Intel NUC D54250WYK review

Price when reviewed

Intel’s first NUC appeared more than a year ago, but impressed as we were with its tiny size, we found it too limited to recommend. The second generation, dubbed the D54250WYK, still squeezes all its hardware into a tiny box not much larger than a laptop power brick, but it addresses almost all our most pressing concerns.

At first glance, you’d struggle to spot the difference. As before, the NUC is supplied as a compact, barebones system. It measures 117 x 112 x 35mm (WDH), and mounted in that chassis are only a motherboard and CPU. The storage – in the shape of an mSATA SSD, and RAM in the shape of DDR3 SODIMM modules – you have to add yourself. You also get a VESA mounting plate in the box, so you can screw it to the rear of a monitor.

Look closer, however and you’ll spy the first of the big changes: the NUC now comes with four USB 3 ports, where previously it had only three USB 2. There’s no Thunderbolt any more, but you do get Mini-DisplayPort and Mini-HDMI video outputs, plus a Gigabit Ethernet socket – in the previous generation, you had to sacrifice the high speed Thunderbolt port if you wanted a wired network connection.

Intel NUC

The front panel also plays host to a 3.5mm headset connection and an IR receiver, making the D54250WYK kit reviewed here a prime candidate as an under-the-TV media PC. And inside Intel has added a SATA300 header, in amongst the existing pair of Mini-PCI and DDR3 SODIMM slots. However, you’ll need to do a bit of DIY bodging if you want to take full advantage of the latter, as there isn’t room in the chassis to fit a 2.5in drive.

The final big change is that Intel has also brought the NUC up to Haswell standard, and in the process upgraded from a Core i3 to a Core i5. The part in question is a 1.3GHz Core i5-4250U, which Turbo Boosts up to 2.6GHz. In our Real World Benchmarks with the new NUC hooked up to a 1080p monitom, 8GB installed in the two RAM slots and a 120GB OCZ Nocti mSATA SSD hooked up to one of the Mini-PCI slots it scored 0.71, an improvement of 27% over the original.

Intel NUC

However, it’s this CPU’s improved Intel HD Graphics 5000 GPU that make the biggest difference. We ran our standard Crysis benchmark to put it through its paces and it performed significantly better than the Ivy Bridge version. Our low quality Crysis test ran at a smooth average frame rate of 57fps, which is double the previous generation’s 28fps.

Ramping up the difficulty with Crysis set to 1,600 x 900 and Medium detail saw the frame rate drop down to 26fps; but still well ahead of the previous NUC’s 18fps. It’s still no gaming behemoth, but the improved GPU means that lighter gaming is definitely on the cards.

And despite the extra CPU and GPU horsepower, Haswell ensures the NUC is nearly as energy-efficient as before. The system idled at 10W, and even in the throes of a Prime95 stress test only reached 28W.

It all adds up to a major step forward for the NUC platform, with faster performance and superior connectivity, at a price that’s only a few pounds more expensive than the original. And with the price of mSATA storage falling significantly in the last year, it’s now possible to build up the NUC with a decent 240GB of SSD storage, 4GB of RAM and a wireless card for under £450. Slowly but surely, the NUC has become a very serious little PC.

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