Intel's nifty NUC proves small-form-factor PCs need to get cheaper

Intel's puny PC might be the best of its kind, but it's still too expensive

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It fits in your hand. And it might just be all the PC you'll ever need. Give it up for the latest Intel Next Unit of Computing, or NUC for short.

We reckon NUC might just be the best ultra-small form factor (SFF) PC you can buy. But it's still far too expensive.

The basic specs of the latest NUC involve one of Intel's new Haswell CPUs,a slightly slimmed down case and a rethink of some of the features including the ports. But it's really the overall computing experience that matters with the NUC, not the hard numbers. It's a really nice little device.

That said, let's get the basics out of the way. The dimension are downright diminutive. We're talking roughly 11cm square and 3.5cm deep. This thing is very small.

Joy of specs

Inside, there's an Intel Core i5-4250U CPU. That's two cores, four threads, 1.3GHz base clock and 2.6GHz Turbo. Oh and it has Intel's latest 40-unit graphics core. In this case it's somewhat bizarrely branded with the old Intel HD Graphics moniker rather than the new Intel Iris brand that most of the 40-unit graphics cores receive.

You get two USB 3.0 ports up front, two more on the back and one each regards mini DisplayPort and HDMI. Suitably specified, the NUC gives a great all round computing experience.

It looks and feels like a quality item. Inside, it's a really nicely integrated bit of electronics. It even supports 4K ultra-HD resolutions. Oh, and the Wi-Fi reception from the built-in antenna is superb.

Of course, you'll pay extra for the actual Wi-Fi adapter. Similarly you don't get a hard drive, memory or a copy of Windows. All of those things cost extra. Which is where the pricing problem kicks in.

Pricing problem

UK pricing hasn't quite shaken out on the new NUC. But based on the previous generation NUC, you're looking at perhaps as much as £350 for the barebones Core i5 version and thus at least £500 and probably more like £600 for a nicely specified solution. And that's before you've even added a screen.

And that's just far too much money. The first problem is Intel's processor pricing. The Intel Core i5-4250U CPU has an official US Price of $342. The NUC's is $363 (remember, US prices don't include a value added tax, so you can't just do a straight exchange-rate conversion).

So you're getting the NUC chassis and board for just $21 dollars, which tells you plenty about how much wiggle room there is in the processor price. Plenty. But the problem is that the NUC can hardly be sold for less than the Intel Core i5-4250U itself.

Intel NUC
mSATA SSD gives the NUC proper desktop performance

It puts a hard floor on how low Intel can go with NUC pricing. Then compare NUC pricing to laptops and ultrabooks. For the same £600 you'd spend on a nicely optioned NUC, you can have any number of thin and light – or big and brutish for that matter - Core i5 laptops and ultrabooks.

Except, of course, you get a screen and a lithium battery and all the other portable accoutrements thrown in. So you may as well just buy one of those. It'll do pretty much everything a NUC will. But there's lots a laptop can do the NUC can't. Hell, you could buy a very nice laptop and a good tablet for the price of a NUC-plus-screen.

Compare the market

Of course, NUC looks good value compared to other Intel-based ultra-small form factor systems. But so what? The segment in general looks inflated, again presumably because of those processor prices.

In fairness, AMD-based ultra-SFF systems aren't a whole lot better. But the bottom line is that the NUC and its ilk need to be cheaper. It makes no sense for them to cost the same as a similarly specified thin and light notebook and then still leave you needing a screen.

They need to be cheap enough that people buy them as well as a portable. I'd say £350 maximum for a Core i5 NUC with a 120GB-ish SSD, some memory and Windows 8.

We reckon what Intel and the industry at large needs to appreciate is that most people are happy with their laptops as a PC to use at home. More worryingly, they're increasingly happy with their ARM-based tablets, too.

So the lovely little NUC needs to be something punters can pick as a discretionary extra, cheap enough they don't have to think too hard about pulling the trigger. And £500 to £600 plus a screen isn't even close.