Can an Intel NUC replace a fully fledged PC (non-gamer)?

14
Found 5th Apr 2015
So I have a PC that I built myself over 5 years ago... It is an older-gen i7 with a SLi-compatible Gfx card a ton of RAM and HDD space etc. I always used to buy or build with future proofing in mind but rarely ever need the extra. I ended up not really playing any PC games at all as I have consoles for that, and most of my storage stuff was moved to a central server so that all devices could access it more easily. This PC is now mainly used for general stuff (surfing, downloading, word processing, multimedia consuming etc) but I would say I do a lot of downloading and extracting with also a little video editing, so a decent amount of RAM is handy.

Now this PC is getting on a bit, and being over 5 years old it doesn't have the latest technologies (USB3, Bluetooth 4, etc) without the addition of expansion cards and whatnot sticking out of it. Also, the older PCs get the more noisy they usually seem to get too. I would like to get something smaller and tidier, less noisy and very capable for my usage. I had been thinking of building a new Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX system but someone suggested a latest generation NUC instead. After looking into it they look quite appealing, but then looking online even a RaspberryPi can look like it can replace a desktop PC so I would like some advice from people in the know.

What do you guys reckon? Can an Intel NUC effectively replace a desktop PC without me having regrets? I will obviously also want to be running FULL windows (10 when its released), and not experience slowdown, overheating, or noise issues...

Advice please! Thanks in advance...
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14 Comments
what exactly are you going to be using it for?

How much do you care about future-proofing now?

(itx build would be middle ground here and an itx build is probably worth considering too)
A tablet could replace most people's laptop. It depends what you do with it.
rev6

A tablet could replace most people's laptop. It depends what you do with … A tablet could replace most people's laptop. It depends what you do with it.


A tablet is not the best solution for file management (extracting, converting, sorting files etc) or file sharing...
coerce86

what exactly are you going to be using it for?How much do you care about … what exactly are you going to be using it for?How much do you care about future-proofing now?(itx build would be middle ground here and an itx build is probably worth considering too)



Well, I like the thought of 'being able to' play some games but it will never be the latest high-end FPS on the top settings etc (I'm not a benchmark gamer even when I DO game on PC).

I mostly use it for file management (editing/converting video, extracting compressed archives, moving files to/from server, etc) as well as the general stuff like surfing, media streaming (from Internet and over LAN too), transcoding, Skype, MS Office, etc...

In theory anything would be fine for 'general use', but I notice a BIG difference between a dual-core celeron and my current quad i7, which itself is starting to show its age, so that is why I ask.
I really think a mini-itx system would be the best option for you, it's more compact than a full machine but you can upgrade/have full system parts (you have a server as well so guessing space isn't an issue as you wont need more than one or two hdds?)
Either way I'd say look at the coolermaster elite 130 as a serious option (there's also others out there)

Issue with nuc's is you're going to be stuck with base level processing and onboard graphics- so you're looking at i5 or i7 low voltage laptop-equivalent processors and graphics on the best nuc units (due to cooling problems with such a small pc) which are up to the job for basic tasks but as soon as you try gaming or video encoding you'll see them struggle
Chromebooks are great and you dont have to worry about OS updates as google does it all automatically you can buy lcd monitors now with chrome OS built in many are fanless so absolutely silent and very energy efficient. Theres no hard drive only an ssd with no moving parts so not much heat is created, your data is stored in your online cloud drive so no need to worry about backups its also very easy to use, easier than windows i would say. Im planning to go down this route myself and highly recommend chrome os having used it on e chromebook laptop fir over a year.
Moonwolf1976

Chromebooks are great and you dont have to worry about OS updates as … Chromebooks are great and you dont have to worry about OS updates as google does it all automatically you can buy lcd monitors now with chrome OS built in many are fanless so absolutely silent and very energy efficient. Theres no hard drive only an ssd with no moving parts so not much heat is created, your data is stored in your online cloud drive so no need to worry about backups its also very easy to use, easier than windows i would say. Im planning to go down this route myself and highly recommend chrome os having used it on e chromebook laptop fir over a year.



I'm sure other OS have automatic updates
coerce86

I really think a mini-itx system would be the best option for you, it's … I really think a mini-itx system would be the best option for you, it's more compact than a full machine but you can upgrade/have full system parts (you have a server as well so guessing space isn't an issue as you wont need more than one or two hdds?)Either way I'd say look at the coolermaster elite 130 as a serious option (there's also others out there)Issue with nuc's is you're going to be stuck with base level processing and onboard graphics- so you're looking at i5 or i7 low voltage laptop-equivalent processors and graphics on the best nuc units (due to cooling problems with such a small pc) which are up to the job for basic tasks but as soon as you try gaming or video encoding you'll see them struggle


Thanks! This is the kind of answer I was looking for as that is what I was wondering/worrying about.
Moonwolf1976

Chromebooks are great and you dont have to worry about OS updates as … Chromebooks are great and you dont have to worry about OS updates as google does it all automatically you can buy lcd monitors now with chrome OS built in many are fanless so absolutely silent and very energy efficient. Theres no hard drive only an ssd with no moving parts so not much heat is created, your data is stored in your online cloud drive so no need to worry about backups its also very easy to use, easier than windows i would say. Im planning to go down this route myself and highly recommend chrome os having used it on e chromebook laptop fir over a year.


Built into the monitor? Interesting...
JoeSpur

Built into the monitor? Interesting...




Again the good things about chromebooks is also their curse, everything is built into the cloud and you won't be able to install windows (**may be viable to install windows on the hardware but it'll be SLOW) so it's really limited on what you can do locally, gaming is out, video processing is too. They're minimum fuss (and minimalist on hardware) but are basically there to be used to do basic browsing, web surfing and word processing. Everything is really limited and you'll be missing all the features from fully-fledged programs for anything beyond this.

PS if you need help piecing together a pc if you decide to build one yourself let me know (this website is helpful uk.pcpartpicker.com/ )

Also just to add, what is your current setup?Iit may still be possible to upgrade, older i7s are power hungry but still are speedy (I myself am still using a 2600k). And just to add, fans do wear over time so it's also probable you'll need to replace some/all of your case fans/cpu+gpu fans but this is really cheap to do.
Edited by: "coerce86" 5th Apr 2015

Intel's NUC and similar Mini PCs with that processor are just a laptop without a screen, and laptops are the best selling computing device at the moment. They're certainly good enough for most people's uses.

JoeSpur

Built into the monitor? Interesting...



Computers built into the back of monitors are generally known as All in ones. They've been around for years but because they combine the worst features of laptops and desktops they've generally been confined to style conscious buyers.

JoeSpur

In theory anything would be fine for 'general use', but I notice a BIG … In theory anything would be fine for 'general use', but I notice a BIG difference between a dual-core celeron and my current quad i7, which itself is starting to show its age, so that is why I ask.



Intel have been using the Celeron branding on dual cores for seven years now and across a wide range of power levels, so some dual core Celerons are many times faster than others.

Although if you're finding a full desktop quad core i7 (even a first generation one) to have insufficient power than your can likely forget a NUC. Except where the newer chips have specialised instructions the old one lacks (e.g. AES-NI for Encryption, Quicksync for video encoding/decoding) a low power dual core is going to have less processing power than your current machine.

Are you sure it's the processor holding you back? Something like the system drive can have a big impact on how snappy a system feels.

A low power (Haswell/Broadwell) quad core (i5-4690T etc.) would give you a fairly small system (1.5-2 litres) and a modest increase in power over your current chip (assuming it's first generation, if it's a i7-2000 model they wouldn't) but if you think your demands are going to continue to increase it might be sensible to restrict yourself to full power desktop quads, you'll probably end up somewhere around 5-10L for a compact system depending on preferences and exact requirements.

If you do go down the self-built system then don't assume Mini-ITX only cases are small. Some are, but there's a current fashion for massive ones taking super-powerful components. Something like the Coolermaster 130 mentioned above is huge at 20L, thirty times the size of a NUC and only about two thirds the size of a medium tower. They have their place if you want to massively overclock the processor and use a 300W graphics card but it's really pushing things to call them small.
I'd buy new fans for the old PC and dump it in the corner somewhere. You can use a NUC to run a VM off the older system to boister the speed and Steam streaming is great so you can remotely play games from your old PC.
Your going to have to run something to host all your files so you might as well.
Remember to buy a cheap switch as they are a lot quicker than a router for a home network
This is my current spec:

Intel Core i7 920 2.67GHz Quad Core (Socket 1366)
ASUS P6T Deluxe V2 Motherboard (X58)
12GB DDR3 Triple Channel RAM (533MHz)
NVidia GeForce GTX 260
120GB Samsung 830 Series SSD (Boot)
1TB Samsung F3 HDD (Storage)

...so while it may be a 2009 system it is still pretty decent for what I use it for. It is all housed in an Antec Sonata Elite case. This midi-tower is running at an ok temperature and has sound/dust proofing, but over time it has become more noisy and I wanna go for a smaller more tidy (minimalist?) form factor. I have measured up a few Micro-ATX cases and they seem roughly the same size as my current one, which is what made me start looking at Mini-ITX. A friend then recommended I look into the new Broadwell Intel NUC's.

So basically what I'm wanting is smaller size, less noise (and dust proof), but with more up to date tech, more powerful (nippier), and capable of being my main always-on system. I have used newer generation i5's with less RAM that seem a lot quicker than mine even when newly formatted. They will also use less electricity when left on 24-7.

@kester76: My files are already stored on a home server, and I already use a switch.
Edited by: "JoeSpur" 6th Apr 2015
Are you running Vista? It's a brilliant OS underneath but the interface could be a bit on the sluggish side at times.

The Sonata is 43.4L.

Size-wise graphics card is the determining factor since it tends to be an all or nothing affair. Either you don't fit any graphics card above an entry level model or you can fit something costing £800. There aren't really cases that cater to the sort of short but powerful card you can pick up for £150-250.

With graphics card support you're looking at minimum sizes of around 20L for MicroATX and 10L for Mini-ITX, say 5L more to get a choice of cases to make sure you get dust filters etc. You can halve that if you're not bothered about more than a low profile expansion card.

If you're willing to accept a performance hit (20-30%) and go down to a 35-45W heat output chip then something like the Fujitsu Q920/520 or Dell Optiplex 3020/9020 will get you down to 1-2L depending on whether you want an internal power supply (the former) or can live with a laptop style power brick (the latter). Those are about as low power as I'd go. The extra 50-75% reduction in size from the NUC doesn't seem like it'd be worth the trade-off for you.

Volumes won't always correspond to perceived size. Plus dimensions change as the cube root of volume. So something the same shape but with half the volume is only 20% smaller in each dimension.
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