Tuesday, 19 January 2016 15:44

This NUC kinda snuck up on me (review)

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Mini-PCs have been around for some time – Intel’s NUC takes it to an art form. Or as it prefers to say “All the power without the tower.”

Imagine a complete Windows 10 PC in a box 115 x 111 x 32mm that is small enough to attach to the VESA holes on the back of a monitor. The NUC has HDMI/Mini Display Port, SDXC Slot, 4 x USB 3.0, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, audio, IR receiver, and everything a hulking big desktop has – except an expansion bus.

Imagine that you can chose from Intel 5th or 6th generation Core i3, i5, i7, (or earlier Pentium and Atom), DDR4 or DDR3 SO-DIMM, 2.5” SATA or M.2 SSD cards and more – currently 20+ variations to order. And it can also run Linux or open source x86 operating systems.

Intel’s NUC series  (stands for Next Unit of Computing) has been around for a while but really brings the attention back to the fact that not only does it make processors but a range of desktop, server, compute sticks and specialist motherboards. And the best thing about Intel’s boards is support and drivers – long after many OEMs give up.

I reviewed a NUC – while the configuration is not important the raison d'être is. Primarily it is all about available space and the application.

In a commercial sense where open space offices the norm silent, energy efficient, mini-PC’s that screw onto the back of a monitor make sense. In a meeting room where board table clutter is undesirable – ditto. It could be an amazing thin client (think Citrix). Might be an ideal security system. So there is considerable corporate use.

In the consumer world it would fit well in cramped apartments or on a smaller student desk. I can see a use as a MPC (Media PC) sitting quietly behind the TV and providing Internet access, local network attached storage, audio/video streaming, and personal video recording. In a gaming sense Windows 10 and Xbox are one – a 55”+ Xbox could be awesome.

In a retail environment it would hide nicely on the ever cluttered counters – it might even run the digital signage and POS.

And with an inverter there is no reason this cannot be used in vehicles or transport applications – it is certainly sturdy enough.

The point is that a small box can go almost anywhere.

Because there are so many variations it is hard to give prices. The barebones (add memory and storage) starts around A$200 and the top of the line will set you back around $700 although you could spend more. It’s a case of determining how much power you need and matching it to that.

At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Intel announced a Skull Canyon version for gamers. Skylake quad-core i7 processor with an Iris Pro GPU and a thermal design power of 45 watts. That’ll put it in league with the most powerful laptop computers. It also support Thunderbolt 3 (via USB-C), for an external graphics card dock. Skull Canyon can be a mini-PC for gaming and GPU-intensive work that can compete with current mid- to high-end gaming laptops.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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