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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  • Acarney - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I'm confused by the comments about the Brix Pro. I still haven't seen a price or even release date for it. Do you guys have inside knowledge of it? I kinda thought it might have been cancelled... Reply
  • elian123 - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I haven't found much information either, although this did look good to me: https://twitter.com/IntelGaming/status/41454908150... Ganesh's remark that he has a review unit (http://www.anandtech.com/comments/7566/intels-hasw... is even better of course. Reply
  • cen - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I never understood why Anandtech never mentiones anything about Linux in their hardware reviews. This seems like a perfect htpc device to put Linux on and I am sure that some readers would be happy to know what are the hoops to go through on the Linux side, the state of Netflix, any driver issues etc. Why pay the Windows tax if you can get the same or pehaps even better experience for free? Reply
  • fackamato - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Just check out the HD5000 GPU support under Linux, that should give you a good idea about the HTPC capabilities. Reply
  • patterson32 - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    There are other components where it would be nice if they were tested on Linux especially as part of a particular system like the BRIX and NUC. Scouring for info for each component is less desirable than having the entire system tested and reviewed in a single article. Reply
  • patterson32 - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    I always hope AT will write more on Linux topics but they never do. The focus is almost solely on Windows. It'd be nice if they did hardware reviews with Linux and give the usual details of what works and what doesn't and other very detailed information.

    The only okay site I know of that does Linux hardware stuff is Phoronix but that site uses tests that aren't that meaningful especially for non-GPU hardware and desktop use. For other hardware, they just gloss over many details. Their "analysis" are often blurbs like the power consumption is less than system x. Useless, I can see that on the graph and the system x is some much higher performing non-comparable device.
    Reply
  • jason64 - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Phoronix hardware "reviews" aren't very useful for potential buyers who want to use Linux apart from Michael's GPU driver tests. It'd nice if AnandTech started writing Linux articles. Reply
  • chizow - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    Main limitation I think for HTPC use for people like me is lack of ability to play CableCARD DRM content. I've looked into the alternatives, and there still isn't anything on the Linux/Android/iOS market yet that can replace Windows Media Center for Premium CableCARD content (HBO, MAX, SHO etc.) DLNA is enabling some workarounds (PS3, native SmartTV Apps), but the end-product still isn't as good or as fast as WMC's interface. Reply
  • Lundmark - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - link

    HD audio. I don't think you can get HD audio on Linux. Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, January 5, 2014 - link

    Just testing out OpenELEC right now and HD audio passthrough support is great in the latest dev build. That is an embedded Linux system :) Reply

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