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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  • quillaja - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    Device manager lists them as "PCI Simple Communications Controller", "SM Bus Controller", and "Unknown device". I strongly suspect the "unknown device" is the IR receiver (Nuvotron). I guessed I could probably get drivers for these devices from Intel's support page, but since not having them hasn't really affected the operation of my PC, I never bothered. I just dislike knowing that things aren't "perfect". Reply
  • jhoff80 - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    The first two happen on any Intel-based PC, not just this one. It's the Intel management stuff. Reply
  • Lundmark - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    Thanks for the review. I'm getting a new HTPC any day now. Should I get the NUC or a Mac mini?

    I like Macs better and I know it will work with my TV's remote control, since it supports Apple remotes. But, apparently, there are issues with 24p both on Intel HD 4000 (which is off by 00,003 fps and thus shouldn't matter?) and OS X, which outputs exactly 24 fps and not 23,976. This causes judder, even if Plex/XBMC is set to match video speed to refresh rate. Apparently, you can fix this with SwitchResX, but it's a hack. I would probably run Windows on the Mac anyway for HD audio support. How serious is the Intel HD 4000 24p "bug", really? 00,003 frames sounds like nothing.

    I'm also interested in what type of IR commands the NUC supports. With the Mac, I know what I'm getting and that it works, but I have no experience with the NUC. Incidentally, I need to find out if the NUC can be made to listen to any of the IR codes in my TV's database. My TV has IR blasters and downloads IR codes from the web, but that requires that the right codes are in the database. If the NUC can listen to an Apple remote, then I know it will work.

    What do you think?
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    The HDMI full range problem you mentioned appears to be fixed if you do a registry edit.

    http://www.avsforum.com/t/1477460/theory-about-int...
    Reply
  • Alketi - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    It's also fixed in the latest OpenELEC nightly builds, if you're considering this as a dedicated HTPC running XBMC. Reply
  • JDG1980 - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    I lost interest in this review when I realized that the system didn't have Iris Pro. Why is Intel so stingy in parceling out this SKU? Are they having yield problems? At this point, for all intents and purposes, it appears to be a rMBP-only part. I did a Google search for the Gigabyte BRIX that's supposed to have Iris Pro, but found only announcement articles - no reviews and no sellers. Has that been released yet?

    I really don't get Intel's strategy with Iris Pro. It's almost like they don't want it to succeed.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, January 03, 2014 - link

    I have a review unit in hand :) Review coming up after CES, may do a quick rundown before that... Reply
  • elian123 - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    Great! Really looking forward to that as I'm very interested in the Brix Pro.

    I hope in the review you can shed some light on the performance at 60Hz over displayport on UHD displays such as the Asus PQ321QE.
    Reply
  • Jeffrey Bosboom - Saturday, January 04, 2014 - link

    I'm also looking forward to the Brix Pro review, but please do some gaming tests in addition to the HTPC stuff. I'm curious how an Iris Pro part compares to a hypothetical Steam box with AMD's integrated graphics or a low-end discrete card. (I'm guessing it'll be thermally-limited, though I don't know what the Brix Pro's cooling is like.) Reply
  • elian123 - Sunday, January 05, 2014 - link

    Definitely interested in thermals of Brix Pro. Where the Brix's U-series CPUs have 15W TDP, the Brix Pro's R-series CPUs have 65W. Reply

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