Introduction

The Intel NUC category has been an interesting product line to analyze, as it provides us with insights into where the traditional casual / home use desktop market might end up. Officially falling under Ultra-Compact Form Factor PCs (UCFF), units in this category take miniaturization to the extreme by even making 2.5" drives unnecessary. Last year, we reviewed Intel's first NUC. Fast forward to the present, and we have the Haswell-based NUC already in the market. How does Haswell improve upon the original NUC? Before going into that, a little bit of history is in order.

The ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) for PCs was originally championed by VIA Technologies with their nano-ITX (12cm x 12cm) and pico-ITX (10cm x 7.2cm) boards. Zotac was one of the first to design a custom UCFF motherboard (sized between nano-ITX and pico-ITX) for the ZBOX nano XS AD11 based on AMD Brazos. The motherboard was approximately 10cm x 10cm. Intel made this motherboard size a 'standard' with the introduction of the Intel NUC boards in May 2012. The first generation Intel NUCs were both launched with Core i3 17W TDP CPUs. While one model had a GbE port, the other traded it for a Thunderbolt port.

The Haswell NUCs come in two varieties too, but Intel has opted for a more conventional configuration this time around (particularly due to the slow uptake in Thunderbolt adoption in the target market). The following table provides a quick look at the specification of the two Haswell NUCs, with our review configuration highlighted. The WYB suffix refers to the board alone, while the WYK suffix refers to the kit with the chassis. The WYKH increases the dimensions of the chassis to support a 2.5" HDD / SSD in addition to the mSATA drive.

Intel's Haswell NUC Kits Comparison
  D34010WYK D54250WYK
CPU Intel Core i3-4010U Intel Core i5-4250U
Chipset Integrated PCH Integrated PCH
RAM 2 x DDR3 SO-DIMM slots 2 x DDR3 SO-DIMM slots
Display Outputs 1x mini-HDMI 1.4a, 1x mini-DP 1.2 1x mini-HDMI 1.4a, 1x mini-DP 1.2
USB 4 x USB 3.0 4 x USB 3.0
Gigabit Ethernet Y Y
mini PCIe (half-height) 1 1
mini PCIe (full-height, mSATA support) 1 1
Power Supply External 19V DC External 19V DC
Suggested Pricing $285 - $295 $363 - $373

The layout of the board is specified in the diagram below. The integration of the PCH into the processor is one of the advantages of the Haswell NUC compared to the Ivy Bridge NUCs (which used a QS77-Express chipset).

For such a small motherboard, the unit does pack quite a punch. The choice of the WLAN card as well as the mSATA disk is left to the system builder. This is in contrast to the Gigabyte BRIX, where consumers are advised not to remove the supplied WLAN card. The extra degree of freedom will definitely be appreciated in some circles. The default chassis provided by Intel employs active cooling and has a height of only 1.4 inches. This rules out the possibility of cramming in a 2.5" drive into the enclosure of the WYK, even though the motherboard provides SATA ports. The WYKH models alter the chassis dimensions to take advantage of the on-board port.

In the remainder of the review, we will look into our choice of components for completing the NUC build, some notes on the motherboard design, performance metrics / benchmarks, HTPC aspects and round up the review with some coverage of miscellaneous aspects such as power consumption and thermal performance.

Hardware and Setup Impressions
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  • chrnochime - Sunday, January 05, 2014 - link

    Burned haha. Go ask this question on any english forum worth its salt and realize how wrong you are LOL Reply
  • andrusoid - Thursday, January 09, 2014 - link

    Not a double negative. Read a book, preferably one concerning grammar and english usage. "So you actually agreeing with ddriver." Something's missing. By the way, "dis" is not negation. (This is not a double negative statement, as well.) Reply
  • theangryintern - Friday, January 10, 2014 - link

    That sounds like a confession to me. In fact the double negative has led to proof positive. I'm afraid you gave yourself away. Reply
  • ddriver - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    You can be sorry and disagree all you want but this will not change the facts.

    That particular atom chip is a POC, slower than even mid-range contemporary phones, with terrible GPU (cripples browser rendering performance) and running a bloated OS. I have very smooth experience with both "desktop" websites (I hate crippled mobile versions) and with PDFs sporting high resolution images (here the reader implementation plays a tremendous role) on my phone (note 3) - that type of content is literally FLYING. I haven't been printing from the phone yet, but I am pretty sure it will not take minutes to print a 20 page document.

    And don't think for a moment that I am used to sluggish performance and therefore have lower standards and expectations. My desktop config: i7 3770k 32gb samsung 830 SSD - while 2 years old, by no means a sloth.
    Reply
  • BehindEnemyLines - Sunday, January 05, 2014 - link

    It makes me wonder why Chrome OS laptops are moving from ARM to Intel x86 (Haswell) if it's "slower than even mid-range contemporary phones"? I mean, Chrome OS started with ARM, and it's pretty lightweight. Reply
  • Gigaplex - Sunday, January 05, 2014 - link

    An old Atom is slow, not Haswell. Reply
  • lhl - Friday, January 17, 2014 - link

    I have both the Samsung Series 3 (Exynos 5) Chromebook and the new Haswell-based C720. Performance difference/day-to-day usability is night and day, the C720 blows aways the ARM Chromebook. While I'd imagine TDP to be slightly higher, the C720 actually has much longer battery life (8h vs 5h) while only being 3-4 ounces heavier. The C720 also has better build-quality, screen, keyboard, and trackpad... Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Sunday, January 05, 2014 - link

    I guess I will have to benchmark it to prove it. You are downplaying the N2800, but it was close enough to a 1.4 GHz Quad Cortex A9 with a 2 MB L2 (Calxeda ECX-1000). That is very similar to the current midrange Phone. In fact, given how bandwidth bottlenecked most ARM CPUs are, the 4 MB L2 would probably give that chip an edge over the current midrange. Reply
  • virtual void - Sunday, January 05, 2014 - link

    There is something about Intels CPU-design vs ARM that does not show in benchmarks like Geekbench and similar. Even the old Z2460 (single core "old" Atom) platform still feels quite snappy when running Android, the "feel" of this SoC is way better than what one would believe when looking purely at benchmarks.

    My guess is that Intels CPU-cache design, especially L2, still is a couple of notch above what any ARM CPU vendor current got.
    Reply
  • shodanshok - Sunday, January 05, 2014 - link

    I absolutely agree. In the past I tried to show that as benchmark results show, a single Atom Core is quite comparable to anything between one and two A9 cores. However, many poster simply choose to ignore this fact, accusing me to be totally wrong... Reply

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