BYOPC: Getting Up and Running with Intel NUC

Posted on March 4, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 0 Comments

BYOPC: Getting Up and Running with Intel NUC

Arriving home from my recent trip, I was happy to see that the Intel NUC, RAM, and M.2 SSD storage card had arrived. As expected, putting these components together couldn’t have been easier. But installing and configuring Windows 10 was more of a challenge than anticipated. Mostly my fault.

If you haven’t, be sure to check out BYOPC: Starting Small with Intel NUC, where I describe my decision to take a Build Your Own PC (BOYPC) side-trip. There was just something about this affordable and cool little kit PC that caught my attention.

front

So with all three components here in Chez Thurrott—the Intel NUC itself, 16 GB of RAM, and a 250 GB M.2 SSD stick—I set out to put them together, creating a mini-PC that can rival virtually any portable computer and even some full-sized desktop units.

Back of the Intel NUC, with power, HDMI, Ethernet, USB 3.0 (x2) and miniDisplayPort ports.

Back of the Intel NUC, with power, HDMI, Ethernet, USB 3.0 (x2) and miniDisplayPort ports.

By the way, the NUC comes with an interesting selection of hardware: In addition to the device, you get a VESA mounting kit with all the necessary screws and a power supply with support for multiple countries and locales thanks to a pop-off power connector. Really nice.

stuff

You might think, looking at the NUC, that you would pop off the top lid to access its internals. I did, anyway, and was greeted by the hardware equivalent of the same blank stare I was no doubt producing as well. Of course, reading the manual helps.

top-open

As it turns out, you need to flip over the NUC and unscrew four Phillips-style screws, which are nicely placed in the feet of the unit (which don’t come apart when fully unscrewed, a nice touch). And yes, the only tool you’ll need for this job is a smallish Phillips-head screwdriver.

Once you pry off the bottom of the unit, you’ll see the exposed motherboard—which, when you think about it, is mounted upside down on the top of the NUC—and the power and data connections for the 2.5-inch SSD I’m not going to be using.

opened

So I disconnected those two cables and got to work. Which is to say, I simply plugged in the RAM and M.2 SSD cards. Neither proved difficult.

The RAM goes in as it does in portable PCs: You angle each RAM stick into the provide port (of which there are two) and then snap it down, and in place. They can only go in one way, so there’s no way to really screw this up.

ram

I’m new to M.2 SSD, and while I know that the eSATA-based stick I bought won’t break any speed records, I still appreciate the small form factor and ease of install. As with the RAM, you angle the stick (in this case, one end of the stick) into the provided receptacle and then push it flat.

m2-angled

In this case, however, you need to remove a tiny screw first as this is what holds the other end down, and in place. Simple.

m2-installed

With that done, I just put it all back together—and I did reinsert the two SSD cable ends, despite not needing/using them—plugged in a keyboard, mouse, and display (via HDMI) and got started on the software install.

devs-attached

This, I thought, would be easy.

When you boot up the NUC, you get a simple boot screen with options to access the firmware and choose a boot sequence, of course, and it boots automatically from the USB-based Windows 10 1511 install media I already created, so there’s nothing to do.

install-10-usb

Windows 10 Setup found the RAM and M.2 storage, so away it went, and I quickly—like 5-7 minutes—found myself in the final stages of the Setup experience (what we call the OOBE, or Out Of Box Experience).

And this is where I knew something was wrong: Rather than prompt me for my Microsoft account, Setup instead asked me to input a name for a local account. This told me that Windows 10 had not properly configured the wireless adapter, which surprised me. And of course you need at least some form of networking before you can easily install any other missing drivers.

On first boot, I immediately opened Device Manager and found this ugliness.

Screenshot (1)

Not good. There were a number of things to try from here, but since the Ethernet driver was also missing, a cable was out of the question. So I simply downloaded the proper wireless driver from Intel’s web site (in this case, the driver download page for my specific NUC model).

Screenshot (2)

With that done, I set out to let Windows 10 do its thing, figuring Windows Update would grab most if not all of the missing drivers. And sure enough, it did find a number of them.

Screenshot (3)

After a few reboots, I was left with just one missing driver, for the Ethernet controller. Because I tend to overthink things, I then downloaded the Intel Driver Update Utility, figuring this tool would have both the one driver I needed and perhaps more up-to-date drivers for other components.

Screenshot (11)

This was perhaps a mistake.

Over the next hour, I babysat this utility as it only semi-automatically downloaded and then attempted to install a slew of updates. Many failed, multiple times. After many reboots, re-attempts at installing drivers, and a growing sense of frustration, I finally just manually downloaded three sets of drivers that the Intel Driver Update Utility simply couldn’t install. And yes, one of them was for the damned Ethernet driver, which I should have just installed manually to start with. I also checked whether the BIOS needed updating—it did, which is crazy given that this device literally starting shipping this week—and got that done.

That silliness out of the way, I updated the apps in the Store and then set out to activate Windows. After sort of thinking this one through—I had originally planned to jump right on the Insider Preview—I just used one of the many Windows 7 keys I have and Windows 10 (Pro x64) activated just fine.

Screenshot (41)

Then, I signed in with my Microsoft account and let my settings sync, arriving at the Paris Metro background I’m currently using.

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And then it was time to sync OneDrive and install apps: Office 2016 through Office 365, Google Chrome, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and so on.

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As I write this, the NUC is pretty much up and running. Excusing my self-inflicted driver install waste of time, I probably could do the whole thing, including the hardware installs, in under an hour. That is pretty impressive.

Today, I will swap out my current PC with the NUC and use it day-to-day to see how it performs, and to ensure it stays silent—or nearly so—as expected. So I’ll report back on that soon.

 

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