NUC

Want the most powerful palm-sized PC on the market today? Then you want Intel's 8th-Generation Next Unit of Computing (NUC, pronounced "nuck"). Intel created the NUC line of ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) kits to allow enthusiasts to build desktop PCs that could rival desktop towers in a fraction of the space. The NUC harnesses a high-performance laptop CPU and a custom 10cm x 10cm motherboard to give you the smallest high-end desktop on the market. Just add a pair of laptop-style RAM sticks, an M.2-based solid-state drive, and an operating system, and you've got yourself a tremendously-powerful PC that you can slip into your pocket!

For the November 2018 edition of this guide, Intel finally delivers the NUC that enthusiasts have always wanted, a true powerhouse palm-sized PC at a bargain-basement price. Intel has dropped its "big block" Core i5-8259U 2.3GHz quad-core CPU into the NUC, pushing the design to its limits. As can be seen in the image above, Intel has carved out a lot more ventilation into the venerable NUC chassis, and that's because the 8259U draws 28W at full throttle, up from the 15W that previous ultra-slim NUCs maxed out at. Most enthusiasts will probably be plenty happy with the slight increase in heat and noise this will entail, especially once they realize that this NUC is going for the same price as the last-gen dual-core NUC! Also on board is Intel's pumped up Iris Graphics chip with 128MB of eDRAM, doubling what the previous-gen chips offered. All in all, this is most definitely a wolf in sheep's clothing and a true hot-rod PC! Of course, it's still a "barebones" kit, which means you need to add your own RAM, solid-state drive, and operating system, and we have the best options set out in this guide. We also have a couple of alternative NUCs listed at the end of the guide for different audiences: the scary-fast "Hades Canyon" NUC shown below, as well as Intel's pre-built NUC for folks who want the simplest out-of-box experience.

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Need extra help setting up your NUC? See our hands-on PC Builder's Guide, which will show you not only how to put together your NUC, but also how to attach it to a touchscreen monitor for the ultimate NUC PC experience! Of course, if you decide you don't need something quite this small, you'll want to check out the other options in our Small Form Factor Build Guides, which leverage the power of midrange and high-end desktop-class processors. Another option if you just want to get up and running quick is to go with a compact pre-built system, a number of which are featured in our Desktop Buyer's Guide. While manufacturers haven't fully embraced the compact PC market, there are thankfully a good number of options to choose from at this point.

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The $750 Intel NUC Ultra-Compact PC - November 2018

    Case:

    Intel BOXNUC8i5BEK1 Bean Canyon NUC

    The new 8th-generation Bean Canyon NUC may have an unassuming name, but wow, has Intel launched its performance into the stratosphere! Still fitting into the 4.5" x 4.4" x 1.3" chassis enthusiasts have come to know and love, the latest NUC is a true pocket powerhouse. Replacing the humble Core i5-7260U 2.2GHz dual-core CPU with the mind-blowing Core i5-8259U 2.3GHz quad-core CPU would have been enough, but then Intel goes and upgrades the graphics chip to the Iris Plus 655 with 128MB of eDRAM. Now, how did Intel perform this feat of magic? Well, there's a bit of sleight of hand here, folks: the TDP jumped from 15W to 28W, so this souped-up NUC will probably run a bit hotter and louder than previous versions.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you want to harness all this power to build the ultimate media server, go for the "BEH" (high) version of the NUC, which has space for 2.5" hard drives like the Seagate 2TB Barracuda.

    Memory:

    HyperX 2x8GB Impact DDR4-2400 CL14 SODIMM

    The NUC format has always required the use of laptop-style memory modules, and the 8th-generation NUC supports DDR4 laptop memory with speeds up to 2400MHz (an improvement over the 7th-gen's limit of 2133MHz).

    The Guru's Tip:

    We've decided to upgrade this system to 16GB from the 8GB we previously recommended because most NUC buyers are probably looking for a high-end, future-proof experience, which is what 16GB provides.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX500 500GB M.2

    To make the most of this tiny system, you want to run it off of a speedy SSD. And thanks to a ferocious price war in the SSD market, we no longer have to trade off capacity here to get a really fast drive in your system. This 500GB model from Crucial has become the benchmark by which all other SATA drives are judged, due to its incredible speed and capacity for the price.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you'd like to experience next-gen PCIe-based SSD performance, feel free to upgrade to the WD Black 500GB NVMe drive for an extra $60 or so.

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Flash Drive

    Windows 10 is the best Windows yet, and Microsoft keeps making it better with major updates every spring and fall.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This USB 3.0 flash drive will load Windows in under 5 minutes!

Optional Components

    Case (Optional):

    Intel NUC8i7HVK "Hades Canyon"

    Intel went all-out to provide enthusiasts a truly capable pocket gaming PC with its new Hades Canyon NUC. It packs in an ultra-high-end quad-core CPU that runs at 3.1GHz with turbo to 4.2GHz, making it truly desktop-class. But given that Intel still doesn't have a competitive gaming GPU in its stable, it recruited its arch-rival AMD to contribute a Vega GPU for this tiny system, which is on par with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, a $200 full-size gaming GPU. It also has amazing connectivity, supporting up to 6 displays, using front and rear HDMI ports, two mini DisplayPorts, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. It also has 7 USB ports, and while it can't fit 2.5" drives, it includes two PCIe x4 slots for M.2-based SSDs. For a system of this caliber, we'd suggest nothing other than the Samsung 970 Pro 512GB PCIe drive.

    The Guru's Tip:

    There are two Hades Canyon NUCs, the one above and the slightly cheaper BOXNUC8i7HNK1 with Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics. Believe it or not, the "GL" stands for graphics low, as opposed to the RX Vega M GH ("graphics high") in the better version. If that's what Intel thinks of a product it's selling, you can guess what we think of it! By the way, like the Bean Canyon NUC, this NUC can support up to DDR4-2400 RAM, so feel free to pick up the kit listed earlier in this guide.

The Pre-Built Option

    The Intel NUC Windows 10 Home PC:

    Intel BOXNUC7I5BNKP

    If you like the NUC form factor but aren't quite ready to put together your own barebones kit, Intel has an answer for you. After years of turning out do-it-yourself kits to a niche audience, it has finally decided to step into the retail home PC market with a line of pre-built NUCs. Based on the 2017 chassis design and sporting the Intel Core i5-7260U dual-core CPU with Turbo to 3.4GHz, it adds in 8GB of DDR4 RAM and an Intel 600p 256GB PCIe-based solid-state drive. It even has Windows 10 Home pre-installed, so you can be up and running in just minutes!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Intel offers several other pre-built NUC options, but none are as attractive from a price/performance perspective as this model.