In the first of a four part series, we explore why the Intel Next Unit of Computing is the ideal low power HTPC (Home Threatre PC) with its rich media creation and consumption capabilities, made possible by its mobile-oriented 3rd generation Intel Core processor and purpose built form factor.
Last weekend, we did a brief introduction on Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC), which is part of the chipmaker's concerted push towards small footprint devices in the so-called Post-PC era, alongside other products like Ultrabooks and Atom tablets. Its petite 4.5" x 4.4" x 1.5" form factor allow easy and organic integration into many daily usage scenarios, without compromises on application compatibility thanks to its X86 roots.
In our first of a four part series, we explore some of the factors that positions the NUC as an ideal low power HTPC.
(Can you see where the NUC is in this typical living room set? Hint – Bottom Right Shelf)
Powered by a 22nm ultra-low voltage "Ivy Bridge" Core processor designed for mobile computers, the NUC offers one of the best power-performance ratio in its class (< 20W) which qualifies it as a media consumption device that is switched on and used all-day without racking up massive power bills or spoiling the home environment with a noisy fan. The HD4000 graphics engine in the dual-core Core i3 processor also integrates DirectX 11/GPGPU capabilities, a Multi-Format Codec Engine that even allows simultaneous 4K video decoding and QuickSync for fast video transcoding.
As we've mentioned in our earlier preview, the NUC will be available next month in early December with a choice of either a Thunderbolt (D33217CK) or Gigabit Ethernet (D33217GKE) equipped model, both with full-sized HDMI and three USB 2.0 ports. We reckon that most users will choose the latter owing to the fact that Thunderbolt adoption in the storage and multi-media realm is not exact prevalent yet.
Storage in the NUC is handled by a mSATA based SSD, which guarantees snappy loading times and file transfers, albeit still with relatively small capacities (currently up to 256GB) to store your movie and music library. For more disk space, users can hook up an external USB/Thunderbolt hard drive, connect to the house NAS appliance via Gigabit Ethernet or Wifi, or simply stream from some cloud service over the Internet somewhere. With Intel's Hyperthreading providing four logical CPU threads, the system can still be responsive when playing media content even with many programs running in the background, such as your BitTorrent client downloads and stock ticker.
Since the NUC is essentially a barebones system that uses generic parts with almost universal driver compatibility, users can choose to load virtually any operating system of their choice – including Windows 7/8 (with the Media Center add-on pack), Linux (XBMC) for the more technically inclined or *gulps*, even Hackintosh. Being a full fledged X86 processor also means you have the freedom to run any of your favourite applications or games, without being confined to the limited selection of an App Store or have a good experience only with obscure GPU accelerated applications.
In short, the NUC can be used as a regular PC (office productivity, light gaming, surfing, media consumption), something which most other <20W devices cannot do.
Some of the suitable peripherals for the NUC include a keyboard/trackpad combo such as the Logitech K400 or a media center remote to wirelessly interface with the HTPC if you're seating on a sofa some distance away. If you're into the touchscreen monitor fad, then a stylish display like the Dell S2340T should provide a full-HD 10 point multi-touch interface. WiDi support also eliminates unneccessary wiring with compatible display devices. In case you are wondering, audio output is over HDMI so you either use your HiFi AV transceiver or built-in television speakers for sound.