Review Index:

Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) DC3217BY SFF System Review

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: Intel

Stability Issue and Conclusions

A Killer Feature

We did have a stability issue with NUC that needs to be noted and discussed.  After getting the configuration ready to roll we started to copy our collection of benchmarks that we typically run on new systems including things like 3DMark11, some game backups, CineBench, x264 and others; it's a large collection of files in the range of 20-30GB.  During this first copy of files, the system started to stutter a bit and then locked up.  Like a hard lock; holding down the power button until it shutdown kind of thing.  Not great. 

After hearing about a similar issue with Tech Report's testing a little while ago I did some reading and found that in fact we had the same problem.  Large data transfers over a wireless network using the installed Centrino mPCIe card caused the system to slow down and then lock up.  Not always, but enough times that it wasn't a one-time fluke.  With the close proximity of the Centrino and the Intel 520 SSD controller, we are likely seeing a heat issue though even with the cover removed from the NUC we had a system freeze once.

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Intel has told us they are looking into the problem, have reproduced it and are hoping to have a fix out via a firmware adjustment.  I'm not sure what they can do in software that will fix this other than maybe turn up the fan (adding noise) or slowing down data speeds (uh, no thanks) but it is kind of hard to believe that Intel didn't find this before shipping with the consistency the media has seen the problem.

Pricing and Availability

As of this writing, the Intel Next Unit of Computing is finally showing up at the normal online locations like Amazon and Newegg.  Here is the pricing of our configuration as we tested it:

Don't forget that power cable!  The total for this build would be $521 before shipping and while I realize that isn't EXACTLY what we tested there was difficulty finding some exact duplicates. 

That price is pretty steep especially considering that you can get a much more powerful system for about the same amount of money.  Here is a build I quickly made over at that includes and AMD Trinity APU, ASUS microATX motherboard, 120 GB SSD, power supply and chassis for about $425. 

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The obvious trade-off is size - the system above will take up 20x as much space on your desk and you would be hard pressed to mount it to the back of a TV.  It uses more power, will be louder and lacks some things like wireless networking and Thunderbolt.  It's not as sexy (to most of us I am guessing).  But it will play more games, run more programs more quickly and you'll have some cash left in your pocket to upgrade or spend frivolously. 

Much like the pricey custom built gaming systems we have reviewed in the last couple of months, this is a product you have to KNOW you want to be worth it or have $500 of spending money to play around with a truly unique product.  If you are a gadget-type individual that just likes new things, likes to see what you can accomplish with new hardware, the Intel Next Unit of Computing is going to catch your eye. 

And while I am focusing on the consumer aspect, remember that Intel is building this platform for more business applications like digital signage and wall displays - something that custom built PC above would not address well. 

Closing Thoughts

Intel's Next Unit of Computing is an interesting and creative way of pushing the small form factor PC design industry forward while still giving a nod to users like us that want to build and customize computers in anyway we can.  Want to build a NUC with a 500GB SSD and use it as a really expensive Gigabit Ethernet attached storage device in a small space?  Go for it.  Have an external Thunderbolt RAID array that you want to attach to the network for sharing?  You can do it as long as you use a wireless network or maybe a Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter.  There are a lot of potential custom use cases for the NUC.

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I definitely wish we didn't have the stability problem with the wireless + SSD combination like we did in our testing as it leaves a sour taste with me that Intel didn't find it before hand. Intel provided all the parts with the exception of the memory SODIMMs and it seems odd that they wouldn't have had the same issue Scott and I saw.  As it stands now I am not comfortable using the NUC in our office for any use without an external USB wireless adapter which seems...dumb. 

The pricing is a bit high just as we see in the Ultrabook market today; you are going to pay more for a device that is smaller and slimmer and more power efficient but it is still within reason to be a neat and fun DIY build for creative individuals.  Intel is also hoping it will push more OEM/ODM partners to create interesting ways to take advantage of the new 4-in x 4-in motherboards that Intel is producing.  Maybe a train-shaped computer?  Or how about an Intel NUC with Mac OS X on it

If you have some time and some money, the Intel NUC makes a great weekend project.

Check out our video right here!

December 14, 2012 | 12:24 PM - Posted by atarione (not verified)

has anyone tried taking the wireless card out and plugging a external usb wi-fi adapter in?

i.e. would an little usb adapter cure the overheat w/ network transfers?

December 14, 2012 | 12:40 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yes, it did.  

December 14, 2012 | 01:36 PM - Posted by Henry velez (not verified)

This looks like a precursor to the steam box. This is a lapdesktop. I like it but can't game. This would be a good streaming box.

December 14, 2012 | 02:38 PM - Posted by bilmath76 (not verified)

Question that I could really look up but thought I would ask, Did Intel fix the 23.9 frame rate for movie play back in the 3rd gen processors, or do they suffer from the same problem the sandy bridge with 24 frame lock?

Just asking cause I would love to make this computer into my XBMC HTPC machines, that i have around the house...

December 14, 2012 | 08:16 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Based on my understanding that is fixed but I honestly haven't tested it.

June 4, 2013 | 09:42 AM - Posted by Joann (not verified)

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December 14, 2012 | 08:54 PM - Posted by Tralalak (not verified)

"Intel Board Team Creates New Form Factor" ???
How new?

• ZOTAC ZBOX nano XS AD11 Plus powered by the AMD E-450 1.65GHz APU (dual-core processor)
• • Dimensions • •
• Length: 4.173in - 106mm
• Width: 4.173in - 106mm
• Depth: 1.46in - 37mm

• ZOTAC ZBOX nano VD01 powered by the VIA Nano™ X2 U4025 dual-core 1.2GHz processor.
• ZOTAC ZBOX nano AD12 powered by the AMD E2-1800 1.7GHz APU (dual-core processor)
• ZOTAC ZBOX nano ID61 powered by the by the an Intel® Celeron® Processor 867 dual-core 1.3GHz processor
• • Dimensions • •
• Length: 5in - 127mm
• Width: 5in - 127mm
• Depth: 1.77in – 45mm

December 14, 2012 | 10:44 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

It's new to Intel, at least at the board level, and also new in that it is a creation of Intel's team for the barebones chassis as well.

December 16, 2012 | 01:24 PM - Posted by Tralalak (not verified)

Oh of course, it's new to Intel, at least at the Intel board level beacause under NUC 4"x4" Form Factor (or ZOTAC ZBOX nano XS 4.173"x4.173") is logial Pico-ITX Form Factor 3,9"x2,8" (10 cm x 7,2 cm) etc. also with QuadCore Processor for the barebones chassis or barebone Pico-ITX Mini-PC as well.

December 14, 2012 | 09:04 PM - Posted by ToiT (not verified)

What's the most practical reason for needing two HDMI ports anyway?

December 14, 2012 | 11:13 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Multiple displays without the need for DisplayPort.

December 14, 2012 | 10:11 PM - Posted by Provo44 (not verified)

I cannot find a downloadable version of Windows 8 that can be used for a clean install. All I can find is the upgradeable version. Every review of the NUC glosses over this issue.

December 14, 2012 | 11:18 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Hmm, I guess that's true.  I used my TechNet account to get an ISO for installation.  

You can get the OEM version of the OS and that will all full installs, right?

December 14, 2012 | 10:48 PM - Posted by Devil 2 U

Could be an excellent client for digital signage systems.

December 15, 2012 | 01:30 AM - Posted by orvtrebor

At $329 it's overpriced.

If it drops to $299 I'd say not bad. The final product is pretty slick.

December 15, 2012 | 01:44 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You're in the market for something like this, but much cheaper?
Then this is for you:

Same form factor, $229, but with an AMD CPU/GPU. So slower CPU but faster GPU.

This has been available for years. Now it just has an Intel sticker on it. Not really news.

December 15, 2012 | 01:13 PM - Posted by orvtrebor

Yes I know of the Zotac boxes, and the surfboard style versions from other manufactures as well.

They are all good products for what they are doing. I'm just happy to see Intel getting into this segment as well.

I personally have more faith in Intel's R&D when it comes to MOBO design and execution when compared to the other manufacturers. And I'm more than happy to pay a little more for it.

This isn't a perfect product but if they continue to push the form factor they will refine it to perfection. It's not that Intel is amazing, it's just that they have the money to throw into their projects.

And no I'm not an Intel fan boy. All of my systems at this time are AMD based, I'm even typing this from an ITX A8-3870k.

December 16, 2012 | 10:27 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Keep in mind that system you linked to is a MUCH lower performance configuration than this Intel NUC.

May 18, 2013 | 10:18 PM - Posted by Milan (not verified)

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March 8, 2013 | 05:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Agreed... the form factor is nice, especially with the VESA mount kit--but its really overpriced considering you still need to add RAM, HDD, and you dont get USB3 or FW. I could live with the lower-spec CPU if I could build a fully functional OS X compatible system for about half the price of a Mac Mini.

December 17, 2012 | 10:11 AM - Posted by br01 (not verified)

My guess is that this is the precurser to the (I Know what your doing mmmmaaa)lower nanometer technology that is being developed at Microsoft. That being the 14 Nm tech.
I maybe wrong but I doubt it. Infact it could or should be the the 14 Nm tech.

This would produce far less heat at the performance level of the current DX11 GPU cards with comparible tolerances in
CPU/GPU point of heat disapation.

December 22, 2012 | 02:58 AM - Posted by KingKong75 (not verified)

Why do they sell the power cord separately for 3$ ?
Are they nuts ?
Maybe they forgot it in the original package... Anyway, they are nuts.

December 22, 2012 | 03:01 AM - Posted by KingKong75 (not verified)

Oh, i have just understand.
The plug is different for european customers.
But sell separately is not the best solution.

December 26, 2012 | 06:45 PM - Posted by moose4computers (not verified)

NUC + external Thunderbolt connected PCI-E box with Virtu support and a GTX 680 might be a nice lan rig.

December 26, 2012 | 10:07 PM - Posted by justin150 (not verified)

I like this, but using the board with wired ethernet connection.

Ideal as a small home server, stick windows server 2012 on it. Perfect

January 16, 2013 | 05:40 AM - Posted by ChrisM (not verified)

Meh. Power up and go quad core Exynos boards available for $50, with all the interfaces you need.

No thanks Intel, this is another one that's going nowhere.

January 17, 2013 | 03:47 PM - Posted by RG (not verified)


The table/chart on page 1 of this review where it lists specifications says compatible with Linux (Fedora, Ubuntu.. etc). What is the source of this information?

Have you successfully installed Ubuntu on this system? If you did, how do you install drivers, BIOS updates etc.,?

I just ordered this BTW. I am hoping to install Ubuntu.

March 14, 2013 | 09:32 AM - Posted by Matt (not verified)

I agree with orvtrebor, and I'm glad that Intel is finally jumping into this segment. My main complaint with the Intel barebones is that plastic case seems a little chinsty. I wish they came standard with something more industrial looking, like this:

May 15, 2013 | 10:16 PM - Posted by Felipe (not verified)

Hey Ryan, were you able to install Ubuntu in this machine? I'm interested in purchasing this only if Ubuntu works ok and it is happy with the integrated NIC. Thanks

November 10, 2013 | 12:05 AM - Posted by Wes Mahan (not verified)

When installing the wifi card does it matter which antenna wire goes to the main or AUX?

May 20, 2015 | 11:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Does it have the ability to hook up a wireless remote control?

Anyone try it with Mythbuntu?

Will it fit a 2.5" internal HDD?

Can you install an internal Haugepauge PCIe dual-TV tuner and hook it up to an antenna?

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