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


View All Comments

  • gochichi - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    size of chassis is not the issue, it's never been the issue as can be clearly seen in the Mac Pro. What we need to look at is the particulars, the shapes and the size of the things that do matter to thermal efficiency. So if this thing had the fan that it should have in it due to its giant size (yes, I'm calling this NUC business GIGANTIC vs Surface Pro). I remember back in the day taking duct tape and sealing all the extra ridiculous vents on my desktop's case only to see noise and temperature reductions!! The idea that huge cases with a bunch of random vents are good thermal design is really wrong on so many levels. One well placed asymmetric fan is sufficient for a MacBook Pro... I'm just not understanding the general lack of expectations and standards. I expect so much more. Reply
  • SeanFL - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - link

    Just built one one of these and am very impressed. It's used for audio editing. Very very tiny and doesn't make much noise. I can't believe it's more powerful than the shuttle or fractal design mini itx I built last year. Hope to see more work being done in tiny form factor desktops. Reply
  • hellt - Thursday, January 30, 2014 - link

    I think its crucial to specify that haswell NUCs are specified to use DDR3L memory according to spec sheet

    Some amazon reviewers got a problem with that - they bought DDR3 memory tweaked for overclocking (with higher voltages) and werent able to boot the nuc, because of the power insufficient.
  • kgh00007 - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    Check this out, there are a set of 2133MHz G.Skill Ripjaws that will post on the i5 nuc, I'm about to order a set!
  • wordsofpeace - Saturday, February 8, 2014 - link

    Maybe overkill, but wouldn't this board make a good basis for FreeNAS? What else would I need? SATA connections? How would that happen? Reply
  • kgh00007 - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    Hi, are you guys aware that you can increase the TDP of the i5 model in the BIOS settings or using intel Extreme Tuning Utility?
    It is possible to up the TDP of the i5-4250u to 30w, which gives the GPU 24W and greatly improves performance.
    Is there any chance you could re-run some tests to see the difference between 15W TDP and 30W?
  • feelingblue74 - Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - link

    Someone can answer to this important questions?

    1) Can Haswell GPU output RGB Full 10bit?
    2) Can Haswell GPU in DXVA Mode manage driver post processing (Sharpness and denoise) without dropping frames on 1080p@23.976?
    3) How is Chroma upsampling quality?
    4) How are banding?
    5) Can Haswell output true 16-235 color space?

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