First demonstrated at PAX East at the beginning of April, and Intel’s Platinum Summit in London last week, NUC is a complete 10x10cm (4x4in)
According to Fred Birang, a senior product marketing engineer at Intel, the NUC is primarily targeted at digital signage and kiosks — but I’m sure we can all agree that it would make an awesome set-top home theater PC (HTPC), or an introductory system for kids. The only real problem is the GPU:
At 10x10cm, the NUC is actually one of the smallest complete PCs on the market. The only x86 competition comes from VIA, which has produced Nano-ITX (12cm), Pico-ITX (10cm), and Mobile-ITX (6cm) motherboards for a few years — but these motherboards only support slow, weak VIA CPUs, and are generally targeted at embedded, low-power installations. That Intel has managed to cram a mobile Core i5 processor into such a form factor is rather impressive.
Where does this leave Raspberry Pi? At 8.5×5.5cm, the Raspberry Pi is still a fair bit smaller than Intel’s NUC (and at 2cm deep, it’s probably thinner as well). The Raspberry Pi has more inputs and outputs, too, though the NUC’s mini PCIe connectors mean that almost any functionality could be added. Processing power-wise, though, the NUC’s Core i3 and i5 processors will utterly obliterate the Rasp Pi’s 700MHz ARM SoC — but of course it will consume a lot more power, too. There’s also the fact that NUC users will be able to use the vast x86 Windows software ecosystem — and likewise, developing for the NUC will be as easy as developing for a standard, Windows-based x86 PC; two perks the Raspberry Pi will not enjoy.
Price-wise, Birang, speaking to Just Press Start, says the NUC will “not be in the hundreds and thousands range,” and that Intel is still looking at “different kinds of SKUs.” It almost certainly won’t be as cheap as the $25 Raspberry Pi, but a price point around $100 would be realistic. Judging by the heatsink and fan assembly, the NUC will probably come with a CPU pre-installed — and hopefully some RAM, too. Intel certainly could produce a computer that competes with the Raspberry Pi on price, but it’s unlikely to do so (damn those profit margins). Availability-wise, Birang says we can expect the NUC to arrive in the second half of the year.
With a name like Next Unit of Computing, it would seem like Intel has grand designs for this mini form factor. The use of the word “unit” is particularly interesting — it suggests that the NUC might be stackable, in much the same way as my imaginary Apple iStack computer.
Read our Raspberry Pi explainer
Update – 5/1/12 – We’ve heard from Intel and it turns out that there will only be an Ivy Bridge version of the NUC available. There will be no Sandy Bridge version available. Expect to see it some time in the second half of 2012. – Sal Cangeloso