Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit DC3217BY

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Intel NUC
Product NUC DC3217BY
Barebones Mini PC
Manufacturer Intel
Street Price US$300~320

Next Unit of Computing is a grand moniker for a tiny computer, even it does come from Chipzilla. The acronym NUC rolls off the tongue a lot easier than DC3217BY, though. Intel's new mini PC was shown at the Intel Developer Forum in Sept a couple of months ago and is scheduled to be available for purchase in early December. On the surface, it isn't anything truly unique, just another in a long line of small computers running mobile computing hardware, going back to the Mac Mini and similar AOpen products, and VIA mini PCs before that. But as in so many computer things, the details matter.

The NUC DC3217BY jams the latest of Intel's computing goodness in an unusually small box: A 17W TDP mobile version of the 3rd gen Intel Core i3 processor soldered on a 4-by-4-inch motherboard and enclosed in a tiny case just big enough to fit the board with its integral notebook-style cooler, the NUC is, in Intel's words, "an ideal engine for digital signage, kiosks, home theater systems, and intelligent devices for small spaces, or anywhere else you can imagine." What it isn't is as important as what it is: It is not an Atom, which has always been viewed by enthusiasts with a mix of grudging respect for its energy efficiency and disdain for its pokey performance, at least for a desktop PC. A 3rd generation Core is quite simply the most capable board-embedded processor to come down the PC highway.

Intel NUC, alone. The USB port gives you an idea of its tiny size, which is about half a liter in volume.

Intel DC3217BY Features
(from the product web page)
Form Factor UCFF (Ultra Compact?)
Intel Core i3 3217U (soldered down) with active heatsink
(1.8 GHz Dual Core, 3 MB smart cache). 64 bit architecture support
Intel® QS77 Express
CPU embedded graphics
System Memory
Two SO-DIMM slots for 1066/1333MHz, 16GB max
Display - Intel® HD Graphics 4000
- HDMI port supporting HDMI 1.4a output
- Thunderbolt port supporting displayport 1.1a
Expansion capabilities
- Full mini PCI Express, mSATA support
- Half size mini PCI Express
Peripheral interfaces
3 external USB 2.0 ports
Gigabit LAN + Wi-Fi 802.11n + Bluetooth
Intel® High Definition Audio:
> 8-channel (7.1) digital audio via HDMI 1.4a output and/or via ThunderBolt connector (DisplayPort 1.1a)
Chassis Maroon color; aluminum & plastic
116.6mm×112.0mm×39.0mm (4.59”×4.41”×1.55”)
Included in the box
- 19V, 65W power brick
- VESA mounting bracket
- Wifi antenna (integrated into chassis)
- Core i3 logo
3-year warranty (BOX/BLK)
Standard Warranty Replacement (SWR)

There are several noteworthy points about the features:

  • HD Graphics 4000 is Intel's best integrated GPU. In the mobile i3 3217U processor, it is clocked at a low 350MHz default speed, compared to 550 and 650MHz in other 3rd gen i3 chips, though the maximum frequency remains the same 1.05 Ghz.

  • For display output, it has HDMI and Thunderbolt / Mini DisplayPort. HDMI is mandatory, but Thunderbolt is in an early stage of adption in the PC world, however, and its utility is questionable at this point. Maybe in 6 or 12 months, things could change. You need an adapter to connect to a standard DisplayPort monitor, and this adapter is not included.

  • The above and three USB 2.0 ports comprise all the I/O ports of this NUC. Many would prefer USB 3.0 and forgo Thunderbolt.

  • There's no ethernet port, so you are entirely reliant on a wireless mini-PCIe card for network access. This is not included, but the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 wireless card sent as part of the review package sells for a bit over $20.

  • The only internal storage option is mSATA, not SATA. The good news is that it is a 6 GB/s interface, and mSATA SSDs have really come down a lot in price recently. A 120 or 128 GB SSD from Crucial, ADATA, OCZ or Mushkin all run just over $100. If you want more than 256 GB in a single SSD, the current upper limit of mSATA, then a Thunderbolt external SSD might come in handy.

  • The $300~320 buys you a motherboard, CPU, case and power supply. You still need RAM (say $40 for 4GB x2), an mSATA SSD (say $110 for a 120GB model), the $20 mini-PCIe wireless card, and an operating system, preferably on a USB 2.0 stick. If your OS of choice is Windows 7, then the total price of ownership approaches $600 — without keyboard, mouse or monitor. Alternatively, a lot of laptop can be purchased for $600 these days.

  • Another version of the NUC, model DC3217IYE, with all black cosmetics, omits Thunderbolt, and adds another HDMI port and an ethernet port. This might be the more practical option for many home users.

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