The age of the NUC miniPC

How big does a PC need to be? A popular and well-reviewed small form factor PC with a disk, an optical drive and NO slots in early 2017 measures 10.5″x4″x15″=630 cubic inches.  How many users ever add boards or drives to a PC after they buy it?  Then why so big? An ION® NUC7 miniPC is 4.53″x4.37″ with a height of 1.4″ or 2″.  40 cubic inches or less!

Sales of desktop computers have long been on the decline, but one has to assume that many users just got tired of that big box on their desks.  For almost all users, anything that they could even imagine adding to their PCs can be connected via USB.  Maybe some users actually open up their PC and add another disk, but if they really need more space, they really ought to be using a small server or NAS appliance with redundant storage.  Is any picture, video, or document that is important enough to save also unimportant enough to trust to a single disk?

Did I say disk? An old habit, I suppose.  You might choose to have a pair of big, slow disks in that NAS box, but in your PC, why would you want anything other than an SSD?  It is hard to find an SSD that is not hundreds of times faster than any disk or with an uncorrectable bit error rate that is not ten or one hundred times better than a disk.  SSDs still cost more than disks, but nothing you can do to that PC will improve all of your performance every day more than using an SSD instead of a spinning disk.

But the topic here is really the NUC, ION’s NUC7 miniPC.  Processor choices include Intel® Core™ i3, Intel® Core™ i5, and Intel® Core™ i7 processors.  All support up to 32GB of DDR4 memory.  All include Intel® Wireless for 802.11 WiFi and Bluetooth v4.2, along with an Intel® wired Gigabit NIC.  All include an M.2 (key M) slot for SSD storage supporting both SATA and NVMe interface SSDs.  Each version is also available with an internal 2.5″ drive bay supporting a SATA SSD or disk (if you insist).  All have (2) USB 3.0 ports on the front and two more on the back.  There is also a Consumer InfraRed receiver on the front.  All have an HDMI 2.0 port for 4K displays at 60Hz.  All also have a USB C port that includes USB3.1 Gen 2 and Mini DisplayPort 1.2.  The i5 and i7 versions also include Thunderbolt 3 at 40Gbps on that USBC port.  And to make things really convenient, there is a Micro SDXC slot on the side.

Did we talk about performance? Start with an Intel® 7th generation Core™ i3-7100U processor with two cores at 2.4GHz. Move up to the 7th generation Core™ i5-7260U version which has two cores at 2.2GHz or TurboBoost up to 3.4GHz, or go all the way to the 7th generation Core™ i7-7567U processor which has two cores at 3.5GHz with TurboBoost to 4GHz.  The i3 version includes Intel® HD Graphics 620.  With the i5 version comes Intel® Iris™ Plus Graphics 640. And the i7 version features Intel® Iris™ Plus Graphics 650.  Add up to 32GB of 2133MHz DDR4 RAM.  And, of course, the SSD of your choice.  (We recommend Intel SSDs.) Sure there are a very few workstation users or gamers who really do need more graphics or more memory or some other cool gadget, but most of us need nothing more.

What about power?  The NUC7 comes with an external 65W power brick, but our testing indicates that it is hard to really use much more than 20W.  So it costs less to run and less to cool than those big desktop PCs.  And it is nearly silent, too.  Yes, it has a fan, but you have to actually put your ear to the NUC to even hear it.

Whether you buy the kinda big box or the really big box, you are only adding to them with USB peripherals anyway.  So, why not save more than 90% of the space, 90% of the weight and maybe 80% or more of the power by choosing an ION NUC7 miniPC instead?


One Reply to “The age of the NUC miniPC”

  1. Our focus at ION has always been servers, powerful machines with as much redundancy and instrumentation as possible to achieve the RASUM goals: Reliability, Availability, Serviceability, Usability, Manageability. That remains our focus. We have observed though, that there are cases where a dedicated server may still be desired, but perhaps redundancy to support Reliability and Availability is achieved with duplicated servers. Sometimes, Serviceability can be addressed in a fairly thorough manner with a few spare parts and a very simple system. If the operating system and applications run as intended, then Usability is achieved. And for a pair or a pool of fairly simple systems, how much Manageability is needed? If one takes that situation and adds a need for a system that is small and/or quiet and/or low power, there are some cases where a NUC can be a very adequate miniServer.
    ION would never make that recommendation for a single server where there is no system or application level redundancy. There are however, usage models where either the whole system or the application or the data are redundant, where a dual-core system with a running on a reliable SSD may be a perfect fit at a price well below that of a Real Server.

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