At this point, I’ve got to update my vocabulary. Intel has come out with something they call the “Next Unit of Computing” or “NUC” for short. What it is is an amazingly small computer, a little over 4″ by 4″, 1.5″, with a third generation i3 processor.
I built one of these machines this past week and its performance compares favorably with some the i3 desktops we’ve found to be very popular. From pressing the power button to having a desktop is something less than 20 seconds.
The NUC supports dual monitors and can handle up to 16gb of memory. The most expensive add-on is the SSD hard drive. If you need lots of storage, this is NOT the machine for you. If you can live with 120-180gb of storage, it is worth considering.
The only other thing you can add inside the computer is a wireless card. It only has three USB ports, so you’ll need to be careful what you choose or you’ll be adding a HSB hub.
The NUC has 8 channel audio, but no audio jacks. The audio goes out through the HDMI video cable. If you have an HDMI capable monitor with speakers, you are all set. If your monitor has DVI but not HDMI, you can get a picture, but you’ll be using one of the USB ports for your speakers. If your monitor is VGA only, you’ll be in the market for a new monitor.
On a bright note, the NUC runs drawing between 10-15 watts of power. We’re talking less than the typical refrigerator light!
The NUC also comes with a VESA bracket, but no power cord. The VESA bracket lets you mount the computer to the back of your monitor, taking up zero space on your desktop. The lack of a power cord is sort of odd, but they are readily available. Buy one from us and I’ll throw in the power cord that Intel forgot.
So where does the NUC fit in when considering the grand scheme of things?
If you are a power user or gamer who needs all the horsepower and storage you can get, you still need a conventional tower with a big power supply, a fast processor, and space for multiple drives. Don’t consider the NUC.
If you are a power user who needs a fast processor, but massive drive capacity isn’t needed, you can look at something like I’ve got on my desk: A mini-ITX system with a quad core (i5) processor and a decent size SSD (solid state drive) and dual monitors.
If you do run off the mill office stuff, either a mini-ITX i3 system or the NUC would do the trick. The mini-ITX system would let you plug more accessories in and the NUC would save you desk space. Either way, the performance would be about the same. If you are regularly loading CDs or DVDs, then you’ll want the mini-ITX system.
If you are looking for something to display online videos on your TV, the NUC is a good choice, provided you don’t plan to store a lot of videos on it.
If all you do is casual web surfing and email, then an inexpensive Atom system would work. So would the Celeron version of the NUC.
If you travel a lot, a notebook, a convertible, or a tablet makes sense. Of these three, the more you travel, the better the tablet looks. Keep in mind that a tablet is a poor choice if you plan to touch type.
My favorite? Probably “almost all of the above”.
An i5 version of the NUC is due out shortly. I can see one of those as a replacement for my aging tower at home. It will be a good excuse to spring for a new monitor too. Losing the tower will mean that I’ll quit kicking it when I’m sitting at my desk. The fast boot time will be great. I’ll have to figure out how to deal with the few times a year I need the DVD drive.
I’ll keep my i5 mini-ITX system at the office. The big SSD helps me get my work done efficiently during the day. I’m regularly using the DVD drive at the office.
When I’m on the road, I’ll grab the Windows 7 tablet I’ve had for a couple of years.
It’s all about picking the right tool for the job.
As always, feel free to drop me a note or give me a call if you have any questions about your computer or the Internet.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.
(Updated May 19, 2013)