I finally broke down and bought the new Intel NUC with an i5 Broadwell CPU. I slapped in a 8GB of Ram and a 256GB SSD, loaded Ubuntu Desktop onto the tiny little thing (it’s even smaller than the smallest of last generation’s NUCs) and have been working on it as my main office PC for the last few weeks.
One of the first things I noticed is that the WiFi/Bluetooth radios are now built-in to the diminutive motherboard. It’s no longer required to buy and install an add-on board for that functionality. Installing the SSD and RAM was easy and straight-forward. All you need is a Phillip’s head screwdriver to remove the 4 screws that hold the cover in place.
Installing Ubuntu 15.04 from a USB drive was trivial, the EFI boot-loader found the USB drive during boot-up and the installation went flawlessly. The SSD really shines in these tiny machines and installation was done in a couple of minutes. All the hardware was identified correctly by Ubuntu and just worked. Configuring my favorite Bluetooth keyboard and mouse on the little machine was a piece of cake.
One of my favorite things about this machine is that it makes no noise at all. Even though I’m pretty sure there is a fan in there somewhere, you really can’t hear it. However, you can feel the warm air blowing from the vents when you are taxing the processor with 3D games or compressing video. When you push the processor with demanding software, the top of the machine gets noticeably warm but by no means hot enough to burn or injure you.
As a desktop computer, it’s very capable. The i5 is snappy. Ubuntu never feels sluggish no matter what software you’re running on it. I have even watched NBA.TV in full-screen mode in high definition mode with not even a stutter. As for 3D games, it’s surprising how well the little machine handles. You can get decent gaming performance out of the integrated Intel HD 6000 series graphics. It’s never fair to compare integrated graphics to discrete graphics cards from Nvidia or AMD, however the little chip handles surprisingly well letting you play your favorite games (never at best quality settings) but at least at playable settings.
World of Warcraft in Windows 10 preview works really great as well.
So, what is my verdict? Get ONE! They are awesome little machines. They boot up and shut down surprisingly fast, letting you get to work immediately. They’re super quiet and tiny, making it an ideal machine for KODI or Media Center functions in your living room. If you don’t mind not having the best looking graphic effects, you could even turn this little machine into a capable Steam Box gaming machine connected to your television.
Windows and Ubuntu both run really well, but I’m partial to Ubuntu on this hardware because I can’t justify paying for a Windows licence when I can do everything I need to do in Ubuntu with a great user-experience for free. The bare bones machine, plus the SSD and the 8GB of ram ended up costing me $526.67 on Amazon. I already had a keyboard, mouse, monitor and speakers to use with the machine, so I didn’t need to spend anything extra for that.
If you’re looking for a new computer, you should seriously consider one of these little beasts, you will won’t be disappointed. It has turned into my preferred office desktop very quickly.