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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  • nico_mach - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    That's why apple fans (repeat customers) purchase their PCs as soon as they're released, which is good for Apple PR.

    I think that difference is seriously overblown, however. The processor details, especially on a desktop PC, are getting more irrelevant.

    For HTPCs, the performance has been good enough for a while.
    Reply
  • cgalyon - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    I am curious how this compares to the less expensive BRIX models and the less expensive version of the NUC (around $250 at Newegg). Reply
  • hfm - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    I must be the only one that didn't know what the F** a NUC was...

    Even their own site doesn't say unless you can see behind the play button on the video intro on the bottom..
    http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/overvie...

    That said, how is this different from other VESA mount units in the past?
    Reply
  • xodusgenesis - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    Why would you choose this over a Raspberry PI for XBMC? $45<$600+ Reply
  • Alketi - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    xodusgenesis, the i3 NUC is more like $400, but to answer the question:
    1. Flawless playback of high-bit rate bluray rips.
    2. Support/passthrough for _all_ forms of HD multichannel audio.

    There are others, but those are my main reasons.
    Reply
  • patterson32 - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    Are there quieter 3rd party fans available? I'd get one of the fanless cases but they're huge and can cost a lot compared to the board. Reply
  • patterson32 - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    I hope this board layout, nano-ITX or pico-ITX gets more popular among motherboard and case makers. Sometimes, I want to put something together that may not actually be super small but want to have a lot of internal space for other things. Reply
  • morganf - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    No comment on the CIR sensor? Did you try testing it with one or more types of remote controls to see how well it works and what it is compatible with? Reply
  • quillaja - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    I have almost this same NUC build (but I went with 16gb RAM and a 240gb Intel SSD). So far I'm quite happy with it. My favorite thing is using DP 1.2 MST to drive 2 monitors. I'm glad all 4 usb ports are USB3, though I don't have any USB3 devices.

    The bad thing I encountered is drivers. Win 8.1 x64 didn't detect and install drivers for the AC7260 wifi card automatically, which of course handicapped the rest of the install due to lack of internet connection. Therefore I had to install most of the drivers manually, which, these days, is pretty lame in my opinion. There are still 3 "unknown" devices in device manager which haven't been addressed by windows.

    I've had this NUC since Thanksgiving, so hopefully MS/Intel have corrected the driver issue I experienced.
    Reply
  • bigdang - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    Which devices are not being recognized? I had some devices not recognized on my box, but I was able to clear those up by downloading drivers from the NUC product support page. I downloaded the Management Engine Driver, the Nuvotron Driver, and (IIRC) the Gigabit Ethernet controller driver. Reply

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