Conventional workstation desktop pc’s are getting smaller and smaller. You wont often see us deploying a big black box anymore for a couple of reasons; 1) they are big, heavy and cumbersome and 2) well, see 1.
Enter the next generation of computing by Intel, aptly named the Intel Next Unit of Computing. We have been wanting to deploy these as workstations for a while, and lucky for us, and the client the perfect opportunity arose.
Intel NUC’s come as barebone kits, so you will have to supply your own RAM, and Hard drive. Our weapon of choice was the Intel® NUC Kit D54250WYKH, running an i5-4250U processor. We configured it with 8GB of RAM and an Intel 530 series 120GB SSD to give blazing performance. The kit we chose is a slightly taller version allowing for the installation of a 2.5″ SSD or hard drive.
The intel NUC is around 10cm by 10cm, so it’s pretty small. A fair bit smaller than the Lenovo M73 Tiny, at 18x18cm.
On the desk it’s visually phenomenal. Client’s are amazed at it’s ultra small form factor and powerful specs. The NUC is not that revolutionary though, as it’s pretty much an modern UltraBook, just repackaged into a cube.
As a workstation we found the performance to be quite above adequate. The i5 runs at 1.3Ghz with its dual-core boosting up to 2.6Ghz when required. The NUC stays quiet with no discernible fan noise over the other in-office sounds. The NUC is very capable of running standard Office 2013 tasks, browsing the internet and playing HD Vimeo video. The system performance is aided by the use of a high speed solid state drive; we figure go fast or go home.
There is a couple of caveats with the NUC. Firstly it has a Ultra Low Voltage processor. While it can boost to 2.6Ghz it does offer lower overhead margins when compared to the Lenovo Tiny with its i5-4570T running at 2.9Ghz up to a massive 3.6Ghz under boost. For growing workloads the Tiny may offer better long term usability as software creep will invariably hit the NUC’s ULV processor sooner than the Lenovos full chip. Our particular client has been performing the same tasks for the last 10+ years and is not likely to increase their usage, so the NUC is a suitable choice.
The second caveat is ports, plugs and lack of DVD. The NUC comes with a mini displayport and mini hdmi which means you will need a converter to plug it into the older style VGA (blue plug) or DVI (white plug) type monitor cables. If you’re using new monitors, they probably have HDMI or DisplayPort, although you will still need mini converters. The Lenovo M73 Tiny offers a VGA and DisplayPort. Both devices can run multiple monitors, in fact the Intel NUC can run triple monitors I believe.
The NUC doesn’t have a DVD attachment, which by itself is no great problem, generic external USB DVD drives are cheap and can be plugged in when required. The Lenovo Tiny has a proprietary DVD drive which can be attached permanently to it’s larger frame, making for a compact all in one type unit.
Both devices only have audio ports on the front facing panel, which I find annoying for those wanting to run monitor based or desktop speakers. We have to run a cable out the front of the headphone jack, which affects it’s good looking aesthetic appeal.
Overall we are a fan of the NUC; and the Lenovo Tiny for that matter. The upsides of a smaller footprint and less power usage make these a smart decision for new workstation purchases.
There arn’t any major downsides to using these modern ultra compact pc’s in an office environment that cant be overcome with some forethought.
In the business environment the Lenovo does have the added attractiveness of a next business day on-site warranty, while the NUC is reseller serviced.