A few years ago, Intel noticed that fewer and fewer people were interested in buying desktop and tower computers as they were during the roaring 90s. As sales continued to decline for the dinosaurs of modern computing, the company decided to mix the best of both worlds in a blender to see what came out the other side, and their new line of NUC computers is the result of that experiment.
But what exactly is “NUC”? Confusing acronyms and advertisements aside for a moment, are these tiny boxes worth enough to buy for yourself? You can read more about it in the rest of this article!
What does NUC even mean?
An NUC, short for “Next Unit of Computing”, is a small box-shaped computer that is often no more than a few inches wide or deep, and contains an entire system crammed into its miniature case. NUCs are sold as unlimited kits that users have to assemble themselves to make them work, kind of like an old model airplane, which can also play Starcraft at 60 fps.
The power you can get from a NUC will vary greatly depending on the type of unit you opt for, equipped with anything from an Intel G3258 1.5GHz dual-core and 1GB RAM, to an i7-5577u quad-core and 8GB RAM. In general, NUCs are pretty limited in the number of slots they can hold or the extra features they can support, but you can’t say that users are missing out that much when you see the price point these devices come with.
Some older generation NUCs can be found for under $100 and still give you everything you’d expect from a laptop costing three times as much. The new higher-end models can be customized to cost more than $500 without a keyboard, monitor, or mouse (all accessories that the NUC will need to achieve full functionality).
Due to its size, neither NUC comes with an optical drive, nor does it ship with a pre-installed version of Windows. This means that if you plan to get one, be sure to get a licensed copy of the operating system loaded onto a flash USB stick, or at the very least order an external DVD drive that plugs in via USB to handle the disc.
If we add it all up and subtract it, it’s easy to see that with all the extra parts added plus the cost of the operating system, a NUC can cost as much as you’d pay for a standard laptop or desktop PC. If that’s the case, then what’s the point of choosing a NUC over a traditional desktop or laptop?
The power is in portability
The NUC is great for many reasons, but the one that trumps them all is the fact that the average NUC is very small in size. Some NUCs are so thin and light that they’ll literally fit in your pocket, but still have the same amount of power you’d expect from a 15-inch or 17-inch laptop.
Intel isn’t the only one to see the value in this either, as several other companies have started releasing their own versions of mini-PCs to compensate. Both Google’s Chromeboxes and Apple’s Mac Mini (which predated the first NUC by about two years) work as examples of small computers focused on portability.
NUC computers are great if you’re constantly on the go and need a powerful computer that you can use anywhere, or if you need extra power for your laptop, for example, for what it couldn’t do on its own. NUCs can offer better processors than what you might pay for in a laptop, because with the increased space and airflow that NUCs offer, Intel has been able to equip its NUCs with full-fledged versions of its Intel Iris HD graphics chips, which don’t they save on power, just like their laptop counterparts do.
That’s not all. Small systems can be perfectly suited if you want to set up a media center in the living room, but don’t want a loud, overheated standard desktop tower that takes up all the space in your entertainment center to make it work. NUCs fit snugly behind any TV without spoiling the look of your home’s design, and most even have VESA-compatible mounts, allowing you to attach the NUC directly to the back of your TV for ultra-discreet operation and the thing is better, you will spend less money for it than you would, for example, spend on a Mac Mini.
With the 4K streaming revolution just breaking ground, the NUC is the perfect investment for Xbox or PS4 owners who are still waiting with bated breath to see if their console will be updated to handle the resolution any time in the next few years. Most NUCs above $200 can stream Netflix in 4K without lag, and even the lowest-end models come with ports to plug in the networking gear you need to run a dedicated media server that’s instantly accessible from any mobile device or separate desktop computer .
NUCs can also make fantastic hobby kits for the aspiring computer geek in your home, with tons of modular parts that can be swapped in or out of systems for a dime. All boxes are sold in predefined sets, which can then be upgraded with various parts that you or your children can put together. NUCs are quick, easy introductions to the basics of learning how computers work, which can get everyone in your household more interested in learning what parts go where and what makes these computers work the way they do.
As the consumer market continues to advance into the world of mobile and portable devices, it’s nice to see a company like Intel not afraid to adapt to what’s coming. NUCs are undoubtedly a very specific product for a very specific type of consumer, but even so, they’re still a fun addition to the market that gives users the ability to customize their computing experience from scratch.
If you’re looking to build a 4K streaming box or something that can run rudimentary games (think mostly 2D and some older 3D titles like Diablo III on the lowest settings), a NUC is a cheap and easy way to meet your computing needs without shelling out too much money. In addition, the NUC can be an excellent computer that can be used for learning and training for those who are just learning how to use a computer.
Written by: Ivan Hečimović