Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit DC3217BY

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Intel has delivered a surprisingly attractive gadget in its Next Unit of Computing mini PC. Despite its exceedingly small size, performance is head and shoulders above all other mini computers we've reviewed over the years, regardless of CPU origin. It is most definitely not an Atom. This is due partly to the superior performance of the 3rd generation Core chip at its heart, and the much improved integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 does its part. The high performance mini-PCIe mSATA 6 GB/s Intel 525 SSD cannot be ignored, either: Its small size is partly responsible for the tiny NUC package, while its speed helps overall performance approach that of full fledged desktop PCs. The power usage in idle is a new low, and with nominal loads, it merely sips at power, much like a modern laptop. It wasn't often that we could push AC power past 20W. Finally, the icing on the cake is amazingly quiet performance straight out of the box. In normal usage, the acoustics of the NUC are so unobtrusive that only the most obsessive silence fanatic would want to tinker with the BIOS fan controls, which surprisingly, are there to be tinkered with.

The absence of USB 3.0 seems a shame, especially when you consider that the real-world difference between that and ThunderBolt external storage devices is not going to be much of a factor. The alternate NUC model, with two HDMI ports and a gigabit ethernet port may be preferred by many users, given the relative dirth and high pricing of current ThunderBolt solutions. Pricing of the NUC seems a bit high, but hopefully, some new competition from other likely quarters like Zotac, Asus or Sapphire will help in the near future. A not quite as small mini-ITX package consisting of an Intel DQ77KB board, Asaka Euler fanless case with 120W brick, and a 35W Pentium G645T dual-core Sandy Bridge running at 2.5GHz would cost about the same, probably perform faster and offer a broader, deeper range of 2.5" SATA SSD, memory and onboard I/O options (including gigabit LAN). But such a combo will not challenge the energy efficiency of the NUC in any way, and it will be at least double the size.

The Intel NUC is a bit reminiscent Apple's Mac Mini when it first appeared in 2005. Measuring 6.5" square and just 2" tall, the 1.5 liter Mac Mini — 3X bigger than the Intel NUC! — still managed to sport an optical drive and was a powerhouse for its size at the time. It was stylish, like the NUC, and it was considered a bit overpriced as well. The big difference is that the Mac Mini was sold as a complete system, not as a barebones PC. While enthusiast DIYers will certainly represent the first wave of buyers, it is easy to foresee system integrators rushing to offer complete NUC systems to end users, optimized for various different applications. The pint-sized NUC is one of the cutest yet capable little computers, certainly Intel's best-ever offering in this category.

Our thanks to Intel for the NUC sample.

Intel NUC wins the SPCR's Editor's Choice Award

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