Intel announced their 5th generation NUC (Next Unit of Computing) devices late last year, and they’re finally starting to show up around now. These devices are small form factor machines that can do most desktop applications or serve up a kiosk. Gaming is somewhat out of the question unless you’re playing very basic games.
While there will eventually be an Core i7 based model, currently only the lower end Atom, Celeron, Core i3 and Core i5 models are out. The above is the model I got for myself to run as a media PC for the living room. This is the Core i5 model that can support a 2.5″ SATA drive (NUC5i5RYH). There is a smaller model that doesn’t accept the 2.5″ drive as well, and is about half the height of this one (NUC5i5RYK). For those enterprise users out there that want vPro management, there are kits that have that built in as well.
The full matrix of current NUCs can be found here and are pretty much all shipping now. The specs for the model I have, can be found here.
The kit itself comes with just the motherboard already mounted in the case and with a Intel 7265 Wireless AC/Bluetooth/WiDi card installed. You need to provide it with 1.35V DDR3L memory (it MUST be 1.35v, 1.5v will not work) and a hard drive (SATA) or SSD (SATA or M.2). For the M.2 slot, it can take the full size SSD with support up to 22×80. Once you install that, you can choose which OS to install on it… it doesn’t come with any OS. Linux and Windows works fine. If you wanted to be adventurous I’m guessing you could technically do a Mac clone. There is a mini-HDMI 1.4 port and mini-Display 1.2 port, that you could do dual monitors if you wanted.
The BIOS screen is a visual Intel BIOS and is very user friendly looking, but in most cases, just leaving it as the default is fine. Incompatible settings just makes the NUC show a blinking cursor screen and then you’re forced to reflash the BIOS to get it to work again. At least reflashing is easy… just hold down the power button until it changes from Blue to Orange, then the BIOS screen should appear. Also, it helps if you have another machine where you can download drivers–there’s no driver disc/flash drive in the box. Even though it comes with wireless, out of the box, even Windows didn’t know what the wireless card was, but it did know the wired controller. So if you were hoping to have it work off wireless, surprise, it won’t until you install the driver.
Other than those minor issues, it’s a pretty spiffy unit. With an SSD drive and 16GB of memory, it boots in less than 5 seconds. It handles 1080p to a 42inch screen with no problems and programs are very responsive in Windows 8.1. And being that it’s really small, it’s not very distracting when it’s sitting amongst your other devices near your TV. It’s smaller than most cable/satellite boxes and maybe about double the size of a Roku/Apple TV. I wouldn’t recommend stacking it unless you can guarantee airflow. It can get hot, but not to the point of burns. The default settings in the BIOS will more than likely prevent the NUC from working if the temperature goes too high (it will either not boot or just shut itself down). There are functions where you can make it wake up on LAN or when it needs to update software (Intel Smart Connect/Intel Ready Mode); assuming you enable those functions in BIOS and you have software/hardware that supports it. This gives you a lot of flexibility to use this device for more than just a computer.
In all, it’s pretty neat to play with and could be an alternative for someone that wants a decent desktop machine that doesn’t take that much space. The base unit without the memory and hard drive costs about $400. Once you add memory and the hard drive you’re hitting about the price of a midrange laptop (~$650)… but can’t deny it’s pretty cool to look at.