An Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) is a barebones PC. This means you get most of the parts you need to make a working computer, but you'll need to supply some yourself. The beauty of the NUC (and many other modern barebones PCs) is that it's really small. Smaller than you'd be able to cobble together with a full rack of off the shelf parts, in fact.
So, let's look at what you get in the box and everything else you'll need to make yourself a great, working PC.
What you get with an Intel NUC
In the box with the Intel NUC, you'll receive certain parts. The exact specs may vary, but ultimately you'll expect to find:
- An Intel CPU.
- A motherboard.
- A case.
- A power supply.
Some bundles of the Intel NUC also come with RAM and solid-state drive (SSD) storage included, but this isn't always the case.
What you need
That leaves you still needing to provide some key accessories. Besides a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse so you can interact with your new PC, you'll need to supply storage and RAM if you bought a NUC that didn't supply those, and importantly, a Windows 10 license.
You'll be looking towards SSD storage for your NUC, and some of the higher-end models will even take more than one. Exactly which type of SSD you get will depend on which NUC you bought. The high-end Skull Canyon, for example, takes m.2 SSDs while the cheaper NUCs take the larger 2.5-inch drives.
You could put a 2.5-inch HDD inside instead, but for the best experience you want an SSD, and they're not that much more expensive now. The added spend is definitely worth it.
If you're looking for a 2.5-inch drive for one of the cheaper, square model NUCs, the best choice would be a Samsung 860 Evo (opens in new tab) in either 250GB or 500GB sizes. If you only have one drive, I recommend 250GB as the absolute minimum capacity. A 250GB 860 Evo is currently $95, but it's a fast, reliable SSD.
If you'd like to spend a little less, a 250GB WD Blue SSD (opens in new tab) would also be a good choice. For the same price and capacity, you can get the WD Blue in m.2 form if you need that instead, which is a solid choice.
If you're building a portable powerhouse from one of Intel's Skull Canyon NUCs, you might want to stick an NVMe SSD in there instead. These are the absolute fastest type of consumer storage drives on the market today, and the one to get is the Samsung 960 Evo (opens in new tab). At $120 for 250GB, you get an insanely fast SSD, and it's one of Windows Central's favorite drives. The price savings over a 960 Pro are worth the slight dip in performance for most people.
Your NUC kit will tell you how much RAM the system supports and exactly what type to buy. Since we're dealing with tiny PCs, you'll be looking towards SODIMM form RAM, smaller sticks you'd usually find in a laptop. Whether you need to get DDR3 or DDR4 will depend on the NUC you bought, but again, the kit will indicate which to buy.
The cheaper, entry-level NUCs will probably still be using DDR3, which is certainly more affordable. DDR4 is a little more expensive, especially right now, but it'll be necessary for some of the more expensive, higher-powered versions of the NUC.
In terms of amount, 8GB is a great place to start, whether that's a single stick of 8GB or a pair of 4GB sticks. An 8GB stick of Crucial DDR3 1600MHz RAM (opens in new tab) is just $69. A stick of DDR4 2400MHz from the same brand (opens in new tab) is a little more at $85, but still good value.
Mouse and keyboard
When it comes to getting a mouse and keyboard, there's no one size fits all answer. Some prefer wireless, some like mechanical keys, some will want something small and easy to move around.
Our current top pick when it comes to shopping for a mouse is the Logitech MX Master 2S (opens in new tab). The MX Master has been the best all-around mouse for some time and the MX Master 2S is the latest and greatest. It's packed with features, great battery life and is ridiculously comfortable to use. It costs around $90, but it's worth every penny.
If you want a great keyboard you could do a lot worse than Microsoft's superb Surface Ergonomic Keyboard (opens in new tab) at $109. It's pricey, yes, but you'll feel less fatigue and it's a really high-quality product. But it's not the only great keyboard out there, so check out some of the roundups below to help you choose the right one for you. There are some really good mechanical keyboards out there for not a lot of money, and mechanical doesn't have to just be for gamers.
- Best Gaming Keyboards Under $100
- Best Affordable Mechanical Keyboards for Windows 10
- Best Mechanical Keyboard For Gaming on Windows 10
Choosing a good monitor can be a minefield. There are so many to choose from, covering different budgets and different needs, so it's almost impossible to recommend just one.
Our comprehensive roundup linked below is the best place to start. Whatever type of monitor you're looking for, we've got a great pick for you.
Windows 10 license
You need to provide an OS for most of these barebones mini PCs. Since you're here on WindowsCentral.com we'll assume you want Windows 10. So you'll be looking at $119 for that software.
See at Microsoft (opens in new tab)
That all seems like a lot, but it's worth remembering that buying a desktop PC pre-built will still usually have you hunting for a better keyboard and mouse, and you'll need to provide your own monitor.
What the NUC does is allow you a little flexibility to build a really small PC that suits your own needs, while giving you a leg up by providing some of the more expensive parts up front.
Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
I like the idea of a NUC more than the execution. The problem I'm finding is you can get a pretty basic desktop for less without the need to buy all of the needed accessories other than a monitor. For what I would use a NUC for, I'd want it to be fairly cheap and they just aren't right now. It needs to compete with the Raspberry, not the Walmart special.
A NUC is excellent for a travel PC (especially if you plan on either leaving the PC at your destination or 2nd home). Much easier to bring than a heavy box and fits into a backpack. Plus it's much cheaper dollar for dollar than a comparable gaming laptop. With the HADES CANYON NUC that's coming out soon, you won't even need an external video card enclosure for gaming or 3D design, which is a win win in my book. I was able to use my NUC in Brazil before I bought a Razer laptop and was able to keep working as long as I had an internet connection.
Well the point of NUC is that your buying it for the smaller, compact size. You can definitely buy another pre-built comp for less or similar price but it's going to be much larger.
In the end, what you're paying is the miniaturization. And what you get is way beyond a Raspberry, it's a full Windows 10 computer with a decent processor and onboard graphics. It could be cheaper, but it's not artificially expensive, because it's a totally new form factor that's really useful in a lot of scenarios.
Computer OEMs can get Windows license in bulk and pay close to nothing for them, if they included the license we enter after we put a drive in that'd be cheaper for us than spending over a 100$ for that license.
Intel has been selling these fully configured for a few months. I have the i7 Baby Canyon with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD complete with W10H, all built by Intel. Make sure you buy from an Intel Technology Provider reseller. You can look them up on ark.intel.com
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