Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK small form factor PC
Intel's small form factor NUC PC returns with a fourth-gen Core CPU and other sweet features for home use
- 4th gen Core i5 CPU
- Small form factor
- Good selection of ports, plus infrared sensor
- Easy to assemble
- HDMI port not full-sized
- Lacks SD card slot
- RRP is a tad high
Intel's NUC barebones kit is a tiny, yet powerful computer thanks to its fourth-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, and it's suitable for home users who want to build up a nice little home theater PC. It features a good selection of ports, though you might have to buy some new cables or adapters to use them.
Intel's Next Unit of Computing, or NUC for short, is now available in a fourth-generation Intel Core model (the D54250WYK), which gives it better performance and efficiency characteristics than the third-generation model that we reviewed two years ago (the DC3217BY).
The Intel NUC is a small desktop computer that uses notebook technology, and it has paved the way for other tiny computer designs such as the Gigabyte Brix and the Asrock Vision, to name a couple, and while Intel pitches the NUC as a computer that can be used in kiosks or for digital signage displays and other spaces in which a small, well-featured computer is required, it's also a great unit for home and business computing as well.
It takes up a roughly 4x4-inch footprint on a desk (117x112mm and 35mm thick), and it still packs a very good configuration, allowing it to be used effectively for everyday office tasks and multimedia. For the home, it can be a very good media centre PC. In fact, the DC3217BY model that we are looking at here is aimed at those of you who want a home theatre PC. It even ships with features such as a built-in infrared sensor for a remote control.
If you want a NUC, you will have to buy it as a barebones computer, which means it has to be built up with components that you source yourself; or you can buy it from a store that supplies it with its own customisable configurations. Mainly, the NUC D54250WYK comes with a fourth-generation Intel Core i5-4250U CPU, which is fixed to the motherboard. It features two cores, Hyper-Threading, a standard clock speed of 1.3GHz, and Intel HD 5000 graphics.
The RAM, storage, and Wi-Fi components are not installed nor supplied by default and have to be installed separately.
It's a very easy unit to build, though, as all the slots are easily accessible once you unscrew the removable panel — it's held by four Phillips-head screws that are captive, which means they stay attached to the panel so that so they can't be lost. There are two SO-DIMM slots that can be used to install up to 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM via two 8GB modules; there is one mSATA-based solid state drive (SSD) slot, and also a Mini PCI Express slot for a Wi-Fi module. There are compatibility lists on Intel's site that you can refer to, which allow you to locate parts that you know will definitely work with the unit.
For our tests, we used one 4GB Adata DDR3L (low voltage) memory module, a 120GB Intel 525 SSD, and a dual-band Intel Wireless-AC 7260 Wi-Fi module. Intel sent us these parts along with the NUC so that we didn't have to go hunting for them; we just had to install them.
Here's the installation process:
The assembled unit can sit pretty much anywhere you like due to its small size, and it won't really stand out if you hook it up to your TV in the lounge room. You can use the mini HDMI port to connect it to a TV, and if you want to connect it to a high-resolution monitor, you can also use the mini DisplayPort. We wish these ports were full-sized though, because as it stands you might have have to buy an adapter or new cables to use them. We used an inexpensive multi-head adapter that we bought from Officeworks and our setup ended up looking comical as the adapter blocked the network port and one of the USB ports.
We were easily able to drive one of LG's Ultrawide monitors (2560x1080 pixels) with the NUC using the HDMI connection, and it felt very zippy during our test period. It recorded a time of 50sec in our Blender 3D rendering test, while in 3DMark's Cloud Gate and Fire Strike tests it got 3850 and 530, respectively. They are notebook-level scores that show the NUC is capable of doing lots of good stuff when it comes to everyday computing, whether its running office software or image editing apps, or even playing simple games at low resolution and detail levels using the Intel graphics.
Video playback was smooth in our tests. We played 1080p YouTube streams without any issues in full-screen mode; meanwhile, in our staple Internet video streaming test, NBA League Pass, the NUC passed with flying colours as it was able to smoothly play a live stream at the highest available quality for that service (3000Kbps). We envision the NUC being a good unit for this type of thing when connected to a TV in a lounge room, though the experience you have will depend on the software that you install on it. We simply ran Windows 7 with Firefox and Chrome Web browsers to view our favourite content.
You could use media centre software to tap into locally stored videos on your home network, and because the NUC has a built-in Gigabit Ethernet port, you can get good performance out of it when viewing Full HD files. Furthermore, the performance over Wi-Fi should be good, too, if you use the 802.11ac-capable module that we used for our tests.
The Intel 525-Series internal storage that we used in our NUC isn't the fastest SSD that we've seen. In CrystalDiskMark, it recorded a read rate of 463.6 megabytes per second (MBps), which is a very good result, but its write rate of 179.9MBps is a little slower than we would like from a flash drive that's meant to make the system boot up and launch programs with great quickness. That said, the system still felt highly responsive and programs weren't sluggish to load.
There are two USB 3.0 ports on the front for easily plugging in USB sticks and other temporary external devices, and two more are at the back for more permanent devices. We missed not having an SD card slot, though, and this meant we had to use a USB-to-SD adapter for transferring photos quickly off a camera. However, since this isn't a typical desktop PC, it's unlikely to be used in a typical fashion, so the lack of an SD card slot probably isn't a big deal for many of you. We also missed not having an optical audio output, but we like the availability of Bluetooth, which allowed us to tap into wireless speakers.
For security, there is a Kensington slot on the side of the unit that can be used to lock the NUC with a cable, and this will be used most if the NUC is in a shared space, say in a business or in a classroom.
While it's operating, the NUC doesn't make much noise at all. It has a small fan to cool the CPU, but it shouldn't be audible in a typical home or office setting. It pushes warm air out through the vents at the rear.
All up, the NUC continues to be a great little unit if small computing is what you're after, and it has gotten better as Intel's CPUs have gotten better. The fourth-generation Core i5 in this model gives it good punch and efficiency. The only thing holding it back is a price that can be perceived as high, unless you shop around a bit. We found it for about $499 sans RAM, SSD and Wi-Fi. A Core i3 version is also available.
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