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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  • fluxtatic - Sunday, January 5, 2014 - link

    Yeah, but isn't having options grand? In your theoretical example, I'm now paying for a bunch of stuff I don't use - battery, screen, kb, etc. Assuming I want strictly something to plug into the TV and shove into a cabinet.

    For me, I'm seriously considering a NUC for when I replace my wife's PC next summer. There's currently a mid-ATX tower on the coffee table in my living room, and I'm definitely going smaller next time around. Now it's just a question of how small I can go for the money it will cost.

    To be honest, though, the discussion would be very nearly settled if there were Mini-ITX options for AMD FM2 processors. Haswell's nice, but I don't know that I can bring myself to pay Intel prices when the time comes.
    Reply
  • Gigaplex - Sunday, January 5, 2014 - link

    If the laptop is cheaper then you're not really paying for the screen etc. You're getting a discount with the caveat that those extras that you don't want are bolted on. Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Interesting but I'll wait for the Haswell Mac Mini. Reply
  • Lundmark - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I thought about that too. Who knows for how long we have to wait, though? The Mac mini was neglected for almost three years before the current design replaced it. Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    2014: mac mini with core i7 4750hq and iris pro. Reply
  • LuckyKnight - Sunday, January 5, 2014 - link

    I've had one of these since they came out in the UK and it's a very good as a dedicated streaming device running XBMC on Linux. You can set the minimal fan speed to 20% in the BIOS and it runs practically silent. If it needs to ramp up (say when playing a game on a emulator then it can).

    The only bad thing is the cost of the unit (with mSSD, RAM).
    Reply
  • airi - Sunday, January 5, 2014 - link

    Yes, please look into writing Linux articles and integrating Linux into hardware reviews. Reply
  • Aikouka - Monday, January 6, 2014 - link

    I have i3 Haswell NUC, and it's a pretty good unit all-around. I'm currently waiting for a good fanless third-party case, because while the NUC is fairly quiet, it's still audible in a quiet room. The fan's noise is also a little whiny, which I am not a fan of. There are announcements for fanless options that will provide 2.5" drive options as well, which could be good for creating a network-based DVR.

    As for the inability to bitstream, I have that exact same problem, and it's rather bewildering. My NUC was fine as I could bitstream without any problems in PLEX (WASAPI is the only option for bitstreaming in PLEX). As you can guess based on my choice in verb tense, I have the problem now, but it's strange how it appeared. Everything was fine until I loaded up a TV stream (networked from an InfiniTV 6 ETH) in WMC7, and I noticed that I wasn't getting any sound. Now, I can no longer bitstream in PLEX. I also cannot bitstream on my i3-3225-based HTPC either. I've also had this problem on an i7 860 + GTX 660 Ti system as well, but that went away with a graphics driver upgrade.

    Anyway, you can get a temporary fix on the problem by setting your speaker configuration up in Windows, and telling your front-end (XBMC, PLEX, etc.) that your receiver is not Dolby Digital- and DTS-compatible. So, now my AVR just says "MULTI-CH IN" all the time as it's just getting a PCM stream from the PC.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, January 6, 2014 - link

    There is no problem with the bitstreaming from MPC-HC or any of the other media players which support that... It is only within XBMC in DirectSound mode and Netflix app.

    That said, I was able to bitstream successfully even from OpenELEC (which means users don't have to pay the Windows tax to make a very capable media streamer, except when Blu-ray menus are needed)
    Reply
  • alpha754293 - Monday, January 6, 2014 - link

    I wonder how this would compare - say to a Mac Mini. It seems that if the price difference between the two systems isn't more than $100-150 - why would I want to go with something like this vs. a Mac mini? (not to be an Apple fanboy or anything - but moreso for a complete pro/con analysis of each solution/type of solution in order to determine which is better in terms of technical specifications, performance, etc...) Reply

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