Need a powerful PC for work-for-home or small business use, but can't stand the thought of a big, bulky desktop tower on your desk? Then go for the most powerful palm-sized PC on the market today, Intel's 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.

Intel NUC Frost Canyon 10th-Gen

For January 2021, our Intel NUC PC Build guide recommends two different options, both based on the latest "Frost Canyon" design: the mainstream 10th-Gen Core i3 NUC, which packs in an Intel dual-core processor running at up to 4.1GHz, and then the 10th-Gen NUC, sporting an incredible Core i7 6-core CPU! Both are "barebones" kits, which means you need to add your own RAM, solid-state drive, and operating system, which brings the two NUC PC Builds to around $600 and $800, similarly configured. We suggest 16GB of RAM for either, plus a fast 512GB PCIe solid-state drive, although you can certainly go with higher-capacity components if you know you can use them. To complete your NUC PC Build, we recommend you pick up a copy of Windows 10 Home on USB. Frost Canyon really is a quantum leap beyond the 8th-gen models, as you not only get up to that aforementioned 6-core CPU, you also get WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, and a front-mounted USB Type-C port. For typical home use, the $600 dual-core is plenty fast for tasks such as Internet and Microsoft Word, but if you know you have applications that can utilize multiple cores, like Excel, video production apps, or design apps, definitely spend the extra money on the six-core model.

Want to see how the NUC PC Build has changed over time? Check out our NUC PC Build Archive! Need extra help setting up your NUC? See our hands-on Intel NUC 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 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.

Note that we provide links to Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, and Amazon Germany for our readers in those countries, and our US links will auto-convert for our readers in Spain, France, and Italy. If you decide to purchase any of the products we list, please use the links provided, which helps support continued development of these guides. 

The Intel NUC Ultra-Compact PC Build - January 2021

  • Case:

    Intel NUC 10i3FNK1 "Frost Canyon"

    The 10th-generation NUC is a true pocket powerhouse. It uses a zippy Core i3-10110U dual-core CPU with Hyperthreading, which can boost up to 4.1GHz., along with onboard Intel UHD graphics. This low profile system is designed for use with a single M.2 solid-state drive, which we list later in this guide. And being fully cutting-edge, it even has WiFi 6 (802.11ax) networking, the latest Bluetooth 5.0, and a USB Type-C port in front!

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is from Intel's latest "Frost Canyon" generation using a "Comet Lake" CPU, and while it should have been the "9th-Gen NUC", Intel for some reason thought 9th-Gen wasn't worthy so it simply skipped it. We're not here to explain all of Intel's marketing mumbo jumbo. All you need to know is that this thing is really fast!

  • Memory:

    Crucial 2x8GB Ballistix DDR4-2666 CL16 SODIMM

    The NUC format has always required the use of laptop-style memory modules, and the 10th-generation NUC supports DDR4 laptop memory with speeds up to 2666MHz (an improvement over the 7th-gen's limit of 2133MHz and 8th-gen's limit of 2400MHz), so that's what we recommend here. But this kit offers up a special bonus: tight CL16 timings, which allow it to significantly outperform typical DDR4-2666 CL18 sticks that sell for the same price!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Any system you intend to keep for the long-haul should have 16GB of RAM, especially systems like the NUC with just two RAM slots (which limits upgrades). You might even consider picking up the Crucial 2x16GB kit from Newegg!

  • Solid-State Drive:

    XPG SX8200 Pro 512GB NVMe

    To make the most of this tiny system, you want to run it off of a speedy SSD. And at this point, we no longer have to trade off capacity here to get a really fast drive in your system. The SX8200 Pro 512GB drive uses TLC NAND and the incredible PCIe interface to achieve great performance. It's easily the best SSD you can buy at its pricepoint.

    The Guru's Tip:

    We think 512GB is more than enough capacity for most NUC users, but of course you have the option of jumping up to the 1TB version of this drive. And by the way, don't be fooled into buying the 970 Evo Plus 250GB that Amazon says is "frequently" purchased with the NUC. It's a terrible value, offering half the capacity and the same performance as our pick, but for more money.

  • Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 on USB @Newegg

    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 version of Windows will install in under 5 minutes thanks to the speedy USB 3.0 interface!

Optional Components

  • Case:

    Intel NUC 10i7FNH "Frost Canyon"

    Take your NUC PC Build performance into the stratosphere with the new NUC10i7FNH! Yes, it costs nearly twice as much as the Core i3 model listed earlier in this guide, but hey, you're getting three times the cores! Rather than a dual-core CPU, it has Intel's incredible Core i7-10710U, a six-core, 12-thread processor that boosts up to 4.7GHz! So considering the full build price is only 50% more, you might even view this as a bargain! This "H" model is also literally higher, allowing it to fit a 2.5" drive inside the chassis for additional storage.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is also a big jump from previous-gen Core i7 models, which only had four cores. There is one area where the NUC hasn't improved with the 10th-gen models, and that is GPU power. In some cases, it has actually dropped, but we think for most people, a whole lot more CPU power is a good tradeoff for weaker graphics, which really aren't significant unless you're gaming.

  • The Home Theater Keyboard/Trackpad Combo:

    Logitech K830 Illuminated Wireless Keyboard

    Want to use your NUC from the couch? Then pick up the best media keyboard on the market, Logitech's well-built K830. Featuring wireless connectivity, backlighting, and a sleek finish, it's a truly premium pick. And of course it includes a trackpad, allowing you to use your PC without a traditional mouse.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you'll be using your NUC on a standard desk or tabletop, then pick up the Logitech MK545 wireless keyboard/mouse combo.