What can you do with an Intel NUC. What is a nuc computer

Laptop gamers especially will be familiar with how hot and low the top and bottom of the NUC can be. (The heat on the underside is related to the location of the hard drive.) Still, it’s admirable that the performance remained stable and that the NUC did not experience any heat related failures given what I was asking for.

What Is an Intel NUC? What to Know and Why You Might Want One

Intel NUC can best be described as tiny backbone PCs that are pretty awesome under the right circumstances.

Desktops are often large, bulky devices. However, many people find this a reasonable compromise to the extra performance they offer over a laptop or tablet. However, in recent years, technology has advanced so that desktops can now fit into smaller spaces.

Intel is a leader in this market by designing compact devices that offer almost the same performance as larger configurations. The company calls them Next Unit of Computing or NUC.

Here’s everything you need to know about Intel NUC.

What Is an Intel NUC?

Before the laptop, desktops were huge items that required dedicated space. They didn’t fit the home, and a powerful PC was a costly inconvenience. Laptops, however, made computers portable. You were no longer chained to your desk if you had to get on your computer.

However, turning on the screen and battery while keeping the device comfortable to wear left little room for performance improvements. This is despite the observance of Moore’s law in the production of electronics. This law predicts that the cost of electronics will decrease and complexity and opportunities will increase.

Intel recognized this and set out to create a small form factor computer that became known as the Next Unit of Computing. The first generation of NUC was launched in 2013. The headless computer — one without an integrated display — was designed as a PC kit. The small, usually square case is equipped with a motherboard, an integrated processor and a power supply.

Other components need to be purchased separately and specifications are at your discretion. Intel doesn’t include peripherals either, so consider getting one of the best wireless keyboard and mouse sets out there. The same goes for your computer’s storage and operating system.

While you can choose any hard drive that will fit your NUC, no software is included. So, if you are going to install Windows 10, you’ll need your own copy. You don’t need to spend a fortune on it, though, as there are still ways to get Windows 10 for free or cheap.

Access to the inside is through the bottom, and when unscrewed, you can see a 2.5-inch SATA drive attached to the base. Then there are two RAM slots on the host computer that can take up to 64GB, and on the other side an M.2 SSD slot.

What is an Intel NUC?

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So we know the NUC is small. However, that doesn’t really explain what the NUC is or what it’s capable of.

Let’s start with the basics: NUC is Intel’s designation for their ultra-small, stand-alone personal computers. The acronym NUC stands for Next Compute Unit, which perhaps suggests that in the near future, home computers may become as small as a standard. While the plural of NUC as “Next Compute” is weird, if you think too much about it, NUCs are acceptable speech.

When it comes to hardware, it would be easiest to think of the NUC as a laptop, without a built-in screen and battery. Indeed, many of the same technologies that allowed laptops to be made smaller and more efficient are used in the design of NUC. Modern NUC models usually have one or more M.2 slots, and often can also accommodate a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive. NUC almost uniformly use 260-pin SODIMM memory modules, with the latest ones supporting DDR4 memory.

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Intel has been making NUCs for years and as such, the processors in these units have evolved with the advancement of Intel’s mainstream processors, all the way to the 7th generation (as of the publication of this article). Currently, Intel produces NUC with ATOM ™, Celeron ™, Pentium ™ processors and all three major variants of Core ™ processors with very low power consumption (U). Unlike processors designed for more traditional ATX-based builds, NUC processors are hard soldered to the motherboard and therefore not intended to be installed, uninstalled, or replaced by the end user.

It’s also worth noting that Intel sells its NUC offering in three main ways. The most common in the consumer electronics market are fully functional NUC systems with various specifications. There are also NUC kits, again offering different configurations and functions. Kits typically ship without RAM, storage, or a preinstalled operating system. Kits are significantly cheaper than full systems of equivalent power, giving the tech savvy consumer the flexibility to buy components that better fit their needs.

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Intel also offers standalone NUC motherboards, although they are primarily intended for industrial users, manufacturers and hobbyists, and embedded solutions. Interestingly, a fairly significant aftermarket has emerged, focused on building specialized NUC enclosures with improved and / or special thermal or strength properties. While many of these cases are available separately, some third-party vendors sell full proprietary systems, all built around genuine Intel NUC.

Through our partnership with Intel, we had the opportunity to see three NUC products: two different kits and one complete system. We’ll go over more of each unit’s specs below, and go through a few of the many use-cases that the tiny footprint of NUC can take advantage of. We also called our friends at Crucial Memory, Corsair and G.Skill and told them we had some NUC kits we want to test and we need hardware to help bring them to life. Each of them came with a few SODIMM sticks to our NUC units so that we have a chance to bring out the best possible performance from Intel mini-motors.

Intel NUC7i5BNH

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The first on our list is the NUC7i5BNH, which is the only model we got that is a full system, meaning it includes RAM, storage, and a pre-installed copy of Windows 10 Home.

The NUC7i5BNH is one of the mid-range offerings in the current NUC range and includes the following specifications:

The Optane memory module is the big star here, and we’ve already covered a few other uses for Intel’s Optane technology. Even though the NUC7i5BNH has all its storage on a SATA hard drive, load times for games and other programs are still nice and fast due to the way Optane optimizes data download and storage. Personally, I think 4GB of RAM is not enough, but it is still more than adequate for browsing email and the Internet, and even for light games, especially when paired with the i5-7260U processor.

There is only one pre-installed RAM module on the NUC7i5BNH, which leaves the other slot empty. A theoretically technologically advanced user can double the RAM of the device by adding an identical flash drive, or go all the hog and upgrade to 16 GB or even 32 GB of memory.

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The NUC7i5BNH also has a lot of connections available, especially considering its size.

Front

Left

Back

Again, the most interesting feature here is one of Intel’s features. We’ve covered Thunderbolt 3 in detail, and integrating the TB3 connection with the NUC7i5BNH opens up some interesting expansion possibilities. Since the TB3 has enough bandwidth to daisy chain multiple devices, it can be used with one of several docking stations to support multiple monitors, add additional USB ports, and even connect to an external GPU enclosure.

We wanted to try to test the NUC7i5BNH for performance. We knew we weren’t going to see top-notch graphics performance when we moved on to testing, but we wanted to know what that bold little box would handle.

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Our first benchmark was more practical. I’ve played a few rounds of Heroes of the Storm because it seems to me that while it supports some graphically demanding options, it does play well in the lower graphics settings. It’s the perfect kind of casual yet strategically deep game to imagine someone without a bell and whistle gaming computer picking up and enjoying.

I found the “Medium” graphic setting was the best place. The FPS on the menu continued into the mid-1940s, with in-game frames hovering between the low 30s and the middle 40s. Even in 5v5 team fights (moments during the game where all 10 players are in the same place, frantically using all of their skills) I have never seen a drop below 30fps.

The downside is how much the device heats up under load. CPU temperature during games has risen to around 96 ℃, though it drops quickly after returning to a more idle state. The layout is quite intense, especially considering that the NUC7i5BNH’s cooling consists of one small fan.

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