Breaking Inside the Unit
While the Intel Next Unit of Computing looks like a complete and ready to go computer out of the box, you still need a few things to get it running. For our model, we had to install a wireless card, an SSD and system memory.
Opening it up is quite simple – something you can't say with many small form factor computers – and requires removing four Philips screws at the rubber feet.
Removing the bottom of the case shows a solidly constructed design with all the necessary parts accessible right away.
Users that are familiar with laptops will surely recognize the SODIMM slots and the PCIe/mSATA connections on the right hand side.
Another pair of screws to remove and we can take out the entire mainboard and show the top of the NUC and the portion that also acts as the antenna for the WiFi.
Getting our hands on the D33217CK motherboard itself proved to be pretty enticing; that is a lot of hardware in a very small amount of space!
Most of the magic happens under this heatsink and fan assembly courtesy of the Ivy Bridge-based Core i3-3217U processor. The fan is incredibly quiet and I actually thought it was passively cooled until I took it apart after completing our testing.
Two screws released the fan and three more for the heatsink to reveal an impressively designed compact motherboard. There wasn't even room for the BIOS battery as it is enclosed in a loose yellow wrap and plugged into the board via a 2-pin header.
A close up of the board shows us the Core i3-3217U low voltage dual-core processor and the Intel QS77 Express chipset that make the system tick.
After exploring the insides of the Intel NUC it is time to get down to the business of actually building and constructing the computer. And while it's not like building a typical desktop system you do still get some options for customization.
The first thing we need is connectivity and without a dedicated Ethernet port that means wireless data. Along with the NUC Intel sent us a Centrino Advanced-N 6235 mPCIe adapter that can handle 802.11n speeds in the 5GHz range
Installation was easy enough: place it in the socket, screw it down with the single screw and then attach the leads for the WiFi antenna.
Next up is a driver for your OS and storage and again we were provided with an Intel SSD 520 series mSATA unit with a 180GB capacity. Seeing that much storage in such a small "card" still impresses me especially when you see how fast it can go. I had a hard time finding this mSATA drive for sale online anywhere so you might have to go another route but as long as the form factor is right you shouldn't have a problem.
Again, installation was simple and required only a single screw. You can see that the SSD is actually stacked on top of the WiFi card and while that didn't bother me at first it turned out to cause some stability problems that Intel is still looking into today. More on that later.
Finally, we need some system memory. I happen to have a pair of Crucial 4GB DDR3-1600 SODIMMs sitting around that would give this system a total of 8GB of memory – plenty for our purposes.
If you have put memory in a laptop before this has the exact same premise – place it in the slot and then push down to lock in place. Presto, 8GB of memry in a 4-in x 4-in computer.
That's it! The Intel Next Unit of Computing is ready for powering on, operating system installation and then benchmarking. On to the next page!