NUC

Want the most powerful palm-sized PC on the market today? Then you want Intel's newest 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 would have seemed other-worldly just a few years ago. 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 October 2017 edition of this guide, our recommendation to most users is to go for the slim Core i5-equipped NUC, shown above, along with 8GB of RAM and an ultra-fast Samsung 960 Evo M.2 solid-state drive. Alternatively, you can go for the extended chassis shown below, which has the added benefit of space for a 2.5" solid-state drive or mechanical drive, along with a Core i7 CPU option. And the great news is that any 7th-gen NUC can output 4K/60Hz video via its HDMI 2.0 port, making them all ideal video streaming boxes!

NUC "H"

Need even more power? There are two additional possibilities you may want to consider. You can go for Intel's quad-core Skull Canyon NUC, listed as an optional upgrade in this guide, or the new Intel STX form factor (shown below), which is just a bit larger than the NUC but a whole lot more powerful. To jump up to STX power (which allows the use of Intel's fastest desktop-class quad-core chips for the price of a mid-range dual-core NUC!), see our STX Buyer's Guide

STX

Need help building 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! To discuss this build, feel free to stop by our Reader Forum. And if you decide you 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.

One thing to keep in mind - there are a few pre-built systems on the market that are nearly as compact as the NUC, which you can see in our Desktop Buyer's Guide. They may be the preferred option if you're more interested in the form factor than the actual process of building a UCFF PC, but due to their lack of SSDs, they won't feel as fast. If you do decide to build the NUC, let us know and we'll add your system to the User Gallery!

Note that all Amazon prices below are shown in real-time. We also provide links to Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, and Amazon Germany for our readers in those countries. 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 $700 Intel NUC Ultra-Compact PC - October 2017

    Case:

    Intel NUC 7 I5BNK

    At 4.5" x 4.4" x 1.3", the NUC can practically fit in your pocket! It comes with a 65W power supply, a pre-installed motherboard, and the ultra-efficient Core i5-7260U 2.2GHz dual-core CPU with Turbo to 3.4GHz, which makes it far faster than the previous-gen Core i5 model. Also on board is Intel's new HD 640 graphics chip, among the first embedded chips from Intel that can do proper 4K/60Hz output. Combined with the NUC's built-in HDMI 2.0 port, this provides the best HTPC experience available on any PC today! And with this Core i5-based model, you even get a Thunderbolt-equipped USB 3.1 Type-C port, for the ultimate in functionality and speed.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you don't need quite this much power, you can save some money going with the low-end NUC 7 I3BNK, which uses a Core i3 processor. Just note that it also loses the Thunderbolt port.

    Memory:

    Crucial 2x4GB DDR4-2133 SODIMM

    The NUC format has always required the use of laptop-style memory modules, and the Kaby Lake-based NUC requires DDR4 laptop memory (DDR3 will not work!). Crucial is among the few manufacturers marketing laptop-style DDR4 memory, and this kit is the best-priced option available. We think 8GB is plenty for most users, but if you're a power user doing video production or Photoshop work, jump up to Crucial's 2x8GB kit.

    The Guru's Tip:

    The NUC will not support DDR4 speeds higher than 2133MHz, so there's no reason to spend more money on higher-frequency kits.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Samsung 960 Evo 250GB PCIe

    To make the most of this tiny system, you want to run it off of a speedy PCIe-based SSD. So we trade off a bit of capacity here to get a really fast drive in your system. This model uses the ultra-fast PCIe interface and high-quality 3D V-NAND, making it the fastest drive available at its pricepoint.

    The Guru's Tip:

    You'll need a jeweler's-type screwdriver to install this drive.

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Flash Drive

    Windows 10 is the best Windows yet, and Microsoft now ships it on a USB 3.0 flash drive, making OS installation easier and faster than ever!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that the Flash Drive version of Windows is a full retail copy, meaning you can move it to another system later on.

Optional Components

    Case (Optional):

    Intel NUC 7 I5BNH

    Need 2.5" SSD or hard drive support? The standard "K" series NUC can only accept a single M.2 stick-based drive, but the taller NUC "H" model, shown  here, will accept an M.2 and a 2.5" drive, including the ultra-high-capacity Seagate 2TB 2.5" hard drive!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that you can even get the "H"-style NUC with a Core i7 dual-core processor, specifically the Core i7-7567U 3.5GHz processor with 4GHz Turbo, plus the blisteringly-fast Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650. It comes only in the taller "H" variant due to its greater cooling needs.

    Case (Optional):

    Intel NUC Skull Canyon

    Want the most powerful NUC ever released? Then what you need is Intel's Skull Canyon NUC, a seriously-fast PC wrapped up in a very streamlined body. Packing in a true quad-core processor typically seen only in ultra-high-end laptops, along with Intel's best Iris graphics, this NUC offers an incredibly-compelling technology showcase of what's possible in a miniature PC. It even has USB 3.1 Type-C with Thunderbolt 3 support, the most cutting-edge connectivity available! This system doesn't have space for a 2.5" drive, but it makes up for that by offering two slots for M.2-based SSDs!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Intel unofficially confirmed to us at CES 2017 that the Skull Canyon NUC will eventually be updated with 7th-generation processors, but for now, its 6th-gen Core i7-6770HQ processor still makes it the fastest NUC ever released.