Price: $ 470
A high-performance PC does not have to occupy the entire desk. Intel's New Units of Computing (NUCs) are tiny 4 x 4-inch PCs with some of the latest CPUs installed. The catch? They come as kits that you need to assemble – but do not worry, it's a breeze even for beginners.
What we like
- Tiny form factor
- Powerful PC for its size
- Low power consumption
- With the VESA mount, you can mount NUC on the back of the monitor.
- Can support up to three monitors.
And what we do not do.
- A little expensive.
- To be assembled USB ports
Do not be put off by the prospect of building your own NUC. It's easy. Compared to assembling the entire computer, including attaching the motherboard to the chassis, properly connecting the power supply, and so on, setting up a NUC is more like plugging together some LEGO devices.
Good Things Come in Small Packages
The "Bean Canyon" NUC8i7BEH i7 NUC that Intel has made available to us only needs three things to be a hard-working, tiny desktop – RAM, a storage drive, and the Windows -Operating system. Everything else is included in the case (and already attached to it).
As Storage and Memory are easy to find and install , We used two Kingston 16GB SO-DIMM RAM modules and a 960GB SSD hard drive. And just because we had it in our test pack, we also added a Western Digital Blue SN500 M.2 SATA drive as the NUC we used included both a 2.5-inch drive and a PCI M.2 SATA drive can support.
Other models in the NUC range are narrower and support only a M.2 form factor SSD and not the 2.5 inch model we included in our build. Both give the PC a second, fast drive that can store frequently used files or applications. Finally, we had a copy of Windows 10 Home Editon. You could install the Professional Edition, but that will cost you an additional $ 40-50.
No Bargain Basement PC
Just because the NUC is tiny, it's no less expensive than a suitably configured desktop purchase already mounted, though it can be very good. As configured, our build was $ 870, slightly more than buying an equivalent regular desktop from HP, Dell or Lenovo. How it works:
- i7 NUC (NUC8i7BEH) : 470 USD
- 32 GB Kingston RAM : 150 USD
- 960 GB Kingston SSD : 100 USD  250 GB Western Digital Blue SN500 : 50 USD
- Windows 10 Home Edition : 100 USD
- Total Construction Cost : 870 USD
That's not cheap, but those are the costs charged. If you halve the RAM, use a smaller SSD, and turn off the second SSD M.2 drive, you can bring the build home for significantly less. And you still have a tiny PC with lots of muscle. If you can live with an i5 CPU – or even an i3 CPU – you can cut costs even further. And a Celeron-based NUC costs only $ 125. If you add 8GB of RAM and 480GB of hard drive, you can have a NUC capable of surfing the Internet and even running Microsoft Office.
The Bare Bones NUC kit includes the PC, a 19-volt power supply, and an adapter plate. This plate is a VESA adapter that allows you to mount the finished NUC on the back of most current monitors and even some TVs to add extra desk space. The VESA plate is screwed to the back of a compatible monitor and the bottom of the NUC is provided with two screws. You can then hang the NUC on the adapter plate by aligning the new screws on the bottom of the PC with the holes on the adapter.
Finally, use the two long screws to hang the NUC into the appropriate slots on the VESA adapter plate that you installed on the back of the monitor.
What you need
While our costs are broken up Above is explained what you need for the build. Let's see what that includes (and what extras you might need).
The special NUC that Intel has made available to us is at the bottom of the i7 CPU line. You can get NUCs with a choice of CPUs ranging from Celeron, Pentium, i3 and i5 processors to several more powerful i7 models. If you only need everyday office tasks such as Internet surfing and office apps for the PC, you could probably get away with a Celeron model that costs you around $ 130 instead of $ 470. Of course you get what you pay for.
The particular CPU in our model runs at 2.6GHz, but other models offer CPUs with processor speeds up to 3.5GHz if you want higher performance. The NUC8i7BEH built by us, like all models in this series, also has Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655. This provides a modest gaming capability, but does not provide the same high-end graphics capabilities as PCs specifically designed for gaming.
Before You Begin, You Must Do Some Things Prepare for the software side of the build. Of course, you'll need a copy of Windows 10. You can choose the Home Edition, which should be fine for most users, or the Professional Edition for $ 50 more.
Two additional elements for the build. One is a USB DVD drive that lets you install Windows from a CD (if you skip this and want to install via USB, read this tutorial here). It costs about $ 25, but it's definitely handy because the NUC and many of today's PCs and laptops do not have optical drives.
The other thing you might need is a USB flash drive with Intel's NUC driver set. You must download it from the Intel Support website using another PC or laptop. However, this is necessary because Intel does not include drivers for Ethernet, video, or sound along with the NUC, and Windows does not install them. If you use exactly the NUC we have, you can get the entire bundle here. Without the drivers for Wi-Fi and Ethernet, the software installation can not be completed.
You might also consider buying a USB hub. The NUC has five USB ports. Three of them are standard USB 3.0 ports. There is also a USB 3.1 port and a USB 3-type C port, which also serves as Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort and to which you can connect a second monitor. The NUC actually supports up to three displays if you purchase an optional USB-C / ThunderBolt3 adapter for two HDMI ports. With a low-cost USB hub, you have much more flexibility than you can connect to the NUC.
Assembling all the components is the most time-consuming part of the process, but assembling your mighty little one The PC should take no more than a few minutes.
For this assembly, you must load the RAM, SSD and, if purchased, the M.2-format drive into the supplied bare-bones PC. But before you can do this, you must first open the case. If you turn the case over, you will see four screws in the rubber feet. This requires a small Phillips screwdriver. Loosen them and you can remove the cover. Be careful when removing the cover. Depending on the NUC kit you purchased, this cover may include the socket for a 2.5-inch SSD. Some NUC kits only support RAM-like M.2 drives. These cases are lower than the kit we received from Intel.
After loosening the four screws, gently lift the cover. Do not pull the cable between the two halves of the case. If you do this (and I do occasionally), you can check the motherboard for where it will be reinserted.
Now you can install RAM and SSD (s). A word of warning here. These components are sensitive to static electricity. A grounding bracelet is a good idea. The wrist strap has a band that goes around your wrist, a 1 meter long cord and a crocodile clip at the end that allows you to attach something in your house that is grounded, e.g. B. the screw with which an outlet plate is attached. If necessary, you can work on the kitchen counter and attach the crocodile clip to one of the water shut-off valves under the sink. It's not as sexy as a workbench, but you'll only be attached to the sink pipes for a few minutes, and it's not worth damaging static-sensitive components.
The 2.5-inch SSD is inserted into the cage on the hard drive bottom of the case. Insert it so that the top of the SSD is visible through the cage cutouts and slide it all the way in. You will not hurt anything if you place it incorrectly – it just will not be inserted and the PC will not recognize the drive.
Once the 2.5-inch SSD is installed, you will need to insert the M.2 drive if you have purchased one. The socket for this drive is a bit hard to find, so you may need to turn the case around. To insert the drive, a screw must be removed. You reinstall this screw after inserting the module into the socket.
Finally, you need to install the two SO-DIMM RAM modules. SO-DIMMs are the type of memory used in laptops and are shorter than standard RAM modules used in desktop PCs. These have a slot in the base so they can only sit properly in the outlet. Insert the first RAM module into the socket and push the top of the module down so that it snaps into place with the side pins. Then install the second SO-DIMM in the same way. If you install only a single SO-DIMM, it will be plugged into the socket closest to the motherboard.
You're done with the hardware page. You have just built your own PC!
Finally, you need to install Windows and the Intel driver package. We took care of it at How-to Geek.
Putting the Pedal on Metal
When we had a working PC, we wanted to see how our i7 NUC beats desktop configurations from different manufacturers. The easiest way was to run a standard benchmark suite. Some of these are SysMark 2018, PCMark 10, and GeekBench 4, which we use. Non-professional versions are generally free for personal use, but the Professional version we use provides more detailed information.
GeekBench 4 runs two series of tests, "Compute" and "CPU," and provides results for them as well as for many of the subtests. You can then go to the provider's website and compare your results with those of other users who uploaded their test results. The GeekBench site provides many results from systems running all types of CPUs and operating systems including Linux and Macs.
The results of the benchmarks are:
- CPU Benchmark Single Core: 5511
- CPU Benchmark Multiple Core: 18418
- Compute Benchmark: 64600
Of course these are just numbers until you compare them to the results published on the GeekBench website. As it turns out, our results for the i7-based systems listed on the website are pretty good, much less for a PC in a tiny 4 x 4 x 2-inch package.
Yet, benchmark numbers are just that – numbers. They are useful for comparing systems of similar configuration, but give little insight into how a system will handle real tasks (although many synthetic benchmarks emulate standard features such as web browsing, office operations, and games). And the GeekBench results on their website you will not find much configuration information on the backgrounds of the results listed.
To get a more realistic assessment of how our NUC works, we have Microsoft Office 2016, the Chrome and Firefox browsers, and Photoshop installed items 2019. With numerous tabs open in both browsers, we've created a complex PowerPoint presentation and edited. We opened both the browser and PowerPoint and edited several photos with Photoshop. Our NUC has not noticeably slowed down in any of the open applications, mainly as a result of a powerful CPU coupled with a lot of RAM.
The NUC is not meant for games, and I'm not much slowed down as mentioned earlier. Nowadays they are avid gamers – but I like many of the classic FPS games like Doom and Unreal, and they worked great on our build. Newer games with high GPU requirements may experience noticeable slowdowns, although many popular modern but less demanding titles should perform well. The NUC series is more about productivity and media playback, and less about games. However, the i7 NUC made it easy to perform office productivity tasks, and it was not a problem to stream video content or play it from a connected drive.
Build or Buy?
Many popular PC vendors, including Dell, Lenovo, and HP, offer these to small-format PCs. In most cases, they are more expensive for the same processor and performance than traditional mid-tower desktops.
For example, Lenovo's 7×7.2-inch ThinkCentre M920 Tiny is configured similar to the NUC build, priced out at around $ 1,700. The processor of the M920 Tiny is also an i7 of the eighth generation, but slightly more powerful than that of the NUC. The HP EliteDesk 800 35 W G4 Desktop Mini PC is just under 20 cm², has 16 GB of RAM and costs $ 1,144. Both are excellent PCs. If you do not want to use your own PCs, you should take a look. And both come with factory warranties and service if things go wrong.
Building a PC can be a daunting prospect. Here you can get a good overview. There are many components that need to be carefully assembled and apply the thermal compound and a cooling solution. Then it is sometimes difficult to mount and connect hard drives with one or more SATA and power cables. Building a NUC is much easier. Just select the model with the CPU you want and use a few easy-to-install drives and RAM modules.
Building a typical desktop can take hours before you finish installing Windows Within 15 minutes and built by a complete newbie. The CPU and cooling solution are mounted, and the power adapter is a standard model for laptops or outlets (depending on the NUC purchased). NUCs are limited in two areas compared to many desktops. One is the storage capacity. Our NUC has a maximum capacity of 32 GB with 16 GB SO-DIMMs in the two available RAM sockets. The other limitation is graphics. All NUCs except the top model (which is designed as a slot machine and costs over $ 1,000 before components or operating systems are added) use the same embedded Intel graphics. With a NUC you will not achieve breathtaking frame rates.
But our little DIY i7 NUC has a similar performance to many small desktops with form factor, lots of RAM and hard disk space, and a price of or below desktop models. It's not a challenge and you have a desktop that can fit anywhere and even hide on the back of your monitor.
We think that the money and the effort are worth it. And you have the satisfaction of telling everyone that you built it yourself.
What we like
- Small form factor
- Powerful PC for its size
- Low power consumption
- With the VESA mount you can mount NUC on the back of the monitor
- Can support up to three monitors
And what we do not
- Slightly expensive
- Must be assembled
- Can use more USB ports