Review: Intel NUC (NUC8i7HVK) the portable PC with ports for days

When you need an ultraportable PC, you may think of a shuttle, but there’s something even smaller, more portable that may suit your needs. You also probably start to...

When you need an ultraportable PC, you may think of a shuttle, but there’s something even smaller, more portable that may suit your needs. You also probably start to think about brands like Dell, HP, Lenovo etc, but CPU maker Intel has an offering themselves.

The Intel NUC is a PC that fits in your bag. It offers all the ports you need in a ultraportable chassis and the performance get the job done.

At the heart of it, the NUC is a platform which enables you to add components like ram and hard drives to it, based on your needs. Some suggested use cases include a 4K Home Theatre PC, Gaming, Home Office, Digital Security, Conference Room Collaboration or even the brains to power Digital Signage.

Design

The NUC is a small black box, but is anything that’s boring. It features angled corners, ports in both the front and the rear of the device and a perforated body to help dissipate the heat. The black body comes to life when you power it on with a display panel that shows through a black plastic section in the top of the case.

This display is a unique, programmable display that by default comes with a skull, reflecting Intel’s lighter side and a call to the target audience who just wants things that look cool.

Grab the LED Manager for Intel NUC software and you get to control the colours and animations of the LEDs including the skull. This provides some nice personalisation, should you find yourself at a LAN with other NUC users. 

Performance

In the case of laptops, we often give up performance to achieve ultra-portability, so that raises the question of performance with the NUC. 

This NUC model comes with a Core i7-8809G CPU running at 3.1GHz. The rest of the performance in terms of RAM (our review had 16GB) and storage is up to you (see below). 

We ran PC Mark 10 on the NUC with AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH Graphics and it achieved a score of 5097. By way of comparison, the beefy Alienware Area 51 gaming rig we reviewed back in June, scored 5799.

In practical terms, the NUC feels quick and responsive as a day-to-day PC, and is fine for casual gaming. I did fire up a session of PUBG and F1 2018 to test performance on higher end games and they certainly work, although are a step down from the likes of a GTX1080 where all settings can be maxed out.

Features

Something I was pleasantly surprised by was the fancy BIOS available on the NUC. In years gone by, the Bios was a basic, keyboard only sophisticated DOS prompt. Then came UEFI, then now we have Intel’s Visual BIOS. 

Storage
M.2 SSD – we’re all pretty familiar with the advantages of solid state drives, but the M.2 SSD spec is code for small and fast storage and while you can add your own to the NUC, our review unit came with the very nice 128GB Intel Optane 880P and a 512GB 545S Series SSD

Ports
One of the strongest attributes of the NUC’s hardware is the long list of ports available on both the front and back of the device. The front features an SD card slot, 2 USB-A ports, 1x USB-C, a HDMI and 3.5mm audio out put. 

On the back you’ll find power, 2 more USB-C ports, 2x mini Display Ports, 2x Gigabit ethernet ports, 4 more USB-A ports and another HDMI output. 

Issues

The only real issue I have with the NUC is the size of the power brick, it’s about 80% of the size of the whole NUC. For the proposition of a convenient, ultraportable PC to work, I think I’d prefer and integrated power brick (like the Xbox One X) even if it added size to the body.

Price and Availability

This model of Intel’s NUC is available now from your favourite online retailer. This version of the Intel NUC with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics which will cost A$1,299.00 from online retailers like MWave.com.au.

You can get More information at Intel.

Overall

The Intel NUC is very much a case of you get what you pay for. As long as you understand what you’re buying. This is a PC that prioritises portability over performance, so if you’re happy with that focus and don’t need a laptop, then definitely consider the NUC. 

The biggest issue is that the NUC platform represents an incomplete PC, which doesn’t tell the full story about what the end price will be, that said, it’s something you are in control of. If you’re familiar with building your own PC, then buying the right components, undoing a few screws and mounting the RAM and storage will be a breeze for you. This won’t however appeal to all buyers, nor will the LED skull in the top of it, although this and all lights on the case, can be disabled if need be. 

If you do opt for this version with a dedicated GPU, the NUC is a great tool for VR developers, often in need of a demo setup that’s portable and capable enough to show off their prototypes to potential customers.

Those ports on the front aren’t just for looks, they could be used to connect the HDMI and USB cables for the Rift or Vive headset and sensors. In that light, this portable PC makes a lot of sense as a comparable VR-capable laptop really takes you to the premium end of the market in terms of price.

9
Review: Intel NUC
The Good
  • Portable design
  • Fast storage
  • Customisable LEDs
  • VR Capable
The Bad
  • Front ports make it a little messy for HTPC
  • Skull faceplate not for everyone
  • Design
    9.0
  • Features
    8.8
  • Value
    9.2
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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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