Crackin' it open
Another novelty with this generation is the removable lid, which can be replaced with a custom one.
According to Intel, replacement lids can be purely cosmetic ("think university or corporate logos"), or they can add extra features to the system. "This can include adding USB, VGA or serial ports or adding capabilities such as NFC or wireless charging to the lid," the company tells us. Intel even provides CAD files on its website so folks can 3D-print their own lids.
The lid isn't the way to the new NUC's heart, though. That would be the bottom plate, which is held in place by four rubber-padded screws that double as the system's feet.
Here's what the new NUC looks like with the bottom plate removed—and with the extra hardware Intel supplied with our review unit sitting beside it.
The main attractions inside the machine are the two DDR3L SO-DIMM slots, which feed the Broadwell processor's dual memory channels, and an M.2 storage slot, which sits at the other end of the board. Fill up those slots, and your NUC is ready to roll. As we noted earlier, the Wi-Fi controller (the tiny rectangle with the antenna wires attached) is already soldered on, and the blue SATA port is there purely for decorative purposes in this particular NUC model.
Intel shipped our machine with 8GB of 1600MHz Kingston HyperX DDR3L memory and two M.2 solid-state drives: a "mainstream option," the Intel 530 Series 360GB, and a "high performance option," the Samsung XP941 256GB. The Intel drive has a Serial ATA interface and fairly typical performance ratings (540MB/s for reads, 490MB/s for writes). The Samsung drive is in another tier altogether, so much so that calling it "high performance" is almost an understatement. The thing has a PCIe x4 interface, and it's supposed to top out at 1170MB/s during reads and 930MB/s during writes. Yikes.
While we've got the thing open, we might as well take a look at the other side of the motherboard, where the CPU cooler sits. (By the way, getting the mobo out is surprisingly easy. All it takes is undoing a couple of screws.)
Intel apparently found the world's tiniest fan to cool the new NUC. That's probably okay, since the 15W Broadwell-U chip is hardly a power hog. Still, I would have preferred to see a slightly thicker machine with a beefier cooler. More heatsink surface area and a larger fan would go a long way toward reducing fan whine, which the new NUC unfortunately exhibits. Alas, Intel seems to have gone for miniaturization at all costs.
Note the wires connecting the board to the top of the chassis. Those are antenna wires clipped to the M.2 wireless adapter, and they go all around the inside of the aluminum housing.
Here's the new NUC with memory and an M.2 gumstick drive installed. The temptation to try the Samsung XP941 was too great to resist, so that's the drive I used for testing. Speaking of which . . .