Intel NUC 4th generation with Core i5 processor - review

By Peter Gothard
06 Jan 2014 View Comments

The fourth generation of Intel's NUC (Next Unit of Computing - whatever the heck that means) has arrived, and the company finally seems to have made some excellent decisions around the little kit that could.

Further reading

The NUC basically seeks to replace the cumbersome desktop computer with a tiny box, stuffing a variety of ultrabook-size components into its elegant chassis, all ready to be tucked behind your monitor, or even clasped to its back with the provided mounting plate. At just 4.6" x 4.4" x 1.36" it's an incredibly dinky machine.

But sporting an Intel Core i5-4250U dual core 1.3GHz microprocessor, it's no slouch. Add the four USB 3.0 ports and both micro-HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs, a 3.5mm audio jack and even an infra-red control receiver, and you realise it's potentially a versatile offering, too.

And there's something else Intel is going for with the NUC, and that's an attempt to hark back to the days of kit computing - or at the very least, giving users the opportunity to add custom components, as in the PC heyday of the 1990s. To this end, the inside of the case sports two 1.35V SO-DIMM memory slots, a PCI Express half-length connector, as a well as a full size one.

There's even a six gigabit per second (Gb/s) SATA connector in there, although the case Intel ships this NUC board in won't accommodate even the smallest regular hard drives. Hence, you'd need to buy the board on its own, without the case (also possible) in order to attempt such a feat.

Components, however, are sold separately, and this could be the major hurdle for any IT manager thinking of buying a fleet of NUCs into a space-conscious office setup.

The machine itself retails at around £300, but for that you get basically nothing to make it function. Unlike earlier versions, though, Intel has at least decided to include a mains adapter with the fourth generation edition, but for memory, storage and wireless cards, you're on your own.

The two four-gigabyte (GB) DDR3 DIMMS Intel provided with our review machine made it more than speedy enough for the chores we set it, but this amount of memory will also weigh in at more than £100 from most suppliers (it's upgradable to 16GB for those with bottomless pockets).

Add the 180GB SSD hard drive and wireless (and Bluetooth) card we were provided with, and you're suddenly looking at the initial layout of £300 expanding to way over the £500 mark. Not too bad for an ultrabook of equivalent power, but the NUC doesn't occupy that space.

Sure, you could theoretically slip it into your bag to take on the road, but you'll then need to transport a micro-HDMI cable, a keyboard, a mouse and any external storage you may happen to need.

As a result, it's not so much the no-brainer you may have originally considered: we tried carting the whole thing into the office every day on a couple of occasions and it wasn't fun, especially the time we forgot the micro-HDMI and there were no spares lying around. It's BYOD alright, but the D could well stand for disappointment.

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