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Everything you need to know about buying an Intel NUC PC

Intel NUC
Intel NUC

The Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) is an affordable series of mini PCs. Sporting Intel components in a compact form factor, it's possible to configure quite the capable computing machine without requiring some desk or floor space for a bulky case. The only issue with the NUC is the choice available. There are many different configurations you can go for, which can be rather daunting to anyone who's new to the series of hardware.

I'm going to run you through what you should consider, as well as a few examples to get you started.

Intel is most definitely inside

Intel Pentium

CPU (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Intel offers various options when it comes to the NUC. Processors span across the company's line-up, including Celeron and the trusty Core i7. The question you need to answer before looking at a NUC is what you plan to do with it. Should you require a capable machine that can not only handle processing of media and daily computing tasks but perhaps a little gaming on the side and consuming some 4K content, you'll get by with the more affordable options with a Celeron processor.

Moving up into Core i3, i5, and i7 territory is where the NUC gets really interesting. You can pick up the NUC7i7BNKQ, for example, which comes packing an Intel Core i7-7567U processor clocked at 3.5GHz, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 512GB NVMe SSD with Windows 10 installed. Considering the form factor, it's an incredibly powerful machine and would gladly handle even more demanding applications.

Another thing to note with the different SKUs is the cheaper you go the more likely it is you'll need to pick up RAM and an SSD yourself since these will not be covered by a sub $300 price.

Comparing different SKUs

I've selected a few options from the vast collection of NUC offerings to show some different configurations and price points.

CategoryNUC5CPYHNUC7i3DNHENUC7i5BNKPNUC7i7BNKQ
ProcessorIntel Celeron
N3050 1.6GHz
Intel Core i3
i3-7100U 2.4GHz
Intel Core i5
i5-7260U 2.2GHz
Intel Core i7
i7-7567U 3.5GHz
RAMN/AN/A8 GB DDR416 GB DDR4
StorageN/AN/A256GB NVMe SSD512GB NVMe SSD
Price$126$288$639$899

If you're new to the whole world of NUC or do not require anything powerful, the Intel Celeron is a capable processor. Throw in 8GB of RAM and an SSD and you'll be ready to go. The same goes for a NUC with the Intel Core i3. It won't blow you away with the performance but will allow for an affordable build. The Core i5 and Core i7 NUCs are in a different league. While they may not sport desktop-class Intel processors (only laptop ones here, I'm afraid), the performance available is superb.

Our two selections are $639 and $899, respectively. These two SKUs come with 8GB and 16GB of RAM and more than 256GB of internal storage, making it possible to simply plug them in to get going. They're expensive, but contain advanced internals that transforms the small box into a workhorse and makes it possible to enjoy high-quality content and power through work all-day long.

Rich Edmonds is a word conjurer at Windows Central, covering everything related to Windows, gaming, and hardware. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a device chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

11 Comments
  • How about just buying an Xbox one X for for small form factor home multimedia use and sticking with low spec Custom PC for work.
  • Why do you think work should use low spec and multimedia should use high spec? For most users who may consider this specific type of device, it's usually just opposite.
  • I've got two of them now and are very capable. The i5 @$300 & i7@$383 on amazon. Bare OS install of windows 10 requires you to get drivers first but otherwise pretty easy to get up and running. Very powerful specs with an extremely small footprint.
  • I bought a similar thing from Zotac two years ago with an i5 CPU.  Put in HDD and RAM and installed Windows 7 to have Media Center.  The box have infrared receptor and with my Microsoft Media Center remote use this on my TV as Media Center was always meant to be used.
  • Funny to read your post, I've got two PCs still running windows 7 as well for media centre in the living room and bedroom 😀
  • I have 3 at home (all i7's) and 2 at work (1 i7, 1 i5).  All work very well.  The NUC5i7 had a problem with interference on the USB ports that made keyboard/mouse control inconsistent.  I added short USB extension cables for the wireless keyboard/mouse and have had no problem since (about 1 year).  All of these NUCs are barebones purchases and I added the hard drives, RAM and operating system.  A big plus to the newer versions is a full-sized HDMI port.  I have both slim and bigger versions.  I like the larger versions as they accomodate 2.5" laptop drives.  However, I still use M.2 as the boot drive - blazing fast.
  • Would this new form factor work for folks like myself that work in the CG/3D industry, capable of running high end modeling programs like ZBrush and other programs like that?
  • The i7 has a fan so you should be fine if those specs work for you
  • Do these come with an OS too? I never liked celeron or pentium for their lack of initiative... I mean they never impressed me during use =/
  • I own the Celeron one and love it for HTPC but I can't seem to get DIGITAL out 5.1 sound to work through the SPDIF optical out with a toslink cable, my home cinema only receives PCM, which is stereo sound. Am I the only one? Anybody has a clue on how to make it work?
  • What about graphics capabilities?  Forza 7?