Intel has demonstrated a new form factor at PAX East and Intel's Platinum Summit. The form factor carries the name Next Unit of Computing, or simply NUC, and measures in at 4" x 4" (or 10cm x 10cm for metric people). For comparison, mini-ITX is 17cm x 17cm so in terms of area NUC is 65% smaller.

Intel's demo unit was based on Sandy Bridge, although the exact SKU is unknown. Given the size, it's most likely a ULV i3 or i5. In terms of other specifications, there are two SO-DIMM slots and two mini PCIe headers for WiFi for instance. Connectivity is fairly limited with one each for Thunderbolt, HDMI, and USB 3.0 ports, though especially Thunderbolt can support multiple devices using just one port.

There is one thing that goes unmentioned: Storage. Intel provided absolutely no info on what kind of storage NUC supports. In fact, it's not even sure if there is a SATA port since the photos that SweClockers posted are fairly restricting. The dimensions of a 2.5" drive are about 100mm x 70mm x 9.5mm, so fitting one inside a NUC might be a tight fit. An mSATA SSD would be more logical due to the space limits, but SSDs would of course increase the price and/or limit the capacity. It's good to keep in mind that Intel's unit is most likely a protoype showing the idea behind NUC and it's not necessarily a final design—plus OEMs can always do their own designs—so it's hard to speculate at this point.

As this is not a final product announcement, pricing is also unknown. Our rough estimation for a low-end model would be $200-300 since Core i3 CPU alone is at least $100 (though mobile i3s are OEM only so specific price is unknown). Without knowing the exact configuration, it's hard to say how much other components would add to the price but we should be looking at close to $100 with a decent amount of storage and RAM. Then add manufacturing and profits and a $299 price tag sounds somewhat realistic.

The constraints of NUC definitely shape its market niche. While it could be inexpensive, a real desktop can be had for about the same money but with more expandability. Intel claims that NUC is mainly aimed at digital signage and kiosks, and I can definitely see NUC being useful in such environments. NUC could also be a good low-end HTPC if it's configured properly but I can't see much other use for it in a home environment, as a tower desktop is better in almost every aspect other than size.

It seems that NUC is Intel's attempt at bringing the ultrabook idea to the desktop side, and while we have only seen a couple of pictures it's definitely an interesting concept. We have seen what small desktops can do nowadays by looking at Apple's Mac Mini and mini-ITX builds. Even low-end mobile CPUs are more than powerful enough for everyday use, so a full-size tower may not always be a necessity.

Intel is saying that first NUCs should appear in H2'12. It's unclear whether the first models will be Sandy Bridge based, but given that Ivy Bridge is socket and chipset compatible with Sandy Bridge it would seem the more useful processor. Hopefully we'll get some hands on time with NUC in the near future.

Source: SweClockers

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  • Samus - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - link

    How am I going to plug my GTX680 into that!? :)
  • The noob - Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - link

    Since GTX 680 is a "card", I will ask nvidia to built one as thin as credit card so you can plug it into a nuc. . How well is this?
  • snoozemode - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - link

    Perhaps they should start making real SoCs as well, integrated USB, SATA, WiFi etc.
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    That's what Haswell will bring :-)
  • tipoo - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    Always something better coming if you wait, hrmph :P

    But then again, this is the first time I remember being perfectly happy with the performance of a three year old machine (Penryn quad).
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - link

    Maybe this is how Intel is going to compete with ARM in the embedded field ? ATOM the way it stands, in my mind is no competition. By far.

    In the low power market it would not work very well. But I could see it being handy in a few cases. Among those that were already mentioned in the article.

    A likely find in the wild would be something like this, a copy of Windows embedded, on POS systems country wide ( U. S. ) Another could be a customized board with improved graphics to make a decent gaming console.

    For me personally. We're 100% off-grid. Our power is provided by solar / wind. Plus the once a week use of a 30kW generator to pump water into a holding tank. Anyway, a small low-enough power system like this would come in very handy around here. For us, that has been our holy grail lately. A system that draws minimal power, but provides enough horsepower to not feel like an under-performing laptop. 50-60WH range would be incredibly nice Including monitor. Well that, and in a reasonable price range.

    Maybe, though, I am just dreaming. But I do know we have the ability / technology to do so. It just seems that ODM's/OEM's just want to make products that use more, and more power.

    It will be interesting to see where this sort of thing leads us.
  • Iketh - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - link

    so, where do you live?
  • gcor - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    Why not use laptops?

    We travelled in the Australian outback for a year witha camper trailer. It has 120W solar panels and a 120Ah 12v AGM deep cycle battery for all our power (except for occasional stops in caravan parks).

    For compute, we brought a couple of 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo laptops and 12v DC chargers to avoid 240v inverter inefficiencies. Also, we removed the laptop batteries, as charging a battery off a battery is very inefficient. Each laptop pulled from the deep cycle battery about 1.8-2.5 amps (i.e. 22-30 watts). We used to mess around with holiday pics, email, skype, watch TV/movies quite a lot and managed fine with these. Only time we had to be careful with power was when we set up the camper trailer under trees.

    These laptops are feeling a bit slow now, but I would assume current models would be faster and would draw about the same.
  • yyrkoon - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    Well, we're a bit less spartan here. Our panels yield about 2.5kW total peak. !kW worth pump two gallons water per minute from 500 feet down. The rest charge the battery bank. Our battery bank is 2250AH, flooded lead acid L16 2v batteries run in series to 12V out to a salvaged ambulance 2500W inverter.

    For wind, we use two Southwest windpower AIR-X 400W turbines. Being at 5900 feet, we get plenty of wind a lot of the time. Anything bigger would be asking for trouble ( the wind here has a habit of destroying wind turbines ).

    We run laptops now. For the most part, they are "O K". For gaming they're not so great. For encoding media they're terrible. Myself I run an AMD based laptop that can play GTA IV fairly well I suppose. While encoding movies really is not that good. Despite the fact it is a quad core system. The lower frequency ( 1.4Ghz ) just does not cut it for some things.

    So enough history. My personal reasons for not wanting to use laptops are many fold.

    First expand-ability Though with these as is, not much room other than what you can do with a laptop already.

    Second, customization. Laptops have a habit of heating up because of the confined space in which they reside ( internals ). With something like this, I could make a custom case, with near silent cooling. Passed that, I could add multiple drives, without breaking the bank on some high end business / entertainment model laptop With laptops, you're far more restricted in what you can do as far as customization goes in general. You're also restricted in what you can buy, from sellers / manufacturers.

    Lastly, I could go on for days, but obviously I wont. We do not need laptops here. They only serve as desktop replacements. Then not even very well at that. Something like this might work, while it also may not. Ivy Bridge is looking very attractive as far as low power goes, and perhaps the next tick will bring us something even better.

    Either way, I like what I am seeing here we'll just have to see where it leads.

    To the other person who asked where I live - Arizona.
  • gcor - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    I think you have a very good idea about what you'd like to do with the machines. I wouldn't go that route myself anymore, as I'm no longer a practising enthusiast as it were.

    Around 2009 I gave up on customisation, building machines from parts and niche products. Unfortunately my experience over a decade or so was that OS and other software patches would eventually kill the machine, leading to many frustrating hours of working out how to get around it. Eventually I got the feeling that no matter how fast my custom set ups were, downtime of days / weeks negated any speed gains.

    With the arrival of kids I became horribly time poor, so stability became the most important aspect of machines for me. I just wanted machines that wouldn't require huge time investment to keep alive. Name brand laptops have fit this very well. So far (touch wood and all that) I'm getting the reliability I need, however, games performance is out the window, as is encoding.

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