The Intel NUC: The Sweet Spot

Hi all.  Sorry it's been so long since my last NUC blog.  I took on some extra work and my "free" time (i.e. evenings and weekends) has been pretty much spoken for so I haven't had much time to write. But I wanted to offer a short update on where I am with the NUC.  Since you heard from me last I was able to play around with one of the "H" model i3 NUCs, the "H" representing "hard drive", meaning it can use a standard 2.5" hard drive.  There are currently three models of the "H" size; The Bay Trail, the i3, and the i5. I've already tried the Bay Trail, which works great.  But it has the limitation that it only supports one hard drive.  I was looking for something with a little more flexibility, so I tried the i3 model.

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If you've read my previous blog on the Haswell-based NUCs (and let's be honest, why wouldn't you?) then you'll be familiar with this unit. Feature-wise it's identical to the i3 Haswell NUC I wrote about before. It uses the same board and has all the same bells & whistles. The only difference is the case.  Where the standard Haswell i3 NUC is a trim 34.5 mm tall, this unit is an only slightly less trim 49.5 mm.  That extra space allows for a connector and bracket that hold a standard 2.5" drive. The bracket looks just like the Bay Trail NUC's bracket, and drive installation is just as easy; simply slide the drive into the bracket until it seats into the connector, then put the bracket back in the case and close the lid.  There's no fumbling with cables or power connections.  It really couldn't be easier.


I called this blog "The Sweet Spot" because it really is the perfect combination of features for my purposes.  You see, I see the NUC as a great form factor for an HTPC that offers all of the flexibility and power that the little media players don't.  I've been very impressed with the NUCs and found them to be extremely versatile, but one issue I've had with using them as HTPCs is that I was limited when it came to hard drives.

Feature

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Powerful processor

I3 Haswell…power to spare!

Ditto!

Powerful graphics

Intel 4400 GPU…more than enough for an HTPC!

Yes!

4 or 8 GB of RAM

Up to 16 GB…got it covered

You bet!

An SSD for fast booting

Supports mSATA…super fast!

Uh huh!

Fast wifi

802.11N with the 7260 card

Bingo!

Storage media & TV

Hmmm…only with an expensive mSATA drive

YES!

My original i3 Haswell worked awesome as an HTPC, but I had to use an external hard drive for storage my media and recordings.  It wasn't a huge problem but it didn't look as clean as I wanted.  What I wanted was a single package, and the new "H" model gave me that!  The shorter NUC does have the SATA connectors on the board but there's simply no room in the case to hold an extra drive. Now if you don't plan on doing a lot of recording, or if you store your media on a NAS, or if you're willing to shell out the extra cash for a high capacity mSATA drive then this won't be an issue for you.

I outfitted this one with a small 60GB mSATA for the OS.  I actually just moved the mSATA over from my old one.  Then I installed a 500GB 2.5" standard hard drive that I found for a great price. This gave me exactly what I was looking for. Everything was in a single, sleek case…no extra devices to connect.  After switching to my HDHomerun tuner there's nothing plugged into the NUC other than the power adapter and the HDMI cable. (Still waiting on wireless power guys…hint, hint).  Sure I could just use widi and skip the HDMI cable but that's for another time.  Another bonus of this configuration is that it's MUCH quieter.  My external USB drive was a bit on the loud side and the NUC is so quiet I don't even notice it.

The "H" model NUC is definitely the sweet spot for me when it comes to HTPC. It gives me a clean look, all the features I need, and the ability to add plenty of storage.  The NUC team just keeps making these great little boxes better and better!

- Jason

See previous content from Jason