In the several weeks since I first purchased, assembled and then started using an Intel NUC mini-PC as my primary desktop, I’ve received a number of questions from readers about this setup. Was I really using a NUC? Could this inexpensive and tiny system meet my needs? Do I still recommend the Intel NUC?
The answer to those questions is easy enough: Yes.
But the Intel NUC, like any personal technology product that triggers an ongoing change in the way I do things, is worth a second look. Long-time readers may recall that I occasionally think of this kind of thing as a “28 days later” post, though in this case it’s closer to 6 weeks than 28 days. But you get the idea: The review is written, time passes, and I keep using the product. How’s it holding up?
Very well, I think. But as I groused on this past week’s Windows Weekly, something wonky had been going on with my NUC over the past several days. once my late week travel to New York was over, I started thinking about wiping it out and starting over with a clean install on Windows 10 1511.
Before getting to that, I want to be clear that I believe that whatever problems I was having were self-inflicted. That is, my job requires me to install a wide range of software and generally engage in activities that I don’t necessarily recommend to others. And in this case, things seemed to get weird after I added a USB hub and installed VMWare Workstation. And then again after pushing to the Windows 10 build that came out last week.
Plus, I feel like I had over-thought things when I did my initial install of Windows 10 on the NUC and botched up the drivers. So what the heck. It was Saturday. Let’s wipe this thing out.
I could have just done a clean install off of USB media, but I had Call of Duty to keep me company, so I decided to quickly test the downgrade capabilities, which in this case should take the PC from build 14316 back to Windows 10 1511. That actually went well. But once that was done, I used PC Reset to blast it back to zero.
As always, this is simple enough: All my data is stored in the cloud, so all I had to do to clean up was file away a few icons from my desktop (which I use as scratch space) and remember to deauthorize a couple of apps, like iTunes and Adobe Photoshop. I can tear down a Windows install and reset quickly and easily, whenever I need to.
And I have literally nothing to report: Everything worked perfectly. Networking was immediately available, so I could have signed in directly to my Microsoft account during initial Setup and taken off from there (though I actually create a local account first and convert that to MSA after I know everything is OK regardless). All of the NUC’s drivers were present and accounted for on first boot, and a few were updated via Windows Update when I did the first and only required check of that interface. After a reboot and offline install of the latest shipping bits, the NUC was back and up and running. No issues at all.
As for my ongoing experiences with the NUC, it’s been very reliable overall (yes, with the exception of my job-related issues of late) and for the most part it really meets my needs. The processing power is right where I need it, thanks to its Core i5 processor and 16 GB of RAM. The storage—a single 256 GB M.2 SSD stick—-is fast, but only adequate, and I could actually see adding a data SSD drive now. And probably will eventually, though one of the things I really like about the NUC is how quiet/silent it is, and I’m worried an extra SSD might change that (because of additional fan noise).
The power management stuff is amazing, and always has been. I wake in the morning, tap a key on the keyboard, and the sleeping NUC comes to life within 1-2 seconds. There are never any issue, it always works. The system drives a 2560 x 1440 32-inch display without issue. That the NUC is dwarfed by it is as obvious as it is funny to see.
The only major thing I’d change, I guess, is the USB expansion. There are two USB ports up front, and I use one for my Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard and Mouse set, and leave the other open for impromptu smart phone connections when I need to copy over screenshots or photos. But on the back, there are just two more ports, and they’re taken by the web camera and the Onyx Blackjack device that connects to the microphone I use for podcasts.
I could use two more USB ports. But when I’ve added a USB hub to one of those ports, wonkiness ensues, and I get weird errors, especially with my Windows phone. I basically need more USB: I’d like to leave a smart phone cable or two permanently attached, and I have other USB devices—a scanner, a photo printer, and a video game capture device, for example—that I use from time-to-time. This minor bit of inflexibility is the only real bump I’ve encountered.
(The combo headphone/mic jack is on the front of the NUC, which I understand. But if you want to use speakers with this device, that’s not good positioning. Your display may have audio-out, however, but while mine does, it’s on the side, which is also not good positioning for a speaker wire.)
Overall, the NUC has proven to be the great value I thought it was in early March. It’s inexpensive, easy to build and upgrade, and can replace a much bigger and more costly PC. It is a great productivity-focused home/work PC solution for most people, and it satisfies my inner minimalist. Power users and gamers with specific needs around storage expansion and discrete graphics will of course need to look elsewhere. But the Intel NUC—remember, I bought the NUC6i5SYH model with a Core i5-6260U processor—is a neat little PC.
And yes, I really do use it every day. Plus, it’s cute.