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 April 2019, we've been making ongoing changes to this guide due to Intel's continued manufacturing shortages. Most NUC models are now out of stock, as Intel has ceased production of nearly all low-end and mid-range CPUs, many of which are used in NUC products. As of our most recent update, our personal favorite model, the slim Core i5 model, has returned for backorder, but grab it while you can. Demand will definitely exceed supply! This model uses a quad-core with Turbo speeds of 3.8GHz, along with Intel's Iris Graphics chip with 128MB of eDRAM. Packing in this power does produce some serious heat, and as can be seen in the image above, Intel has carved out a lot more ventilation into the venerable NUC chassis to make sure thermals stay under control. 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 recommend 16GB of DDR4-2400 RAM, an fast 1TB PCIe solid-state drive, and Windows 10 in this guide.
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! And if you have a real need for speed, we also list the scary-fast "Hades Canyon" NUC, shown here, which adds in AMD's wicked-fast Vega graphics! Of course, if you decide you want extreme power but don't need something quite this small, 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 - April 2019
The the latest 8th-generation NUC is a true pocket powerhouse. Replacing the humble dual-core CPU in previous models is the the mind-blowing Core i5-8259U 2.3GHz quad-core CPU with Turbo to 3.8GHz, along with Intel's Iris Plus 655 graphics chip with 128MB of eDRAM.
The Guru's Tip:
Intel's ongoing production shortages mean that at any given time, you'll be lucky to find any NUC models available, and you'll never find them all available. This is the model most recently made available for backorder again.
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). So we go with this ultra-high-end kit from HyperX.
The Guru's Tip:
We recenctly upgraded this system to 16GB from the 8GB we previously recommended. That's because most NUC buyers are probably looking for a high-end, future-proof experience, which is what 16GB provides. And luckily, it now makes sense to invest in this much memory, as the price on it has been dropping monthly for over a year!
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. The Crucial P1 offers up 1TB of capacity, while delivering performance that only a PCIe-based drive can.
The Guru's Tip:
This drive costs less than most SATA drives, despite delivering up to two times the performance!
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!
Intel went all-out to provide enthusiasts a truly capable pocket gaming PC with its 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.
The Guru's Tip:
Like the Bean Canyon NUC, this NUC can support up to DDR4-2400 RAM, so feel free to pick up the 2x8GB kit listed earlier in this guide (or even better the 2x16GB kit!). It wouldn't hurt to upgrade the SSD to the SX8200 Pro 1TB either!
Total Cost: $730.00(as of April 15, 2019)
- Case Intel BOXNUC8i5BEK1 Bean Canyon NUC ($370.00)
- Memory HyperX 2x8GB Impact DDR4-2400 CL14 SODIMM ($105.00)
- Solid-State Drive Crucial P1 1TB NVMe ($129.00)
- Operating System Microsoft Windows 10 Flash Drive ($126.00)
- Case (Optional) Intel NUC8i7HVK "Hades Canyon" ($870.00)