Another Next Unit of Computing

We take a look at the update Intel NUC that brings Haswell performance to the 4×4 form factor.

Just about a year ago Intel released a new product called the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC for short.  The idea was to allow Intel's board and design teams to bring the efficient performance of the ultra low voltage processors to a desktop, and creative, form factor.  By taking what is essentially Ultrabook hardware and putting it in a 4-in by 4-in design Intel is attempting to rethink what the "desktop" computer is and how the industry develops for it.

We reviewed the first NUC last year, based on the Intel Ivy Bridge processor and took away a surprising amount of interest in the platform.  It was (and is) a bit more expensive than many consumers are going to be willing to spend on such a "small" physical device but the performance and feature set is compelling. 

This time around Intel has updated the 4×4 enclosure a bit and upgrade the hardware from Ivy Bridge to Haswell.  That alone should result in a modest increase in CPU performance with quite a bit of increase in the integrated GPU performance courtesy of the Intel HD Graphics 5000.  Other changes are on the table to; let's take a look.

The Intel D54250WYK NUC is a bare bones system that will run you about $360.  You'll need to buy system memory and an mSATA SSD for storage (wireless is optional) to complete the build.

Outside the Intel NUC D54250WYK

Even though the chassis of the Intel NUC is so small, that really is a lot of the charm of the platform. 

The Intel D54250WYK is based on the 4th generation Core architecture and the Core i5-4250U dual-core, quad-thread processor that runs at a peak clock rate of 2.6 GHz and a base clock of 1.3 GHz.  The Intel HD Graphics 5000 will scale from 200 MHz up to 1.0 GHz.  The other specs are pretty straight forward with a dual-channel memory configuration (DDR3L supported), etc.

This round we got our NUC sample before the retail packaging was ready but the contents are the same as they were with the first generation.  Inside the box you'll get the 4-in square computer, a power adapter, quick setup instructions and a VESA compatible mounting bracket for attaching the device to the back of a monitor.

You are still going to be responsible for getting your own power CORD again; Intel leaves it out for cost reasons they say.  In North America you'll need a triangular C5 power cord, easily bought online for a couple bucks. Just confirmed with Intel that retail units of the Haswell NUC will include the appropriate power cord for each region.

The D54250WYK has a silver side and glossy back top in the same basic shape as the previous NUC.  This model is actually a bit shorter in terms of the z-height.  The motherboard inside is 4-in by 4-in square and the housing of the NUC isn't much larger than that.

There are third-party cases for the NUC including some passive designs that I saw with last years model.  I expect this year's unit to get the same treatment.

Up top you'll find a single button for the power that includes the power LED embedded in it.  The hard drive icon above it lights up for drive access as well.

The front the Haswell NUC includes a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a shared headphone and microphone jack and an IR receiver (though no remote is included).  The move to USB 3.0 is great to see as the previous models only has USB 2.0 which limited standard accessory speeds. 

Out back you'll find another pair of USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, mini-HDMI connection and mini-DisplayPort.  The power connection is on the far left.   The first thing we noticed this time around was the Thunderbolt port we loved on the DC3217BY NUC from last year was missing, replaced by a standard mini-DisplayPort connection.  It would appear that Intel was trying to keep costs low at the expense of their new connectivity option.

You might notice that the HDMI port is slightly bored out – that was an issue with the early samples Intel sent out that prevented good contact with the HDMI port inside the case.  It will be corrected on the final retail models.

The larger, darker areas over the Ethernet and display outputs is the exhaust area for the fan and heatsink cooling the Core i5-4250U processor. 

The bottom of the NUC has four rubber feet that hold the four screws to remove to get inside.  It also has some added ventilation area for heat removal.

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