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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  • chrnochime - Sunday, January 5, 2014 - link

    Well if you can kindly point us to an arm equipped device similar in size, with the same kind of ports, that actually runs win8 and is available, by all means post the link. Until then, you can hypothetically speaking all you want. Reply
  • lhl - Friday, January 17, 2014 - link

    Yeah, I'm going to need to call BS on that. I assume that you haven't actually tried using those ARM SoC boards. I've tested most of the "high performance" ones (ODROID-X2 (Exynos 4), Samsung Chromebook (Exynos 5), Wandboard and UDOO (i.MX6 Quad)) w/ Ubuntu. First of all, cost on those are ~$150 w/ cases/power etc, so far from 1/5th the price (that's w/ soldered-in not-enough RAM and no storage). And second, the performance and software compatibility (anything from uBoot issues, to X11 drivers, to Flash Player) make them far less than ideal for general purpose usage.

    The ARM SoCs make for great embedded boards - TDP is great and the IPU/VPU on the i.MX6 is really interesting, but a good experience for Jane User? No way.

    For general computing work, the i5 may be overkill, but a 1037u BRIX retails for $170 (+$40 for a 4GB SODIMM) which is probably where I'd start.
  • misfit410 - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    After trying the Steam In Home Streaming beta, I think the market for such machines as a secondary gaming station for PC gamers will increase.. if you have a solid gaming machine on the same network, this is all you'd need for playing those games on your TV at full fidelity. Reply
  • asliarun - Friday, January 3, 2014 - link

    AT and Ganesh, thanks once again for an excellent review. I have a couple of questions and a suggestion:
    Q1. I am planning to build an audio server (optical or usb out from the PC - feeding to the rest of my stereo chain - Audio GD DAC acting as a DAC and preamp, Parasound power amp, and floorstanders). The NUC seems to be the ideal form factor for an audio server. Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you test audio quality (specifically stereo - not gaming audio) during your review and tests? I'm actually not planning to use the DAC of the onboard sound so that actually would not be an issue for me.

    Q2. Another option I have been mulling over is to build a multi-purpose "steam box" kind of a device - that will let me run this SFF PC as an audio server, as an HTPC with XBMC, and will also let me do light to mid-level gaming with Steam big picture. I was actually waiting for Kaveri which I think will actually be more viable - but am not sure how well Haswell's integrated graphics stand up with something like Kaveri or even a graphics card. Especially with thermals and throttling in mind. What are your thoughts on the viability of the NUC in this regard? Do you have any pointers on what one should look at - considering that it should also be a small form factor (shoebox size)?

    S1: This might sound silly, but can you please post pictures of the cabinets and boxes with some other object in the picture as well - to give us a visual perspective of how big/small it is? I see so many pictures of mini ITX cabinets and other HTPC cabinets, but almost all of them lack the size perspective. Looking at the pictures, I have no way to visually judge if it will fit in my media cabinet at all. I have to look at the dimensions every time and it is painful. For example, you could post a picture of the cabinet with a picture of an iPad alongside.
  • Alketi - Friday, January 3, 2014 - link

    It's a 4.5" square and 1.5" tall. It's TINY. Reply
  • asliarun - Friday, January 3, 2014 - link

    Thanks. Wow, that is tiny indeed. Slightly OT - I have a Minix Neo X5 which has somewhat similar dimensions and is also fanless. It is actually quite a credible audio (and average quality video) server. However, being on the Android platform and based on some Rokchip version, the lack of software support is frustrating. For example, I wanted to install LMS (Logitech Media Server) so that I can serve audio to my Squeezebox. However, there is no port of LMS to Android that I know of.

    Maybe, I should wait for the Silvermont version of NUC. It is supposed to release in the next couple of months. It can act as a fully fanless audio server. On second thoughts, having gaming expectations from this small a device is not a great idea.
  • Alketi - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I have the i3 Haswell NUC and use it solely as an XBMC server via OpenELEC. I leave it on all the time, with XBMC set to turn off its display after X minutes. I measured 6W idle on mine, which nicely matches Ganesh's findings.

    And sitting 8-10 feet away, I can't hear the fan at all. It's probably OFF when idling at 6W, and I still hear nothing during a movie (the quiet parts), as the NUC only pulls 13W when playing 1080P video.

    I'm very happy.
  • ShieTar - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    There are already fanless mods of the current NUC, see for example Reply
  • asliarun - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I have been following fanlesstech for a while. They have written about some very interesting fanless cases. A surprising number of them are for the NUC.

    There's stuff from Habey, Streacom and the like. But also some exotic ones - very good eye candy.

    This one is my favourite for example:

    Personally, I believe that a Bay Trail (especially Bay Trail D) / Silvermont based system is the best fit for a NUC form factor. We could build a very viable system for well under $500, with a system draw in the 10W-15W range that can give us a fully fanless system if we wanted to, and will still have the same horsepower as a Core2Duo system (Bay Trail D). I feel that Haswell is a wrong choice from a cost, heat, and noise perspective.

    Here's an example:

    The only open question is if these Bay Trail based HTPC systems will be capable of full blown HTPC duty. I would think so based on technical specs but real world is another thing entirely.

    Maybe Anandtech could do a review?? :)
  • Wixman666 - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I believe that the Haswell family is a better solution overall. The on die Intel 5000 video is GREAT. Even though the Bay Trail looks decent, it isn't as well-rounded. Reply

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