Miniaturization is one of the directions technical progress takes in the today’s computer market. As finer production technologies become more common, the semiconductor manufacturers manage to integrate more features into their chips, which pushes us faster towards having fewer chips on the PCBs and therefore overall smaller PCBs. At the same time new semiconductor technologies lower the chips heat dissipation, which in the end allows the engineers to design much more compact solutions. As a result, small size or low weight of the micro-electronic devices becomes a very powerful argument in their favor, which everyone attempts to use to their advantage. You can easily follow the miniaturization evolution almost in any market segment: almost all components and products keep growing smaller, lighter and thinner year after year.
Although hunt for finesse primarily matters for portable devices, such as notebooks, smartphones and tablets, the traditional desktop segment also tries to keep up with the popular trends. Over the past few years we had a chance to witness the increasing popularity of Micro-ATX and then Mini-ITX platforms. There was a time when nettops, compact desktop systems, were at the peak of their game. As a result, the system case, which used to be pictured as a gloomy massive box, finally managed to move from the floor to the desk or even get hung behind the monitor in some cases.
But some believe this isn’t enough. For example, Zotac Company has been producing their ZBOX Nano series for a while now, which distinguishing feature is much smaller size than that of a standard Mini-ITX system. And it looks like desktop computers inside a system case with a size of half-a-dozen CD disk stack continue to win the users’ hearts. And Intel’s intention to start offering products like that is year another piece of evidence confirming this statement.
However, the approach this microprocessor giant took this time is slightly different from what we have already seen in the mini-systems market. So far, miniature size has been a synonym to low performance, because compact desktop systems like that had to use Intel Atom or AMD Zacate processors. More powerful CPUs simply couldn’t get proper heat dissipation inside a tiny system case with less than a liter volume. But, Intel decided to change the rules of the game and introduced a series of desktop mini-systems built on mobile Core i3 processors. Moreover, these were not the common Core i3 CPUs, but the ultra-book modifications with Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, which boast 17 W TDP and therefore can easily work in very tight spaces where no other processors can survive. This unique combination of different market ideologies produced a very interesting result – energy-efficient mini-computer only 117x112x39 mm in size (which is even smaller than Zotac ZBOX Nano, but still a little bit larger than Zotac ZBOX Nano XS) with very decent performance. It was named Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (or simply NUC), which could be considered a hint that this is where the future of desktop computing is going. And if that is the case, let’s give this future a taste and see what we will have to deal with, according to Intel’s vision. We are going to start with the first generation Intel’s Next Unit of Computing, which is not a concept, but a complete mass production device currently available in retail.