Here we are, it’s the start of Q2 2020 and the world is in disarray. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive changes to lifestyle, workflow and social life. The Internet has become more of an essential service than ever before and we’re expecting more and more of our electronics. So it’s somewhat fair to expect that computing hardware would become bigger too. Intel has worked to buck that trend with the NUC (Next Unit of Computing) mini pcs and kits.
Unlike the Hades Canyon which had a distinct gaming flavour to it, the NUC10i7FNH is a real workhorse of a machine just packed into the body of a miniature schnauzer. It’s that tiny size that offers so much flexibility while sacrificing so little in terms of functionality.
My family home is far from a mansion, my PC is housed in the master bedroom because we don’t have a study. That’s not generally an issue, but it does mean that space is at a premium. So the NUC coming onto our review radar put a smile on my face. The specs – on paper at least – make it suitable for my daily use needs, without taking up the space of a full PC and using a lot less power all while being physically very small, subtle with an unassuming presentation.
|Tiny Footprint||Not a cheap option|
|Simple Design||AC Adaptor is huge|
|Good connectivity||Grunty, but not gaming ready|
|Low power consumption||Really expensive compared to white box|
Is the NUC a value for money option?
There are some variables in that question but on the surface, you’d have to answer probably not. That depends on what you’re after from a small form factor PC though. The NUC10i7FNH is a kit option that will set you back $950 for a box that’s not even functional.
It’s sporting a 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-10710U processor, Intel UHD graphics (good for casual stuff, but not for hardcore gaming) and that’s about it. To turn it into a functional box you’ll need to add an M.2 SSD, your desired amount of DDR4 memory and an operating system. So delivered and functional, you’re looking at another $600 or more depending on the size of the drive and amount of memory you install.
The big win here is the amount of space and power that is consumed by the NUC as it measures a tiny 117 x 112 x 51mm. It’s smaller than a router, it’s got the power of a full-size PC but not the gaming capacity. If you’re after a small footprint workhorse then this is a really good option. The other use case that Intel is marketing is a streaming PC attached to your television, absolutely an option if that’s a need you have.
The review unit we have is adorned with 16GB of memory and a 500GB M.2 SSD. As a workstation, when I spend most of my time “in the cloud” and have an excellent NAS at home the specs are more than enough for daily use but could be upgraded if you needed the space or memory.
What about connectivity?
While reviewing the NUC, there were only 2 cables in the back of the device on my desk. The power cable and video cable, everything else was connected wirelessly: Mouse, Keyboard, Speakers and Wi-Fi for the Internet. There’s plenty of ports to get you connected as well, on the front panel there’s a USB C, USB and headphone port alongside the power button.
On the side of the box there’s an SD card slot, On the rear of the box two USB ports, Ethernet, Thunderbolt 3 (connectivity, or video) and HDMI round out the physical connection options and sit alongside the power inlet.
The wireless connectivity is headed by Intel Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. An interesting and potentially highly functional bonus is the IR sensor that would allow you to program the receiver for a variety of functions if you choose to use the NUC in your entertainment system.
Performance matters, does the NUC deliver?
As mentioned in the first impression post, the performance of the NUC is pretty impressive. Rendering X.264 videos in roughly 4 x the video time is very good for something that’s not a dedicated video editing station. Now when you’re stressing the unit heavily, the fans do wind up a lot taking it from a near silent piece of hardware to a rather loud little box. This is more by way of an observation than a criticism, the increased noise under load is true of almost any PC. The fans do a very good job of keeping the NUC cool rather than cooling it down, which is very handy since it’s right in front of me on my desk.
I don’t want to take anything away from the truly impressive engineering involved in delivering the NUC hardware. While I could run a pile of benchmarks, I don’t find them particularly useful to what is experienced in the real world.
It’s that real world performance that really highlights how far micro-technologies have come. Having been a — very amateur — gamer for many years and working in the IT field, I really appreciate good quality hardware. Having something that literally fits in my hand, as capable as my desktop PC in day to day operations (with the obvious gaming exclusion, this isn’t the Hades Canyon) is astounding.
- Web activities: Chrome, Edge, Email and use of productivity tools
- Heavy use of Microsoft 365
- Video editing and rendering
- Using a host of online communication medium
My testing was completed on an LG 29” Ultrawide monitor running 2560 x 1080 resolution, but the NUC is capable of running multiple 4K monitors if you’re really looking to smash out some tasks. The HDMI and Thunderbolt outputs are easy to access and super simple to set up which helps the NUC become more than a novelty, it’s a highly functional workhorse.
I realised just how functional the NUC is when I noticed that I was migrating to that for daily use vs my Macbook. I like having the extra screen space and generally don’t turn my gaming PC on unless I want to play games. So the NUC provided a quiet, power-efficient alternative that met my needs and — aside from portability — had zero sacrifices to it.
Should you buy a NUC?
There’s a definite market segment that could and probably should buy one. But there’s also plenty of people who won’t. The points to consider are your space available, the budget you’re working with and the requirements of your PC.
As already discussed, the base kit isn’t a cheap option but by the time you add in all of the extras you need you’re looking at $1300 – $1500 or more depending on the options you choose. For that money, you can buy a very nice PC, even gaming rig of pretty reasonable specs. The drawback of that PC is that it’s going to take up a lot more space than the NUC.
Speaking of space, if you’re setting aside a small space for a NUC in your life you’ll need to set aside as much space for the power brick. There’s no other way to put it, the thing is comically large, roughly equivalent size of laptop chargers a few years back.
There’s very little to dislike about the NUC other than the price, it can do almost anything a full-size desktop PC can do aside from gaming. There is an option for that, but it will cost you a touch more.
If you’re after something small, that packs a performance punch then 100% you should take a closer look at the NUC range. Until I had the opportunity to take a closer look at this device, I was seriously considering a Mac Mini for a desktop solution.
My time with the NUC10i7FNH has me seriously reconsidering that option as I sadly pack up the review unit to send back.