Inside the NUC

Getting inside and working on the Broadwell Intel NUC is essentially unchanged from the previous models. 

The bottom of the NUC has four screws that double as rubber feet and you'll likely be able to just use your hands to unscrew the four corners. This is a slick little design touch – rubber feet that don't cover the screws and instead are a functional part of the base. After pulling up on the four screws (though they won't release completely) you'll have to wiggle the base plate out a bit as the fit is tight and you can't move one side up very far without having to do the same for the opposite. 

Looking at the inside of a NUC is a lesson in design and frugality – there is no space that is not utilized and there are no unnecessary components that don't add to performance or connectivity. It is amazing to consider how much compute and how many features they can cram onto a 4" square PCB.

There are only two components that you have to install after picking up a NUC5i5RYK barebones kit. System memory comes in the form of SODIMM slots and requires LPDDR3 and can run as high as 1600 MHz. The lower power DDR3 derivative is a Broadwell requirement and helps limited power consumption under both load and idle workloads. Intel supplied us with a pair of 4GB SODIMMs from Kingston's HyperX Impact brand that you can pick up for $60-80 depending on the day and current specials in place. Just like a notebook PC, the SODIMM modules install easily and stack on top of one another.

The only remaining component to install is your storage in form of an M.2 SSD of some kind. Intel supports both SATA and PCI Express based M.2 drives so you will have a fairly large selection of options before you. In our review kit Intel actually included two different drive options for us to test, Intel's own 530 Series SSD running through SATA and the Samsung XP941 SSD that uses PCI Express.

Obviously the Samsung drive is going to be considerably faster but it will also cost you quite a bit more – for now. Amazon.com lists the 512GB version of the XP941 at $509 but you can get a similar capacity M.2 SATA SSDs for half of that.

Installation of either is dead simple and only requires a single screw.

There is a full size SATA connection on the motherboard as well as one located between the SODIMM and M.2 slots, though in this iteration of the NUC it cannot be used. There is another kit, the NUC5i5RYH, that supports a 2.5-in hard drive or SSD in addition to the M.2 slot.

With a little more effort, simply for science sake, you can remove the motherboard inside the NUC chassis. The heatsink and turbine-style cooler are actually located along the top of the device. In our testing the fan is effective but very quiet – sitting on the desk next to us did not result in a noise concern at all and the system was barely audible nearly 100% of the time.

Under that heatsink rests the Intel Core i5-5250U Broadwell processor built on Intel's latest 14nm process technology. On the same package is the PCH, or chipset, that includes logic for the SATA interface, USB 3.0, etc.

If you read any of our previous stories on the Intel NUC platform you will remember that you had to purchase and install three specific components: memory, storage and wireless. With the Broadwell generation Intel has instead built the wireless controller directly onto the motherboard, another benefit of shrinking down the size of the processor package and power circuitry. The Intel 7265D2W is a dual-band 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi adapter that also includes Bluetooth support. With wireless speed rated as high as 867 Mbps, this should be more than enough for most users to forgo the need for wired Ethernet.

As I mentioned on the previous page, one of the features that Intel is trying to promote is the idea of the replaceable cover. This allows end users or OEMs to customize the device with something as simple as a different color paint job or as complex as a pico projector or NFC reader. Intel's NUC landing page even has a section on the lid that includes files for you to use and customize to your liking, should you have access to a 3D printer. Intel does claim there are other partners with different lids in the works but we don't yet have anything in our hands to test out or demonstrate with. 

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