Intel's "Next Unit of Computing" (NUC) was one of our favorite gadgets last year. Desktop computers aren't exactly the most exciting things in the world of technology right now, but there's something to be said for a fast, versatile, upgradeable desktop that can squeeze underneath a monitor stand next to a stack of phones.
|Specs at a glance: Intel NUC NUC5i5RYK (as reviewed)|
|OS||Windows 8.1 x64|
|CPU||1.6GHz Core i5-5250U (Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz)|
|RAM||8GB 1600MHz DDR3 (supports up to 16GB)|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 6000 (integrated)|
|HDD||256GB Samsung XP941 PCIe SSD, 360GB Intel 530 SATA SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet|
|Ports||4x USB 3.0, 1x mini DisplayPort 1.2, 1x mini HDMI 1.4a, headphones|
|Size||4.53” x 4.37” x 1.29” (115 x 111 x 32.7mm)|
|Other perks||Kensington lock, swappable lids|
|Price||~$430 (barebones), $844 with 256GB PCIe SSD|
Intel unveiled a new NUC lineup at CES last month alongside the second wave of its oft-delayed Broadwell processors. The desktops look similar from the outside, but on the inside everything from the CPU and GPU to the Wi-Fi card to the storage interface has changed.
This review will serve three purposes then. We'll evaluate the Broadwell NUC as a standalone piece of technology. We'll look at Broadwell U and the kind of performance improvements and power usage reductions it delivers relative to equivalent Haswell U processors. And we'll take a broader look at the kinds of technology you can expect in your next laptop.
What it costs and who it's for
This is the third generation of NUC. Each generation has been tweaked and improved, but they've all been the same kind of box. The ones Intel sells directly aren't complete computers but "barebone kits." When you buy it, you get the enclosure, the power adapter, the motherboard, and the CPU (this is an Ultrabook CPU, so it's soldered to the motherboard and the chipset is integrated onto the package).
You need to bring your own memory and storage, though unlike previous NUCs Intel has seen fit to include an Intel 7265 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 combo adapter. You'll need to bring up to two sticks of DDR3 RAM—the NUC supports up to 16GB of memory and for best performance you should add sticks in matched pairs—and a solid-state drive that will fit in an M.2 slot. We'll talk more about M.2 in a bit, but first let's look at the cost of a finished NUC system.
Intel won't commit to a firm MSRP for this year's NUC, just that it will be "on parity with comparable [Haswell] SKUs." The company says that the "street price" for Core i5 Broadwell NUCs will probably be around $430, $40 more than what the Haswell NUC cost when we reviewed it a year ago. A less expensive Core i3 version and a more expensive Core i7 version will follow in the coming months, alongside models that will hold 2.5-inch hard drives and business-friendly variants. The final cost is entirely up to you, which is kind of nice if you don't want to deal with OEM markups on RAM and SSDs.
|4GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM (2 x 2GB)||$37|
|8GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM (2 x 4GB)||$59|
|16GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM (2 x 8GB)||$115|
|128GB SSD (M.2 2280, SATA)||$65|
|256GB SSD (M.2 2280, SATA)||$110|
|512GB SSD (M.2 2280, SATA)||$233|
|128GB SSD (M.2 2280, PCIe x4)||$143|
|256GB SSD (M.2 2280, PCIe x4)||$256|
|512GB SSD (M.2 2280, PCIe x4)||$510|
The unfortunate thing is that there aren't many M.2 SSDs for regular end users to buy right now—you have nowhere near the same number of options as you do with 2.5-inch drives or even older mSATA cards. Faster PCI Express-compatible M.2 SSDs are even rarer and roughly twice as expensive. Expect this to change as the big players in the SSD space begin developing and shipping more M.2 drives, but that doesn't really help you if you're trying to piece together a NUC today.
Consider a middle-of-the-road NUC with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SATA SSD: what you get for the money actually isn't unreasonable. Other desktops have lower starting prices but make other sacrifices to get there—usually less RAM and a spinning HDD. The NUC's three-year warranty is awfully appealing compared to the one-year standard offered by the majority of OEMs. Other companies will also take a few months to upgrade systems from Haswell to Broadwell.
|Broadwell NUC||2014 Mac Mini||Lenovo M73||HP Pavilion Mini|
|1.6GHz (2.7GHz Turbo) i5-5250U||1.4GHz (2.7GHz Turbo) i5-4260U||2.9GHz i3-4130T||1.7GHz Pentium 3558U|
|HD 6000||HD 5000||HD 4400||HD Graphics|
|8GB DDR3||4GB DDR3||4GB DDR3||4GB DDR3|
|256GB SATA SSD||500GB HDD||500GB HDD||500GB HDD|
|867Mbps 802.11ac||1.3Gbps 802.11ac||Single-band 802.11n (add $30 for 867Mbps 802.11ac)||Single-band 802.11n|
|~$699 with a Windows 8.1 OEM license||$499.00||Varies. $489.99 base MSRP, $367.49 with current discounts||$319.99|
The mini PC market is more crowded than it was a year ago, and new players like Dell and especially HP have cruised in with small desktops that offer less power but dip well below $400. Ask yourself how much computer you need: if you want a small PC that performs like a premium Ultrabook, the NUC is for you. If you're replacing a lightly used hoary old desktop from five years ago for a family member, the $320 HP Pavilion Mini is an awfully tempting option. The $179 Stream Mini desktop is intriguing for certain use cases, too, but with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage it would make for a poor general-use desktop. It would be better for basic HTPC or Web kiosk usage.
In a small way, the NUC scratches an itch for a certain type of lapsed desktop builder, the type that used to build more towers but has since (by preference or necessity) moved to more tightly integrated systems. No, it's not really the same, but users still get to compare, price out, and install some components and set up the software. And you don't have some giant chunky ATX tower sitting under your desk afterward.
NUC version 3.0
This particular version of the Broadwell NUC is just a bit smaller than the Haswell version in every dimension, though the difference is so small that it's hard to tell even when they're sitting right next to each other. The move from the first-generation Ivy Bridge NUC to the Haswell version had a much larger impact on the size of the chassis and the port layout.
The Broadwell NUC has the same basic complement of ports as the outgoing model: two USB 3.0 ports on the front and two on the back; a gigabit Ethernet jack; mini DisplayPort and mini HDMI; a headphone jack; and an IR receiver. It'd be nice to see that mini HDMI port get replaced with the sturdier and much more common full-size HDMI port, but it's a good layout for a desktop of this size.
One of the front USB ports has changed—the yellow one is a "charging port," and it can provide between 500 and 1,500 mA of power, rather than USB 3.0's standard 900 mA. It still works like a regular USB port for connected flash drives and other peripherals, but it can provide more power to phones and tablets that are plugged into it. The port will continue to charge devices even if the rest of the system is powered down.
Another neat addition is the presence of removable lids, which opens up expansion possibilities beyond USB adapters and dongles. Lids can be switched purely for aesthetic reasons, but they'll be able to hook into the USB 2.0 bus to add extra stuff—there's one USB header on the motherboard, and one separate NFC header for lids that want to add that particular feature. Intel has already shown off an NFC lid and a prototype TV tuner lid from Hauppauge. Lids that turn the top of the NUC into a wireless charging pad have been rumored. And a note included with our review NUC mentioned VGA ports, serial ports, and extra USB ports.
The usefulness of this feature is going to depend almost entirely on what companies show up with lids and the types of things those lids can do. Even the limited selection of lids we've seen and heard about are enough to pique our interest. Keep an eye on it.
To open up the NUC, flip it upside down and loosen the four captive Phillips head screws. Pull the bottom off and all of the user-accessible stuff is there on the bottom of the motherboard. A single, smaller Phillips head screw will need to be removed so you can put the M.2 SSD in its slot. Put the screw back in to secure the drive, put the bottom back on the NUC, and you're ready to install your software.
If you (very carefully) disconnect the antennas from the Wi-Fi card and unscrew the four additional Phillips head screws in the corners, you can slide the NUC's motherboard out of its box. There aren't a whole lot of reasons to do this, but it does give you access to the heatsink and fan assembly that sits on top of the CPU.
There's also a standard-sized SATA III port on the bottom of the board. There's no space in this case for a standard 2.5-inch laptop hard drive, but the alternate, taller NUCs and custom enclosures using this board will be able to fit one in alongside the M.2 drive.
Finally, let's turn our attention to the power adapter. The end that plugs into the NUC is exactly the same as the one used in the last two generations and the 65W adapter has the same power output, but it's considerably more svelte. The plug part slides off and can be replaced with alternate international plugs or longer cords, much like some laptop power supplies. The old power brick is generic to the extreme, but the new one is actually pretty nice. Every year Intel seems to tweak the NUC to make it more like a mainstream consumer device and less like a weird side-project for tinkerers.
Power consumption and fan noise
One of the draws of these tightly integrated mini PCs is that they use the same guts as Ultrabooks—all the stuff Intel is doing to extend your laptop's battery life should make the NUC draw less power at the wall. We used a Kill-A-Watt meter to compare the Broadwell NUC to the Haswell and Ivy Bridge models to get an idea of where Intel is saving the power it says it's saving.
|Activity||Broadwell NUC||Haswell NUC||Ivy Bridge NUC|
Idle at desktop (display off)
Watching YouTube in Chrome
Running GFXBench Manhattan benchmark (peak)
Running Prime95 CPU torture test
All of the Broadwell NUC's power consumption numbers are broadly comparable to the Haswell versions, if not just a bit higher. Remember that we're evaluating whole systems here, so the small increases we're seeing in some of these tests may be attributable to components other than the CPU—the Wi-Fi card and SSD aren't the same in all systems since the Broadwell NUC uses different interfaces. In any case, they're mostly in the same ballpark.
Because the active power consumption numbers are so similar, Broadwell's purported battery life gains are probably coming from power savings when switching between these active and idle states; that's where many of Haswell's battery life improvements came from.
The single system fan in the Broadwell NUC is similar to the one in the Haswell NUC—it's perhaps a little quieter, but at idle in a quiet room it's still possible to hear the gentle whirring if you try. The higher-pitched whirr the fan makes when the system is under load is more audible, but it's nothing like the jet-engine sounds we've heard from mini PCs like Gigabyte's Brix Pro.
Listing image by Andrew Cunningham
Source : https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/02/review-intels-broadwell-mini-pc-is-a-next-generation-ultrabook-in-a-box/3021