Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) Kits Offer Better Performance than Android MiniPCs at a Much Higher Price

Intel introduced a series of motherboards-in-a-box (MiBs), described as Next Unit of Computing (NUC, pronounced “nook”) kits, in late 2012. These Ultra Small Form Factor (USFF) devices measure about 4 by 4 by 2 inches and have multiple USB 2.0 inputs and dual HDMI outputs. The MiBs include VESA mounting brackets for attachment to the back of HDTV sets and high-resolution monitors.

Updated 4/10/2013 with a report of forthcoming Intel i5 and i7 NUC versions coming (see end of post.)

Updated 4/1/2013 with references to lower-cost small form-factor Intel boards from the site (see end of post).


Judging from the 17 customer reviews of the DC3217IYE on the Amazon Web site, most users purchase these devices to upgrade HDTVs with Smart TV features, especially streaming video from the Internet. Several reviewers mention Windows Media Center and XBMC as the video playback software of choice.

One of the advantages of running Windows 7 on a NUC/MiB device is that you can create a full-fledged PVR by plugging a PCTV ATSC tuner stick, such as the Pinnacle PCTV80e or Hauppauge 01200 WinTV-HVR-850 USB2.0 Hybrid Video Recorder 1200 into one of the USB ports, and installing the TV Center software for scheduling the programs to record with the Titan TV guide. There are reports of TV tuners on mSATA SSD-style PC boards, but I haven’t found any available for sale.

Following are the three NUC/MiB Kits available in Spring 2013:

NUC Kit Details Processor Integrated Board Amazon Link Price, US$
DC3217BY Core™ i3 3217U D33217CK DC3217BY $299.99 
DC3217IYE Core™ i3 3217U D33217GKE DC3217IYE $289.99 
DCCP847DYE Celeron 847 DCP847SKE DCCP847DYE $175.26*

* The DCCP846DYE is sold by an Amazon partner; sells the other two kits.

The MIBs support up to 16 GB of SO-DIMM. Two internal mini-PCIe slots accommodate  optional mSATA SSD and WiFi/Bluetooth adapter cards. WiFi and Bluetooth antennas are built into the case.

Following is an analysis of the additional cost (less shipping and sales tax) for required and optional accessories to run Windows Media Center on a NUC/MIB device:

Item Price, $US
Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64 bit (OEM) $  91.97
Crucial 8GB Kit (4GBx2) DDR3 1333 MT/s (PC3-10600) CL9 SODIMM 79.99
Crucial m4 128GB mSATA Internal Solid State Drive CT128M4SSD3 120.51
Intel Network 6235AN.HMWWB Centrino WiFi Card Advanced-N 6235 Dual Band Bluetooth Retail 23.29
Logitech Wireless Combo MK260 with Keyboard and Mouse 24.99
Windows 7 Vista XP Media Center MCE PC Remote Control and Infrared Receiver 16.90
Cables Unlimted 6-feet Mickey Mouse Power Cord 4.40
Total, less sales tax $362.05

Thus the cost of the least expensive NUC/MiB device with nominal RAM and SSD storage is US$537.31 plus sales tax and shipping, which is about five times the cost of the forthcoming Tronsmart T428 quad-core Android MiniPC with a 32-GB MiniSD card or ZeroDesktop’s MiiPC in a box. My Acer 5570-6690 15.6-inch laptop, which I use in the living room for PVR and video playback purposes, cost only $430 in July 2011.

A 00:13:55 Newegg TV: Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) Overview video describes unpacking and outfitting the DC3217IYE and DC3217BY.

Update: Brad Linder (@bradlinder) reported More small PC boards with x86 processors for $75 or less in a 10/7/2012 post to the blog:

imageInexpensive mini computers with ARM-based chips have gotten a lot of attention this year. But if you’re willing to spend a few dollars more you can get a much more powerful and versatile system with an x86 processor.

Recently we took a look at the Asus C60M1-I mini-ITX motherboard with an AMD C-60 dual core CPU. It’s an $80 system that can be used as a full-fledged Windows or Linux computer when you add a power supply, storage, and memory (and optionally a case). But it’s hardly the only CPU+board combo in that price range.


Newegg has at least 2 dozen motherboard+CPU combo deals available at the moment, and many of them include low power processors and low price tags. Here are a few examples:

All of these systems feature mini ITX motherboards, which means they should fit into standard small form-factor PC cases. And they all have x86 processors, which means they should be able to handle a range of operating systems including Windows 7, Windows 8, Ubuntu, or other Linux-based operating systems (although some of the integrated graphics cards are better supported than others under Linux).

The problem with low-priced x86 or x64 mother boards is that the components required to deck them out are much more expensive than the motherboard itself, as noted in the preceding table. Intel NUC Kits come with a case and power supply; a LIAN LI PC-Q25B Black Aluminum Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case from NewEgg costs $120 plus shipping:


Update: The FanlessTech blog reported i5 and i7 NUC on the way in a 4/9/2013 post:

Intel's NUC will get a speed bump in the coming weeks. The D53427HYE motherboard will feature a 1.8 GHz i5-3427U, while the D73537KK will pack a 2.0GHz i7-3537U. Linux support is excellent, a nice touch.

[Click images for full-size versions.]

Default cooling system is active but we all know it's easy to fix that.