Component manufacturers typically don't build retail products—they don't want to compete with their customers. But when it comes to constructing itty-bitty desktop PCs, Intel apparently still sees the need to show the way forward.
The next Next Unit of Computing, the NUC Kit D54250WYK, represents a major leap forward from Intel's first effort. Whereas the first-gen kit featured a third-generation Core i3 processor and formed the foundation for a stupendous home theater PC, with this new kit Intel stuffed a beefier fourth-gen Core i5 chip into an even smaller enclosure. Add the right components, and you have a capable contender for both play and work.
Peering inside the box
If you're wondering why Intel markets the NUC as a kit, that's because it isn't a complete computer. You need to supply a number of additional components—and an operating system—before you can fire this machine up and start using it. We reviewed it with Windows 8, but this thing is just begging to have a copy of XBMC installed on it.
Such a product is what's commonly referred to as a "bare-bones" system. In this case, your $360 buys a 4-by-4-inch motherboard with a Core i5-4250U processor (soldered to the board and therefore not upgradable), an enclosure (with an integrated Wi-Fi antenna), a heat sink and fan, and an external power brick (an item Intel didn't ship with the first NUC because the company didn't want to stock a bunch of versions based on the requirements of various markets).
The Core i5-4250U is a dual-core processor with one of Intel's better—but not best—integrated graphics technologies: the Intel HD Graphics 5000. Intel also includes a VESA mounting bracket, so you can attach the NUC to the back of your display should you want to create a custom all-in-one PC. The motherboard has a pair of SO-DIMM slots and can address up to 16GB of DDR3L/1333 or DDR3L/1600 memory (the L is for low-power, or 1.35-volt, RAM). It has one full-length PCIe mini slot (which you'll probably use to plug in an internal Wi-Fi adapter) and one half-length PCIe mini slot (which you'll most likely use to connect an mSATA solid-state drive).
The motherboard is also well appointed, with two USB 3.0 ports in front, two more in the back, and one each of SATA data and power connectors. Although you'll find no room inside the enclosure for additional storage, you could operate a drive outside the case or look for a third-party alternative, such as SilverStone or Chenbro. The new NUC also has both Mini HDMI and Mini DisplayPort video outputs, along with a 1/8-inch audio-headset jack. If you're interested in building out a miniature home-theater PC, the NUC has an infrared sensor in the front panel.
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