Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) – Meet your new Overlords
Whether or not you believe in the Post-PC era malarkey, there is no denying that the emphasis on personal computing has shifted on to smartphones and tablets rather than the latest Bulldozers and Geforces. After all, it's not the size that matters, but what you do with it…
Here at VR-Zone, we'd rather (and we think our readers too) much like to talk about the latest in HPC (High Performance Computing) and HEDT (High-End Desktop) frontiers than try to pretend we care about low power solutions and integrated graphics. Burning the Earth's precious fossil fuels to feed our highly overclocked Piledrivers and GTX 680s gives us an adrenaline high, and there are few greater thrills in computing than turning up the clock speeds to run Crysis 3 smoothly on six monitors and to find the 48th Mersenne Prime, or collaborate with total strangers on protein folding.
(Melt the polar ice caps to make the Internets load faster)
Just like how the space race of the 1960s gave way to fighting pointless proxy wars all across the globe, the attention in consumer technology has shifted to the more mundane smartphones and tablets and ultrabooks and hybrids and other low power "thin clients", where the actual processing power and information storage have transitioned to the backend servers of the cloud, usually with Intel Xeon(s) inside. Nothing grinds my gears more than the fact that the latest smartphones do not have external SD storage, instead replaced by some cloudy storage facilty accessed over ludicrously priced data plans with draconian volume caps. No wonder the Mayans predicted that the apocalypse will happen next month.
Today we have two subjects from our dystopian future – both Intel NUCs, measuring a square 4 by 4 inches and not very thick, which is small and inconspicuous enough to be an MI6 field agent. Packing an Intel Core i3 (Core i5 SKU coming next year) also means that it can run a full fledged operating system and x86 applications without being terribly slow like a Brazos/Nano, or functionally castrated like my ARM based Microsoft Surface RT.
(Meet your new Overlords – Ice Canyon and Box Canyon, Hitman not included)
The primary difference between the two models is their rear panel I/O configuration, D33217GKE features two HDMI and a Gigabit LAN port, while D33217CK makes do with a single HDMI and a Thunderbolt port. Both have three USB 2.0 connectors (two at the back and one in front) and a 19V DC power input (65W brick provided). In case you're wondering, audio is piped over the Intel HDMI.
Popping open the hood is easy, with only four phillips screws holding the top cover. Intel intends to sell the chassis together with the heatsink and the motherboard, so all a prospective buyer needs to get is some off the shelf DDR3 SO-DIMMs, mPCIe wireless card and a mSATA SSD to complete the system. To a systems integrator or administrator in an under-appreciated IT department, the standardized componentry and easily serviceable form factor is a godsend. No more bringing out the sledgehammer to open side panels or cheap exploding power supplies to contend with.
Over at the other side of the board, we see a small blower fan taking care of a tiny heatsink block. The ULV Ivy Bridge Core i3-3217U (1.8GHz Dual Core with HT, HD4000 graphics) has a TDP rated at an UltraBook class 17W, with the QS77 PCH adding another 3.6W. We find the lack of USB 3.0 ports mind boggling, since the chipset has native built-in support for that without the need for another 3rd party controller. Still, you can expect more dexterous configurations to come next year, especially with the advent of the Haswell mobile SOC with its GT3 graphics.
A VESA bracket is also supplied with the NUC, so you can mount it behind monitors or television screens to save desk space and conceal wiring.
Over the next few days, we will be exploring and writing about some usage models for the NUC. In the meantime, you should hit our Facebook page at http://facebook.com/vrzone for an ongoing sneak preview of what we're doing!