BYOPC: Starting Small with Intel NUC

Posted on March 3, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 0


About a month ago, I wrote about my plans to build a few PCs this year. Before getting to that, here’s a (literally) small and easier diversion: A Skylake-based Intel NUC mini-PC.

OK, I know. Cobbling together a NUC mini-PC isn’t exactly a complicated project. Indeed, it’s arguably less difficult than building a Raspberry Pi 3-based kit PC. But I figured this would be interesting for a number of reasons, and that this sort of inexpensive and simple project might be appealing to a wide range of people as well. So let’s start small.


In case you’re not familiar, Intel NUC (which stands for Next Unit Computing) is a small form-factor (SFF), or what I think of as a mini-PC. It’s available in kit form, where you buy just the motherboard (with a soldered-on CPU) and then supply your own case, RAM, and storage. But the far more common option is to buy the mini-PC complete with case, and then just add the RAM and storage.

Intel started selling the NUC several years ago and has updated the product along with each corresponding processor revision. Today, there are Celeron and Pentium versions of the NUC, plus the Core i3, i5, and i7 versions that I find much more interesting. In fact, just this past week, Intel started selling the first versions of NUC based on the 6th generation (“Skylake”) Intel Core processors. So the newest NUCs can be had with an Intel Core i3-6100U or Core i5-6260U processor (the latter with Iris graphics). (I’m not sure why there’s not an i7 version, yet, as the previous-generation NUC came with i7 variants.)

If you’re up on Intel’s processors, you recognize those U-based model numbers as identifying dual-core mobile chips, the sorts of processors you’d see in an Windows 10 Ultrabook, convertible PC or tablet. (The HP Spectre x360 15 I’m currently using utilizes a Core i5-6200U CPU, for example, and yes it’s also a dual-core mobile design.)

This is most certainly enough for my needs. And while I will almost certainly replace this PC with a “real” home-built PC later in the year, this sort of mini-PC will have plenty of potential uses once it’s replaced, either in my wife’s office or perhaps even as an HTPC in the living room.

The first question, however, was which NUC to get.

Looking to the top of the NUC line, and only at those models based on Skylake chipsets, I basically had two options: The NUC6i5SYK and the NUC6i5SYH, where the only meaningful differentiator is that the former supports a single M.2 SSD card, while the latter supports M.2 SSD plus a 2.5-inch SSD/HDD drive. The NUC6i5SYH also features a taller case to accommodate that second drive.


Beyond that, the specs are identical, and both ship with a 4-inch motherboard and case: A 6th-generation dual-core 1.9 GHz Intel Core -i5-6260U processor with Intel Iris graphics, two dual-channel DDR4 SODIMM slots (with support for up to 32 GB of RAM), full-sized HDMI 1.4b and miniDisplayPort 1.2 ports for video-out, four USB 3.0 ports (two on the front, two on the back, with one on the front being charging capable), one SDXC card slot, Intel Gigabit networking, and Intel Wireless-AC 8260 M.2 Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.1.

I am only interested in a single drive for this device, and was very interested to check out M.2 SSD storage, which comes on a card the size of a stick of gum. But looking at the pricing on Amazon, theNUC6i5SYH, at $400 at the time of purchase ($423 normally), is/was slightly less expensive than the $404 NUC6i5SYK. So what the heck, having some expansion capability is never a bad thing.

That left buying the RAM and storage.

While I like the fact that the NUC can accept up to 32 GB of RAM, let’s get serious: I’m never going to need that much RAM, especially in this box, so I decided on 16 GB of Kingston Technology HyperX Impact RAM DDR4 2133 instead (in two 8 GB modules). Cost? About $73.


Next up was the storage: Amazon was pushing the 250 GB Samsung 850 EVO M.2 SSD, normally $120, but on sale for $90. Doing a bit of research, I discovered that the 850 is basically the baseline for this type of drive, which is to say nothing special, but nothing objectionable either. Plus, that price.


So, adding up the cost, it all comes to about $565, about half of what I expect to pay for my next PC build. I ordered it the other day, before the new NUCs were even available, so the RAM and storage shipped and have arrived back home. (I’m in Seattle as I write this.) And the NUC itself will be there by Monday.

That price doesn’t include Windows, of course: The NUC comes sans OS. I’ll throw the Windows 10 Insider Preview on there to start and kind of take it from there, but buying Windows 10 Home OEM would add $100 ($92 at the time of this writing) to the cost. So about $665. (I’ll be using my existing display, keyboard, mouse and other peripherals.)

When the NUC arrives, I’ll document the build process and let you know how it goes.