We love ultra-small-form-factor PCs like Zotac's tiniest Zbox systems. Now, it looks like Intel is working on a new form factor that's about the same size. Dubbed the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC, the 4" x 4" (100 x 100 mm) board was shown off at an Intel event in London last week—and it packs a much bigger punch than one might expect from those diminutive dimensions.
ExtremeTech has the goods on the NUC, which currently uses Sandy Bridge-based mobile Core i3 and i5 CPUs. The mobile theme continues with pairs of SO-DIMM and Mini PCI Express slots. HDMI, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt ports are included, as well. Alas, there doesn't appear to be room for a discrete GPU.
Intel reportedly expects NUC-based PCs to be available in the second half of the year. By then, they'll surely be sporting CPUs based on Ivy Bridge, whose more capable GPU will be a nice addition to the platform. Ivy's low power consumption at stock speeds is a good fit for small-form-factor systems, and the USB 3.0 support integrated into 7-series chipsets means one fewer chip for what will undoubtedly be a crowded circuit board.
My only real concern with systems this small is their reliance on blower-style fans, which can be relatively noisy compared to the larger spinners one finds in full-sized PCs. I'd love to see an NUC design incorporate a low-speed fan in the 100-mm range.
Update: Looks like the ExtremeTech article we linked had some incorrect information about the CPU being used in the NUC demo system. Intel tells us it is in fact running an Ivy Bridge-based Core i3 processor with HD 4000 graphics.
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