to a 30Hz refresh rate. On top of this, the Start screen animations were very slow, and even dragging around windows was jerky. It looks like integrated graphics, even the up-to-the-minute Intel HD graphics 5000 in the NUC’s i5-4250U processor, can’t handle 4K resolutions on the desktop.
Things were fine at 1,920×1,080, however, and the HD Graphics 5000 were surprisingly effective in games. In our standard Dirt Showdown test for laptop chipsets, which we run at 1,280×720 with 4x anti-aliasing and High detail, we saw an almost-smooth 28.5fps. Dropping the detail settings to Medium gave us a playable 37.4fps. We even saw a playable frame rate of 30.7fps at 1,920×1,080 with 4x anti-aliasing, once we’d dropped detail down to Low.
The NUC couldn’t really be much simpler to build
The NUC would make an excellent living room PC, so we also tested it with the platform game Trine 2, which is the kind of game you might play with a friend using gamepads on the sofa. At 1,920×1,080 and Medium detail, the NUC could handle this game’s lush graphics at an average of 30fps, which is what you need for smooth gameplay.
Application performance is fairly strong. The NUC’s dual-core processor runs at 1.6GHz, and can Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz when within its thermal limits. This helped it to an overall score of 43 in our application benchmarks – a similar score to what we’d expect from a mid-range laptop. The Core i5 version of the NUC is certainly no slouch, and will be able to handle even intensive tasks such as video encoding. The Core i3 version, which is around £70 cheaper, has a Core i3-4010U processor, and our tests of this chip in other systems have shown it to be around 25% slower than the i5-4250U.
|Processor support||Intel Core i5-4250U|
|Processor heatsink supplied||yes|
|Supported memory type||DDR3|
|Chipset north bridge||Intel H87|
|Chipset south bridge||Intel H87|
|Passively-cooled north bridge||yes|
|Graphics Processor||Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|Graphics memory type||shared|
|USB2 ports (front/rear)||2/2|
|Firewire ports (front/rear)||0/0|
|Graphics/video ports||Mini DisplayPort, Mini HDMI|
|Other ports||3.5mm headset jack|
|PCI-E x1 slots||2|
|PCI-E x4 slots||0|
|PCI-E x16 slots||0|
|Dual 3D architecture||N/A|
|Serial ATA ports||1|
|3.5in drive bays||0|
|5.25in drive bays||0|
|Wired network ports||1x 10/100/1000|
|Wireless networking support||none|
|Sound||Intel HD Audio|
|Sound outputs||3.5mm headset|
|Supported memory cards||N/A|
|Power supply wattage||65W|
|Power consumption standby||3W|
|Power consumption idle||8W|
|Power consumption active||24W|