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Intel's sub-$500 easy do-it-yourself PC reviewed

You don t have to look very hard to see that the desktop is going the way of the dodo, what with laptops and tablets taking over. But if you still prefer a stationary computer, Intel s NUC could fit the bill, and it s cheap, too.

What is it?

It s sad but true: desktops are dying. Once an area this reviewer adored (he still does for the most part), people are gradually distancing themselves from the idea that they need a computer on their desk. After all, why have a desktop when you can have a laptop that you can take with you? The desktop is still useful in quite a few situations, though, with offices, hospitals, and schools chiefly up there, but homes and small businesses can benefit, too, and Intel hasn t given up on the area, coming up with a new specification for desktop computers that makes these machines smaller and more desk friendly than they ve ever been.

Forget about that massive tower you used to keep under the desk, and look past the small desktop or tower you could still keep on that plank of wood or glass you rest your keyboard on, because Intel s take on the evolution of the desktop is smaller than all of these.

Called the Next Unit of Computing or NUC for short (say the word puck but replace the p with n and you ll have the pronunciation), this is Intel s take on where the desktop could go, plunging enough of what you need into as small a computer as possible. And small is exactly what it is, with a rough area a little smaller than a CD case, though much thicker, measuring roughly 5 centimetres high. This isn t quite a cube, with the NUC appearing more like a cube that has been cut in half, and that s kind of what it is.

Specs

Inside this not-quite-cube, you ll find an Intel processor, which is hardly surprising given this is Intel s Next Unit of Computing. That chip isn t the most high end processor around, but should do the job, with an Intel Pentium N3700 set to 1.6GHz here, and paired with 2GB RAM. That memory can be upgraded with another stick of memory later on, but you ll have to bring your own, with only one socket found on this computer.

Storage is rather small from the get-go, with 32GB of storage soldered onto the hardware here, though in an interesting twist, this has Microsoft s Windows 10 preinstalled to the storage out of the box, just waiting for you.

If you want more room to move, you ll find support for a 2.5 inch SATA3 drive here, though the cable wasn t with our box. Intel did tell GadgetGuy that this should arrive with retail models, allowing you to add more than the 32GB storage, handy since you re only left with around 15GB with Windows 10 installed.

Connection options are not too shabby, either, with support for Bluetooth 4.0, Intel WiDi (Wireless Display), and even 802.11ac WiFi with backwards compatibility for 802.11a/b/g/n wireless networking. A hard wired Ethernet connection can also be found here, providing Gigabit networking if need be.

Remaining connections are fairly generous for the size of the computer, with four SB© USB 3.0 ports on the outside of the box, two 3.5mm headset jacks (one on the front for headsets, while the other is on the back is for both speakers and optical), VGA, HDMI, and even an infrared port at the very front of the unit. An SD card slot can be found on the left side of the unit.

Setup

In what has to be one of the easiest barebone machine setups we ve ever endured, Intel s entry-level NUC doesn t really require any expertise at all, and that s a good thing. You technically don t need to open up the computer, but you can if you want to, with four screws on the bottom that can bet undone and pulled out, yet not removed, this unlocking the bottom and letting you peer inside.

Under the small shell, you ll find pretty much everything ready for you, with 32GB of storage soldered to the board with Windows 10 preinstalled, and the memory installed, too. You can remove some of these things, and you can even add a 2.5 inch hard drive if the 15GB left over from Windows being installed on that 32GB drive isn t enough, making it into a slightly more spacious box, though that is totally your choice. Essentially, you just need to take this thing out of the box and plug it in, with Windows being setup for you much like how when you d buy a laptop for the first time.

It s very surprising, especially for a box designed like a do it yourself kit.

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