Intel's Next Unit of Computing: from home computing to digital signage, it can do it all

Intel's Next Unit of Computing is a powerful computer that's perfect for a huge range of exciting applications

You may not realise this when you first look at it, but Intel's Next Unit of Computing (or simply, NUC), is a powerful computer that's perfect for a huge range of exciting applications. It's a computer that is centered around an Intel Desktop motherboard that is tiny -- only 100x100mm in size -- using what is known as the new ultra compact form factor (UCFF). Yet despite the NUC's small size, it still contains all of the features that you need to create a potent little machine.

Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) comes in two SKUs to serve business (DC3217IYE) and home (DC3217BY) markets.
Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) comes in two SKUs to serve business (DC3217IYE) and home (DC3217BY) markets.

Versatile configurations for home and business usage

The processor inside the NUC is a third generation Intel Core i3-3217U, which has two cores, Hyper-Threading, and a frequency of 1.8GHz. What all this means is that the processor can handle multiple workloads simultaneously, and in an energy efficient manner to boot. The processor is supported by two SO-DIMM memory slots, which can be used to house up to 16GB of DDR3 SDRAM, and there are also two mini PCIe slots for add-in cards. One of these slots can be used to accommodate a Wi-Fi module (the NUC DC3217BY model's case has antennas built into it in preparation for this), while the other slot can be used for an mSATA-based solid state drive (SSD).

Because you can select the RAM and storage capacities to suit your needs, while also choosing whether to add wireless connectivity into the mix, the NUC can be a versatile computing solution with a size that allows it to be installed in areas where typical PCs either can't go, or would look silly if they did go. It's basically a full-blown computer that's not much bigger than a typical external, portable hard drive.

What's also great about the NUC is that it comes in a couple of different kits that feature a slightly different range of ports. There is the DC3217IYE, which has two HDMI 1.4a ports, and there is the DC3217BY, which has one HDMI 1.4a port in addition to a Thunderbolt port that can also be used as a DisplayPort 1.1a connection. Both of these units have three external USB 2.0 ports, but their networking options differ: the DC3217IYE has an Ethernet port, while the DC3217BY has integrated antennas that can be used with a half-sized, Intel Wi-Fi module.

Connectivity includes USB ports, HDMI, DisplayPort and Thunderbolt (depending on the model you choose).
Connectivity includes USB ports, HDMI, DisplayPort and Thunderbolt (depending on the model you choose).

Which NUC you choose will depend on the connections that you need for your particular usage scenario, but the DC3217IYE is geared more towards business use, while the DC3217IBY is aimed more towards home use. You can easily take advantage of the NUC as a media centre for the home, for example, or you could even install the NUC in commercial applications such as digital signage.

A new era for digital signage

In fact, when it comes to digital signage, the Next Unit of Computing is an ideal player. Whether it's passive displays that are for advertising, or kiosk displays for interactive information retrieval, because the NUC is so small it can fit into virtually any type of case. Furthermore, because the NUC runs a third generation CPU and can take solid state storage, power usage and heat generation will be minimal, making it ideal for installation in displays that don't have too much room.

If the installation requires for the PC to be attached behind a digital display, as might be the case at a roadshow or boardroom, for example, the business version of the NUC should be considered; it ships with a VESA mounting bracket to facilitate this task.

Most importantly, the Core i3 CPU inside the NUC is also equipped with integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics that can deliver Full HD video streams to digital displays with ease. Depending on your needs, you could even drive two displays from the same unit at the same time.

Content for digital displays can be stored directly on a solid state drive inside the NUC, on an attached external USB drive, or it can be streamed directly from the Internet via a Cloud service. You can use the Ethernet connection on the business version of the NUC for sites that are wired, or you can opt for the Wi-Fi-capable version of the NUC if you're installing at a site that doesn't have data cables.

With such a small footprint and so much processing power under the hood, the NUC can be used in situations where a small computer with uncompromising performance is required.
With such a small footprint and so much processing power under the hood, the NUC can be used in situations where a small computer with uncompromising performance is required.

The advantages of using the Intel Next Unit of Computing as a PC to drive digital displays are numerous: you get small size, lots of processing power, and versatile connectivity. However, you also get a familiar hardware platform that is easy to install and maintain with common parts, and Intel supports the NUC (both the home and business models) with a full, 3-year warranty. Anti-Theft support is also an option. With a license to this service, all data on an Intel NUC can be protected, giving you peace of mind in case the unit is lost or stolen.

Thinking outside the square

Rich media capabilities allow Intel's Next Unit of Computing to be used effortlessly as a media centre in a home environment, and because it's so small, it won't look ungainly in a lounge room. Actually, it's quite easy to hide in an entertainment unit or behind a TV. Its ability to stream content from the Internet is excellent, especially with Intel's Centrino Advanced-N 6235 Wi-Fi module installed, which can allow it to handle high-resolution Web streams with ease.

USB drives can be installed to boost its storage capacity, which will come in handy for storing tons of local music, photo and video files. If you want something faster than USB, you can also add storage via the available Thunderbolt port on the NUC DC3217BY.

Because there are multiple USB ports, a digital TV tuner can also be installed - effectively turning the NUC into a personal video recorder - and external peripherals can be attached, too. You could also use Bluetooth with the Advanced-N 6235 Wi-Fi module.

Not only that, the Advanced-N 6235 supports Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) -- this makes it possible to send 1080p video and 5.1 surround sound to any WiDi-equipped display device, be it a big-screen TV or a projector.

Small offices can also take advantage of the NUC: it's powerful enough to run typical office software, it can be used effectively for multitasking, and all the benefits of size, power efficiency and simplicity of design come into play as well.

You could even use the NUC to build your own all-in-one, touchscreen PC! Touch-based LCD screens from Viewsonic (the TD2220 and TD2340 models) are available that support this type of usage scenario under Windows 8.

Indeed, there are numerous uses for Intel's Next Unit of Computing and we've only just scratched the surface. Try one out for yourself and you'll be amazed at just how good this new form factor for desktop PCs really is.

For more information on the NUC, visit Intel's Web site.

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