Four by four inch Intel® NUC motherboards ship with a soldered CPU. Boards can be purchased independently of the kit, providing a minicomputer that is fully customizable, scalable and customizable for a wide variety of solutions.
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.
This combination allows you to play your favorite games like Far Cry 5 and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 at 1080p and 60fps at high graphics settings. What’s even more impressive is that this little PC can handle Hitman quite well at 1440p with HDR active.
What is an Intel NUC?
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.
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. The 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.
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.
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.
The NUC7i5BNH also has a lot of connections available, especially considering its size.
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.
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.
Again, the Skull Canyon NUC is a kit, so we installed Corsair’s 16GB ValueSelect DDR4-2133 SODIMM memory and the same type of WD Black M.2 SSD as on the NUC7i5BNK.
Gallery: Intel NUC 11 Extreme | 17 Photos
I’ll eliminate it in advance: Yes, this NUC is much bigger than any previous units we’ve seen. The 5-liter NUC 9 Extreme already seemed to push the boundaries of a compact computer, but the 8-liter NUC 11 Extreme is what you might call a Big Boy. Sure, it’s better than making room for a mid-tower computer on your desk, but it’s still pretty substantial. Intel can’t be blamed too much: gamers wanted full-blown GPUs in the NUC, that’s just the most efficient way to do just that. The big problem right now is that Intel is in direct competition with the increasingly popular Mini-ITX PC cases, which are cheaper but usually more complex.
- Useful modular design
- Perfect case cooling
- Thoughtful design to squeeze full GPUs
The NUC 11 Extreme screams “player” before you even turn it on. Its black metal chassis has mesh vents on the sides, so you can peek at the GPU and three large case fans on top. In the case of a small box, it is clearly designed to force a large amount of air. Press the power button and it will come to life with an LED skull along the front panel as well as LED lighting on the underside. I’m not a fan of gaming too much, but Intel’s lighting is relatively subtle compared to many other PC makers.
Our test unit included the 11th Gen Intel i9 Compute Element, a modular card with an octa-core 11900KB processor. It can also be purchased separately as an upgrade for NUC 9 Extreme customers. It has always been a dream for the Intel NUC Extreme platform, which also includes the Razer Tomahawk minicomputer. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just tear the card out in a few years to get a new CPU? There are, however, some trade-offs. According to Intel, there is no front panel audio support when using the new Compute card in the NUC 9 Extreme, and there is also no PCIe 4.0 guarantee. The company also says that compatibility with other boxes depends on how their NUC baseplate is designed. (We contacted Razer to see if the Tomahawk could be improved.)
To speed up our review process, Intel shipped a device with preconfigured Windows 10 Pro, 16GB of RAM, a fast 512GB NVMe SSD, and an ASUS RTX 3060 GPU. Please note that you will need to collect all this hardware if you have one a NUC kit for yourself (or just buy ready-made from retailers like SimplyNUC).
While I appreciate all of Intel’s previous performance-oriented NUC processors, including the 2018 “Hades Canyon” and 2016 “Skull Canyon” models, have always been held back by their notebook processors. However, the NUC 11 Extreme supports more powerful processors with a 65-watt TDP. This means it can get more power like a traditional desktop gaming chip. Based on our benchmarks, you can surely see the benefits of this gain.
3DMark (TimeSpy Extreme)
Intel NUC 11 Extreme (Intel Core i9-11900KB, NVIDIA RTX 3060)
Intel NUC 9 Extreme (Core i9-9980HK. NVIDIA RTX 2070)
ASUS ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition (AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX, AMD Radeon RX 6800M)
ASUS Zephyrus G15 (AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS, NVIDIA RTX 3080 Max-Q)
In PCMark 10, the NUC easily overtook any Windows PC we saw this year. It was slightly faster than ASUS ‘ROG Strix G15, which was running AMD’s mighty Ryzen 9 5900HX. Admittedly, we haven’t looked at any gaming notebooks with Intel’s 11th gen chips, but based on this comparison, AMD would still expect the NUC 11 to overtake them. We also haven’t tested comparable 11th Gen desktop processors yet, but I bet they’ll perform better because they can draw more power.
Last year’s Intel NUC 9 Extreme set the bar for NUC games “extremely” high. NUC 9 extreme provides mini-computers with desktop-like performance thanks to its unique Compute Element-based architecture and unique expansion options. Yes, most AAA titles can be played in 4K, just below the golden 60fps resolution.
Buy Here: Amazon
One cursory look at the glowing blue skull logo on the NUC8i7HVK and you can conclude that this is quite a drastic departure from previous and even some new NUC kits from Intel. These barebone mini-computers were always gray and small, square. However, the new NUC – Hades Canyon – is slightly larger, darker and more performance-focused than before.
Right next to the Intel Core i7 3.10 GHz quad-core eight-core processor, the NUC8i7HVK is equipped with a Radeon RX Vega MGH graphics card. It is the slightly faster cousin of the RX Vega M GL that can be found in the top-rated HP Specter 360 laptop. What’s more, it comes with 32GB of 2400MHz DDR4 memory and 1TB (512GB x 2) NVMe SSD. Pre-installed 64-bit Ubuntu is just the icing on the cake, providing endless customization options.
When it comes to performance, VR games are a walk in the park for this mini machismo. The RX Vega M GH chip is surprisingly powerful. It is powered by an Intel Core i7-8809G processor due to its ability to accelerate Turbo from 3.1 to 4.2 GHz. You should be able to play most AAA VR titles at 90 FPS or even higher on medium and high settings.
Overall, the Intel NUC VR 8 NUC8i7HVK is an impressive piece of production. It is exceptionally good at rendering good quality video games. That’s why it’s on our list of Intel’s Best Gaming NUCs. However, squeezing so much power in a miniature device causes escalating costs.
Buy Here: Amazon
The Intel BOXNUC8i3CYSM1 NUC 8 Home is perfect for people who cannot afford to spend over $ 500 on a mini gaming computer. Of course, this means little compromise on some components. Fortunately, AMD’s Radeon RX 540 helps a lot with this.
Built with an 8th Gen Intel Core i3 processor, the Intel BOXNUC8i3CYSM1 NUC 8 Home is great for gaming. Other specifications include 2GB of GDDR5 graphics RAM, 8GB LPDDR4 and 1TB SATA HDD along with an additional M.2 slot, to which you can add an optional SSD or Intel Optane memory module for even greater performance.
Those looking to make the system more responsive should seriously consider investing in a 2.5-inch SSD or M.2 SSD. This is because the RAM is soldered in and the 1TB hard drive feels rather slow. The RAM cannot be increased to 16 GB, and there are no other upgrade options available. In addition, there is no USB-C port or Thunderbolt port on this device.
That said, the Intel NUC8i3CYSM is a complete Mini PC ready to power up and play for the casual gamer. Pre-installed with Windows 10, the NUC8i3CYSM also comes with enough ports for all your gaming peripherals. So you can jump into the action without wasting any time.
NUCs are available with a variety of hardware configurations and connectivity options, including multi-core i7 processors and lightning-fast Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.
Intel NUC 11 Pro review: Verdict
The latest Intel NUC is a welcome addition to the SFF PC market, offering a wide range of features including lightning-fast Thunderbolt 4 technology and excellent networking. The small case is rock solid, internals can support your daily computer work, and a wide variety of designs add value and versatility.
As with most Intel products, the CPU is the weakest point. Intel chips aren’t bad, but rivals AMD and Apple are faster at multi-core processing and often not more expensive.
Intel NUC makes sense if you need the smallest computer possible, or if its connectivity, warranty, or variety of specs speak for themselves – but remember that more processing power can be found elsewhere.
The Intel® NUC Kit includes a configurable board and chassis that are ready to support a wide range of memory, storage and operating systems. With the ability to configure an M.2 SSD such as Intel® Optane ™ and up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, you can easily increase performance.
Intel® NUC Elements – Simple, Flexible, Powerful, Small
The surprisingly compact and powerful Intel® NUC 8 Computing Component, along with a series of Intel-designed components, provides the flexibility of modular processing and enables you to create custom, modular solutions tailored to the exact needs of your customers.
This mini-computer gives you the performance of a full-size computer in a small enough size to fit in the palm of your hand. NUC 10 Performance is available with a variety of hard drive configurations to meet your speed and storage needs, and the ports allow you to connect any peripheral and ensure data transfer at the highest speed. And with three-screen support, you can multitask across multiple screens and share your wonderful space.
- 10th generation Intel® Core ™ processors
- HDMI * 2.0
- Thunderbolt ™ 3
- Support for three 4K displays
- Four USB 3.1 ports
- Intel® Wi-Fi 6
- Intel® Gigabit LAN
- SDXC slot with UHS-II support
- Home cinema
- Home office productivity
- Occasional games
The latest NUC from Intel is passively cooled and comes preloaded with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC memory. These features help keep time-to-market to a minimum and keep you productive right from the start.
- Intel® Celeron® N3350 processor with Intel® HD 500 graphics
- 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of eMMC are soldered
- 1x M.2, NVMe or SATA3
- 1Gbit Ethernet
- 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x internal USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
- Internal 4-line eDP connector, 1x RS232 serial port connector
- 2x HDMI
- Digital signage
- Internet of Things
- Operator consoles in production environments
- Fast restaurant service
- Edge analysis
- Medical clinics for mobile desktops
Hades Canyon offers extreme performance in an extremely compact size (8.7 x 5.6 x 1.54 inches). The Intel® spearhead NUC comes with an unlocked 8th Gen Core ™ i7 processor for great gaming, video editing and even virtual reality applications. In other words, when maximum performance is needed, Hades Canyon is your choice.
- 8th generation Intel® Core ™ i7-8805G / Core i7-8809G with Radeon RX Vega M GL / Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics
- Up to 32 GB DDR4 memory
- Two M.2 slots or SATA3 SSDs
Geekbench provides further evidence of Intel’s weaknesses. NUC scored 1,391 and 4,869 points in single-core and multi-core tests. The Mac mini scored 1,740 and 7694 points, while the Asus AMD chip is slightly slower in the single-core test but ranks with the Mac in the multi-core test.
Intel NUC 11 Pro NUC11TNKi5 specifications and features
At the heart of this particular NUC 11 Pro is the Core i5-1135G7 processor from Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” family. This processor is primarily intended for use in thin laptops and has a nominal TDP of 15W, but can be scaled between 12W and 28W, and Intel chose the latter option here. This takes advantage of the better cooling that is possible in such a case compared to a slim laptop, and allows you to run at maximum speed for longer. The Core i5-1135G7 has four cores with Hyper-Threading, and in this implementation the CPU will run at a base speed of 2.4 GHz with a single core boost rate up to 4.2 GHz.
The integrated Iris Xe graphics processor is a big advantage here – it is one of Intel’s biggest impetus for 11th-gen mobile processors and is built on a new architecture that has been taking shape over the years. It promises a significant leap in performance over Intel’s previous integrated graphics processors, which are renowned for being able to cover the basics. The G7 suffix on the processor model number indicates that the GPU is relatively efficient, with 80 execution units.
On the back, you get a surprising number and variety of handy ports
In addition to the ports mentioned above, you also get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5. The two SO-DIMM slots support up to 64GB of DDR4-3200 RAM. 7.1ch audio is supported, but only via HDMI or DisplayPort.
Intel lists a few other remarkable features – the NUC 11 Pro is said to be capable of working in 24×7 mode and can run “headless”, ie only with an emulated display. It also copes to some extent with DC input voltage fluctuations. There’s a small point on the back where you can attach the DC power cord so it won’t be pulled out (or stolen), and there’s a Kensington Security Slot on the left side. The warranty is three years, and Intel also provides a guaranteed three-year availability period. All of these things are for a commercial target audience more than the average home user.
Intel NUC 11 Pro NUC11TNKi5 performance and usage
Intel NUC boxes are typically sold as hulls, with no RAM or storage. It’s up to system integrators to set up and resell them, with buyers adding their own hardware and operating system. For the purposes of this review, Intel loaded a single 16GB DDR4-3200 Kingston ValueRAM module and a 512GB Transcend SATA SSD into the M.2 2242 slot, with Windows 10 already installed, into the NUC 11 Pro test unit considering an NVMe SSD in the standard M.2 slot would perform much better, but left blank. If you decide to use this slot (which you will likely need to consider given the rarity of retail M.2 2242 SSDs), your SSD will be directly on top of the Wi-Fi module, which could be affected by temperature.
After allowing Windows 10 to download all the latest updates, I started with benchmarks. The Core i5 processor performed quite well in the PCMark Standard and Extreme tests, with scores of 4543 and 3853 respectively. It also scored 523 and 2166 points in the single-threaded and multi-threaded Cinebench R20 tests, respectively. POVRay ran the rendering test in 2 minutes and 29 seconds, while VRay’s CPU and GPU scores were 6229 and 33 respectively. The NUC 11 Pro also managed 1385 and 4555 points in Geekbench 5 single and multi-core runs. These numbers are predictably slightly lower than that as we saw earlier this year in the MSI Prestige 14 Evo laptop, powered by the 11th Gen i7-1185G7 processor, based on the same architecture and the same integrated Iris Xe GPU.
Base pops up easily, revealing two SODIMM slots, M.2 2242 and 2280 slots, and a modular Wi-Fi adapter
If you want to compare the results with the current generation Mac mini, we can take a look at some cross-platform results in your browser. The NUC 11 Pro scored 249 on WebXprt and 165,321 on Jetstream 2, compared to 286 and 177,110 respectively for the Apple M1 internal processor.
The pre-installed SATA SSD does not show the full potential of the Tiger Lake CPU, which supports PCIe Gen4 speeds. CrystalDiskMark reported that sequential reads and writes are only 560.1MB / s and 507.9MB / s, but this computer is doing much better. It also took 2 minutes and 59 seconds to compress a 3.24 GB folder with various files using 7zip, and it took 1 minute and 4 seconds to transcode a 1.3 GB AVI file to H.265.
As for graphics, you shouldn’t expect heavy 3D games to run. Time Spy and Night Raid by 3DMark scored 1196 and 10177 points, respectively. In the Unigine Superposition test, 1,480 points were achieved in 1080p resolution and medium quality. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which is not entirely new anymore, ran on average only 17fps at 1280×720 using the medium setting, making it unplayable. Far Cry 5 averaged 24fps when set to Normal at the same resolution. You will have to limit yourself to much simpler games or experiment with cloud streaming options if they become profitable in India in the future.
In everyday use, the NUC 11 Pro was slim and responsive. It launched productivity apps and web browsers with dozens of tabs open, and the operation was perfectly smooth. As the benchmarks show, this hardware is not the fastest for heavy content creation or gaming tasks, but good for common use situations. Streaming HD and 4K video was no problem. In normal use, you will not hear the fan spinning at all. Even with the NUC 11 Pro under heavy load, I was only able to hear a slight hum as hot air was pushed through the large air vent on the back. The plastic body heats up like you’d expect from any laptop.