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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  • yyrkoon - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    I agree that stability is paramount, With that said, I am not sure what that has to do with customization really. It does mean you have to research the hardware you want to use before buying. Which is what I have always considered ( for the last 5 + years anyhow ) the most important part of the build process. That in of it's self can be time consuming I agree.

    When it is all said then done however. You usually ( always ? ) end up with a system to be perfectly happy with. My last system build was exactly that. Perfect. While it was custom, it was nothing like this.

    Using a system board like this for me would entail making my own case from scratch. Something I would actually enjoy, but have not yet done to date. In this *case*, that would be the majority of the customization for me. Building my own case, with my idea of perfection in mind. Having had what I consider some really cool ideas for a case design for several years now, I would really like to give it a shot.

    With all that said. I have actually considered ripping my laptop apart and building a case around that. But at some point, you have to ask yourself "why". Resale would be non-existent, and you never know how well it would work out in the end. The one reason why i would do this is so that I could overclock the system to have it perform reasonably well.Then enclose it in a case with ample cooling to help keep it happy. Stability then becomes a concern . . . and yeah it is too much trouble to deal with really.

    Do I *need* this board to do what I want ? Not really. Would I like this board to work out for my own purposes ? Definitely.
  • gcor - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    Things may well have got better since my days of system building.

    Some of the trouble I had was with buggy motherboard firmware. By the time I had evidence of the problems, the motherboard manufacturer had stopped doing fixes. I eventually stuck to more common big name enthusiast motherboards, which definitely helped.

    However, the problem then moved on to integration problems between add on boards. If all the gear was relatively new, things worked fine at first, but as patches came out over the months / years, problems would then appear. Working out which patches to exclude became a long and tedious process. Also, not being able to install important updates like service packs meant the systems either lacked functionality or security.

    So, while I found I could research and put together a pretty fast and stable system using big name brands that worked for a while, I'd eventually wind up with trouble. On average this generally started about 18 months in.

    At the same time, the big name PC's and laptops at work kept on keeping on. I looked into it and found out that with big name systems that were still in original configuration, there was much better testing by MS etc before release. Also, if a problem did occur in the field, big corporates with loads of these systems would push back the problems on to the vendors and a fix would be released.

    Looking at it from a testing perspective, it's impossible for vendors to test all permutations and combinations of kit out there. I did this kind of thing myself when working on closed-system telecom's network nodes. We restricted and had control of every revision of hardware, firmware, OS and application. In order to ensure that every customer system in the field was tested, the number of system configurations rapidly exploded. We did the testing, but it was extremely expensive. To my mind, there is absolutely no way vendors in PC open systems land can come close to this.

    Anyway, I'm clearly a little jaded on systems building these days. It used to be a great fun hobby, but the down time when I actually needed to get stuff done killed it for me.
  • yyrkoon - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    Not jaded at all. In my world, you pay for something, you need to get a quality product. At least where functionality comes into play. You might not get every bell and whistle, but it should work well for at least 3 years. 5 years + was the norm in the 90's.

    For what its worth, I've been building systems since 93, and yes now days everyone seems to be shoveling crap out the door. Call it a sign of the times.
  • gcor - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    I tend to agree with the sign of the times sentiment.

    I gave up on Telecom's network R&D in 2007 when my last assignment was to ensure we met uptime contractual agreements, not by fixing the crashes caused by traffic (i.e. phone calls), but by reducing reboot times. It took 40 people 18 months to engineer a new go-faster distributed boot sequence that was much more prone to race condition failures and much harder to maintain, instead of fixing the root cause.

    Of course, 18 months later the network traffic had increased to the extent that the improved boot times had not changed the overall annual uptime figures. I.e., 60 man years of work achieved something that was worse than useless.

    I chucked the towel in when our design centre was finally asked to look into and fix the root causes of the crashes, but told we only had weeks to do it in.
  • hoeding - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    Hopefully these support iSCSI booting, they will be great for HTPC and smart tv type stuff.
  • PyroHoltz - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    Where is the Ethernet port....for shame if they think that should be dongled off of the USB3.0 port.
  • Black1969ta - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    With that Acronym for a name, I can picture the ad campaign now,
    Launch will coincide with "The Three Stooges (II)" whatever the title will be.
    The Stooges and Intel will pair up to promote the NUC and the movie.
    Maybe market it at Children to get a computor in the Toddler's room
    The stooges slapstick comedy will involve the NUC bashing around and still working to demonstrate toughness,
    Moe already says NUC, NUC, NUC. so it is a perfect fit.
    Selling them toward the untouched market of Pre-preschool would sell Millions, like that, " Your child can read" program.
  • scrapeboxmurah - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - link

    I want studying by and I believe this web site received some really utilitarian stuff on it! .

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