Design and build
The processor is embedded on the top side of the motherboard, and the underside is where other components are added. Memory modules are slotted into two SO-DIMM slots that can each accept 16GB of 1.35V low-power DDR3L. Storage is an Intel mSATA SSD that slots into a full-length mini PCI-Express slot, and wireless cards can be fitted into a half-length mini PCI-Express slot underneath.
Intel makes its NUCs available in both board and kit form, with the latter coming inside a smart aluminium chassis. It's a good looking unit, with brushed metal sides and a glossy roof, and it's both sturdy and small - its 35mm height is 5mm shorter than last year's NUC case.
Installing the NUC board inside its case is as simple as tightening a couple of screws, and the components are similarly simple to fit. It's just as easy to remove the board, which is ideal if you want to fit the NUC board into one of many third-party cases that are beginning to hit the market.
The NUC board's edges are littered with a better port selection than we've previously seen on NUC systems. Four USB 3.0 ports is three more than on older models, and the board has an internal header that supports a pair of USB 2.0 connectors.
There's a Gigabit Ethernet port, an on-board SATA 6Gbps socket and its power connector, and display outputs are handled by miniHDMI and miniDisplayport connectors. Every NUC case also includes an infrared receiver, which aids media player use, and the board has a VESA mount so this tiny PC can be mounted on the back of a monitor.
There's no room for Thunderbolt, though. The high-speed storage technology seems to have fallen out of favour with Intel. No adapters are included in the box for those miniDisplayport connections.
Intel's updated NUC Kit is better in every way than last year's model. Its Haswell Core i5 processsor is a little faster than Ivy Bridge silicon, the new graphics core is a larger leap forward, and the port selection is stronger and more sensible. It even consumes less power, too.
This machine still comes with caveats, though, including the added cost of components, and the fact that it's still only capable of functioning as a standard PC or media centre rather than as a lightweight gaming box or a machine for more intensive work.
That said, this is the best NUC Kit yet, and third-party cases and peripherals are already appearing for this new board, so the NUC's burgeoning modding scene will likely grow. It's the best way yet to buy into Intel's vision for the future of PCs. µ
The updated processor and graphics core provide more speed, the board itself is better equipped, and power consumption has been reduced.
This machine still can't handle high-end work or games, and it's also missing Thunderbolt and full-sized display outputs.
You'll have to spend plenty of extra cash on an SSD, memory, wireless card and perhaps an OS.