Intel’s latest mini PC might be just the thing if you don’t have much room on your desktop, or are a minimalist at heart. It can be plugged into a monitor or even mounted behind one, if you have the right fittings. The NUC 10 Performance series is powered by 10th Gen Intel processors and comes fully set up – just add monitor, keyboard and mouse. Despite its diminutive size it packs a decent punch and has plenty of ports to plug into, along with an extra slot for additional super-fast storage. If you’re looking for an ultra-compact alternative to an all-in-one desktop PC, you could be in luck with this NUC.
We went hands-on with the Intel NUC 10 Performance kit (NUC10i7FNH) courtesy of Intel and found it packs a lot into a tiny package.
NUC stands for Next Unit of Computing. Basically, an NUC is an ultra-compact PC, but unlike 'bare bones' kits that you build up yourself, this NUC comes ready to go straight out of the box.
Our Core i7 test unit, bearing the series codename Frost Canyon (as do the i3 and i5 models), has the following features and specifications:
- CPU (central processing unit): Intel Core i7-10710U (codenamed Comet Lake). It has 1.1GHz (gigahertz) base frequency and 4.7GHz maximum turbo frequency; 6 cores, 12 threads (Hyper-Threading); but the CPU is not upgradeable
- RAM (memory): 16GB (there are two SO-DIMM type slots, so RAM is expandable up to 64GB DDR4-2666)
- Storage: one 2.5-inch 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (solid-state drive); it's a SATA drive which is replaceable. There's also a slot for an ultra-compact M.2 type SSD
- Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics, which are integrated rather than a separate card, using shared memory
- Wi-Fi: It has the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)
- Size: 113mm wide, 117mm deep, 52mm high (including feet).
The Core i7-10710U gives the NUC slightly better processing performance compared to the majority of the laptops we've tested (except for two Core i9 models which were faster, as you'd expect). This particular CPU has more threads (12) and therefore much better capabilities when it comes to processing numerous tasks at the same time.
Graphics performance is a different story. The onboard graphics output is average and comparable with laptops that have a similar graphics chipset. That's fine for the same types of graphics tasks that you'd undertake on a laptop. It will cope just fine with basic photo and video editing, as well as basic gaming (including playing old games on Steam) but don't expect stellar performance from the latest heavyweight games titles.
You can also add extra, and much quicker, SSD storage via the internal M.2 slot
We found the storage read and write performance from the standard SSD was fine, but a plus for the NUC is the potential to install extra (and much quicker) storage via the PCI Express-based M.2 slot (either a 2242 or a 2280-sized drive).
Our test NUC had 16GB RAM installed in one of the two SO-DIMM memory slots, so you could easily double that with another similar module, or fill both slots with 32GB modules for a total of 64GB RAM.
The CPU is soldered onto the motherboard and isn't upgradeable, so you're stuck with it. When the cooling fan kicks in, such as when doing heavy processing, you can definitely hear it in a quiet room, but it's not overly noisy. The case is well ventilated, with air intake vents on either side and an extraction vent for the fan at the rear.
A good thing about an NUC is that you can often mount it on the back of a monitor to save desk space (or even a TV). The screen needs standard VESA mount holes (75 x 75mm or 100 x 100mm) that are still accessible when the monitor has its conventional desktop stand installed.
On some monitors, the mounting holes may interfere with the stand, or the stand may already be using the holes. So the NUC isn't guaranteed to be mountable on any monitor but even sitting neatly below a monitor it is fairly unobtrusive.
For a small device, the connectivity options are very good. The front has a USB-C (10Gbps) port, one USB-A (10Gbps) port, a headset port, and a power button.
A good complement of ports for external devices includes high-speed Thunderbolt 3
The rear has a power port, full-sized HDMI port, Gigabit ethernet port, two 10Gbps USB-A ports, a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, and a Kensington lock slot. The left side also has a full-sized SD card slot.
NUC vs all-in-one
So, should you get an NUC or an all-in-one PC? All-in-one computers are all about one-piece style and convenience, but a NUC can be a better option, especially if you can mount it on the back of a monitor. This means you can select your own monitor or use an existing one, rather than having an all-new screen (with computer built-in). Monitors can also have a longer working life than a PC and going down the modular road with a NUC means you can replace the PC without having to get rid of a perfectly good monitor as well.
However, Windows all-in-one PCs can have the advantage of a touchscreen and built-in optical drives.
The bottom line is the NUC is a mini PC with the emphasis on mini, and the Intel NUC 10 Performance series has a lot going for it. Sure, the processing power isn't as fierce as what can be found in a larger desktop, but for its size it's quite a potent PC.
It's more in line with decent mid-range laptops (without dedicated graphics), but still more than fine for everyday computing, media streaming and general entertainment tasks (including some gaming). It has the right connections, plenty of storage and very good expandability for such a compact computer.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.