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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  • elian123 - Sunday, January 5, 2014 - link

    Definitely interested in thermals of Brix Pro. Where the Brix's U-series CPUs have 15W TDP, the Brix Pro's R-series CPUs have 65W. Reply
  • DanNeely - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    MY assumption is a combination of limited production capacity, and/or too much power consumption to put it anywhere except the top of the product range. It's currently only on 47W TDP models; estimating it's share of the total TDP isn't easy because the best match for the CPU in the fastest Iris pro is a 37W part while the best match for the CPU in the slowest IRIS pro is a 17W model. While there's probably differential binning going on, it suggests that a lower performing IRIS ram chip is a power pig. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Friday, January 3, 2014 - link

    You can find fanless (aluminum) NUC cases.

    Unless Silvermont is much cheaper, I don't see the point as performance (CPU, maybe GPU too) will be much worse.
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Friday, January 3, 2014 - link

    Patterson, there's lots of fanless NUC cases; many are quite small.

    see http://www.fanlesstech.com/search/label/TRANQUIL%2... for examples.
    Reply
  • patterson32 - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Ya but the ones I like cost too much compared to the total system cost. That's why I'm trying to see if there are any quieter fan replacements instead. Reply
  • jason64 - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Many of the good small ones need to be imported for US customers which just adds to the already high cost. At least for me anyway. I don't mind going with a quieter fan solution as long as the noise doesn't annoy me especially when watching movies. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Friday, January 3, 2014 - link

    Hi Ganesh,

    1. Any hope of this thing doing 4k video?
    What about the BRIX with Iris Pro?

    2. how loud is it when playing movies?

    3. how loud is it idle?

    Thanks for the reviews!
    Reply
  • Alketi - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    It's silent at IDLE.

    It's unnoticeably quiet for me when playing 1080P bluray rips (sitting 8-10 feet away).

    And, regarding 4K -- my best advice, which I read myself as I had the same concern -- buy a new $400 toy when 4K finally becomes mainstream and you have both the content, and a television, and an HDMI interface, and a receiver to play them with. Don't worry about future-proofing a sub-$500 item. :)
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Yes, this can do 4K video to the extent of what other GPUs from AMD / NV can do. I am not so sure about very complicated 4K encodes. We plan to standardize our 4K HTPC evaluation in Q3 when HDMI 2.0 (4Kp60-capable) sources and sinks come into the market.

    Fan noise is only an issue if you are using it as an office machine and sitting less than 3ft away from it (and that too in a quiet environment). This issue is there at idle too.

    If you are 3ft. or more away, I don't think it is even possible to hear the fan :)
    Reply
  • chizow - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Still too pricey imo for what it is and what it is limited in doing. I was wondering why a rash of sales popped up on the last-gen NUC with i3 + Thunderbolt today, on sale at a variety of places for $160. That is what I am looking to pay for one of these units given the fact you still need to buy RAM and an mSATA. I wonder if Intel would introduce a cheaper Atom version as Atom seems to be the cure for all Intel-price-related woes. :D

    I was hoping this updated version corrected the biggest downside of the original, the requirement of mSATA but it only looks like the pricier WYKH SKU allows for full 2.5" SSDs. I have plenty of those in the 120-128GB range so I'd rather not spend another $120 or so on a similar sized mSATA drive. Also, Intel still not including a mickey-mouse power cable is ridiculous, it really feels like they are doing everything they can to not sell these things.
    Reply

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