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Who doesn’t love a good desktop setup? While laptops and tablets are becoming increasingly popular, many still can’t perform as well as a solid desktop. The problem, however, is that desktops traditionally take up a lot of valuable space, and can be difficult to justify in small offices.

As a result, the race has begun to create computers that take up as little room as possible, like the Android stick computer What Is An Android Stick Computer, And How Can You Use It? What Is An Android Stick Computer, And How Can You Use It? Miniaturization has been a computing trend for decades, but it seems to have accelerated over the past five years. Even Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing), a hockey-puck sized PC, looks large compared to ARM... Read More , while still maintaining power comparable or even sometimes greater than their larger counterparts. Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) is one such system.

What Is a NUC?

NUC can best be described as a barebone, small form factor PC. They’re pretty small, about the size of an external hard drive, although some are even smaller. Despite their size, they still pack as much power as a regular desktop. These are commonly used as home theater PCs Your First Home Theatre PC: YouTube Videos on Your TV And More Your First Home Theatre PC: YouTube Videos on Your TV And More This article will give you an overview of how to set up an HTPC, the amazing power it offers, ways to personalize yours, and how to control your system with ease. Read More , which combine the capabilities of PCs with home media centers, although they are also commonly used for programming and even gaming when hooked up to an HD television.

Set up involves installing a hard drive, memory, networking interfaces, plugging in a keyboard, mouse and display, and can generally be done in under fifteen minutes. Engadget calculated the price of setting up a system, minus the cost of a keyboard and display, and found that one can expect to pay about $600 for both the unit and the necessary components.

What Does It Do?

A NUC unit can do pretty much anything that a standard desktop is capable of. However, it does not have an optical drive and tends to not have a whole lot of space on the hard drive. A unit will also typically have a USB 2.0 port or two, sometimes a few USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an audio jack, and some sort of antenna for Bluetooth or WiFi connections.

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Because of the high level of customization required for NUC, these systems don’t have a lot of advantages over pre-assembled PCs for the average user. They cost about as much to set up as purchasing a good pre-assembled PC would. However, for someone who purchases NUC with a purpose in mind and assembles it for that purpose, it can prove to be a pretty great little machine.

NUCs have great reputations for running quietly without overheating, which is something that many laptop users unfortunately have to deal with How To Fix An Overheating Laptop How To Fix An Overheating Laptop Read More . Certain models do have fans, although there are definitely fanless varieties, which surprisingly do not tend to have overheating issues.

What Makes It Useful?

NUC Attached to LG Display

Being a very small, very portable computing system makes a NUC system perfect for on-the-go users. Not only that, but when you set up a NUC system, you’re literally building it yourself. Unlike the Mac Mini, which comes pre-assembled with everything needed to run properly, NUC only comes with the case, motherboard, and the CPU. Everything else needs to be purchased separately and then installed by the user. While that may seem like a lot of work with not a lot of benefit, this actually allows you to customize it as you please.

They’re also pretty powerful for their size, with both i3 and i5 core processors and typically supporting up to 16GB of SO-DIMM memory. Intel is currently working on NUC with an i7 processor, although it is reported to be twice as thick as its predecessors, about two inches.

NUC systems really shine when used as home theater PCs (HTPC) Entertainment On The Cheap: The Most Affordable Ways To Set Up A Home Theater Entertainment On The Cheap: The Most Affordable Ways To Set Up A Home Theater While plenty of pricey pre-built solutions exist, there are a few ways to bring a streaming box of entertainment to your living room on the cheap. With the right some open source media software, a... Read More . They are capable of storing and playing high-quality media and have a reputation for running smoothly with HD televisions. They can also be attached to HD TVs and used for relatively lag-free gaming experiences.

Something cool about many NUC units is that they are small enough to be attached to the back of some televisions, which frees up space that would otherwise be taken up by the unit. For people who don’t have a lot of space to spare, or those who choose to live minimalist lifestyles, the convenience of these systems cannot be denied.

Where Can I Get One?

640px-Intel_NUC_Haswell_(case_rear_panel)

NUC units can be found anywhere that computers can be purchased. They can be purchased directly from Intel’s website, or through online retailers such as Amazon.

The units themselves aren’t incredibly expensive, but the price is comparable to a traditional desktop once you factor in the price of memory, storage, display, keyboard, and other components which aren’t included in the kit.

This i5 unit allows for 16GB maximum of SODIMM memory, an antenna for WiFi and Bluetooth, a mount bracket if the user wanted to mount the unit to the back of a television or some other sort of display, with Intel HD graphics 5000 and Intel Turbo Boost How Intel Turbo Boost Works How Intel Turbo Boost Works Intel's Turbo Boost feature is quite useful but may not be so easy to understand for those who have never used it. Here's what you need to know. Read More , and is made to be compatible with Linux and Windows. It can be purchased for $390 on Amazon and measures about 8.9 inches by 7.9 inches by 2.6 inches.

This similar i3 unit has Intel HD graphics 4400, 4 USB 3.0 ports, has extra space for a 2.5″ HDD or SSD drive, and can be purchased for $290. It’s about 4.4 inches by 2 inches by 4.6 inches.

At the end of the day, a NUC isn’t exactly a budget computer and shouldn’t be treated as such. The average user who may not necessarily be interested in what NUC has to offer would be better off purchasing a standard desktop or laptop. But for the user who requires heavy customization and power in a small package, NUC or similar units may be worth looking into.

Do you have any experience with NUC? What about other types of small form factor PCs? Leave a comment below and tell me about it!

Image credits: Intel NUC Haswell (case rear panel) by Intel Free Press, Intel NUC VESA mounted on the back of a LG IPS234V by Kai Hendry

  1. Kwee
    October 17, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Can this be attached to an all in one computer?

  2. Dave
    April 19, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Bought one, installed existing SSD and compatible ram etc. Worked OK for a short while then couldn't find the SSD. Then it could. Then it couldn't again. I could bore you with all my attempts to get it working from trawling forums to reintalling Win 10 64-bit and using UEFI instead of BIOS to attempting to update the BIOS (Can't find product ID!) etc, but I'll just jump to the conclusion:

    The Intel NUC is a little piece of shit that doesn't work.

    In all my years of building PCs I've never encountered such a badly thought out design that has left so many people wasting valuable time attempting to resolve issues that should never arise.

    Save your money and buy a non-Intel laptop instead. Mine NUC going where every NUC should go - into a hole in the ground. Or better yet - recycled into some materials that could be used to manufacture something useful to mankind - like an AMD-based computer.

  3. No One
    January 28, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    I use 6 Intel NUCS running windows 8.1 and media center to distribute media throughout the our house. These are fantastic due to the small size and power.

    Each NUC runs a stock Windows 8.1 OS and Windows Media Center. These are connected to a two Ceton cable card tuners which allows the NUC to tune cable stations. NUCs are fitted with 8Gb ram and SSDs.

    This setup has really cleaned up the cable and power cord mess around all our television and provides some added benefits - plug in a USB camera and every television is now a skype-capable communications device, or run a VOIP client and every television now has phone capabilities.

    It's been a fantastic setup for us - unfortunately MSFT has decided to end-of-life media center; so we have to find a replacement that can tune copy protected cable content.

  4. Richard Hom
    August 9, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I use an Intel NUC as a low-powered, fanless CPU that can be movable from one place to another without much adieu . In the home, it is much less obtrusive than a full sized desktop and more durable than a laptop. I say durable because the screen and keyboad are separate thus letting me use or swap out those components when they fail.

    I also started using as a travel computer. I wanted something that had a bit more ports. I know I could use a usb hub but 4 usb hubs are important. I like most external keyboards and mice better than any laptop and couldn't see bringing along both when I already had purchased the same two items in a laptop.

    My travel kit includes the NUC, its power supply, Bluetooth miouse and keyboard (which I can share with my phone) and a portable 13.3 inch monitor. Much better than a laptop in most cases.

  5. hildyblog
    July 20, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    It's probably a motherboard issue but I would love it if they offered one with dual disks to use as NAS.

  6. A41202813GMAIL
    April 7, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Home Owners That:

    A - Do Not Need Mobility, At All,

    B - Want Freedom To Upgrade Or Replace Hardware Components Without Being Slaves To One Specific Manufacturer,

    Will Hate Any Kind Of Toys Like These Ones.

    Give Me An Open ATX Test Bench, Anytime, Please.

    Cheers.

  7. Bolillo
    April 6, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    I am currently using a Raspberry Pi 2 on Kodi (XBMC) connected to my Lenovo 8TB media server, My RPI2 resides on the back of my 50 inch in my den while the server is back in my home office. the RPI2 is totally silent and very fast while streaming from my server and the internet. the Lenovo runs silently, constantly available for access by all devices on my home network.

  8. likefunbutnot
    April 4, 2015 at 1:35 am

    I use a NUC as a home theater PC and I run a couple as micro-servers. They don't make noise and they're small enough to just get tossed in a laptop bag. I very nearly moved my company's Windows desktops to NUCs, though it turns out that too many people like having their own optical drive or wanted support for more displays than could easily be attached to one.

    They're nice machines. Using a 16GB i3 to run Kodi (XBMC) and client apps is a bit of overkill, but I've found that $500 worth of NUC can make a great replacement for aging Windows Small Business Servers running on extremely loud and power-hungry Pentium 4-era Xeons.

    Given that, they're also great vanilla desktop clients. They're not perfect (mobile-class CPUs usually leave quite a bit to be desired), but between an almost-mandatory SSD and a decent amount of RAM, they're very good all-around machines.

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