What is a NUC: Ultimate Guide to the Popular Mini PCs

What is a NUC?

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, the term “NUC” has gained prominence. If you’re curious about what a NUC is and how it impacts various industries, you’re in the right place.

This article will delve into the details of NUCs, their applications, benefits, and potential challenges.

Introduction to NUC

Ever looked at your bulky desktop and thought, “I wish there was something smaller”?

Well, meet the NUC (Next Unit of Computing), a tiny, yet powerful piece of hardware that might just be the answer to your space-saving dreams. Have you ever heard of it?

What is a NUC PC?

The NUC, or Next Unit of Computing, is a line of compact computer kits developed by Intel. A NUC is essentially a mini pc.

Launched in 2013, it has seen ten generations of development, featuring various CPU architectures.

Intel NUC 12

The typical size of the NUC motherboard is around 4 × 4 inches (10 × 10 cm), though some models have different dimensions.

Early stages of NUC

In the beginning, NUCs were introduced by Intel as a prototype for ultra-compact desktop computers. This was a drastic shift from the traditionally larger CPUs that occupied substantial space.

The Intel NUC is often considered a response to Apple’s Mac Mini, though physically smaller. It’s available as a kit or just the board, resembling a more powerful Raspberry Pi.

Modern-day NUCs

With technological advancements, NUCs today aren’t just about being compact; they’re about delivering top-notch performance in a petite package. Picture this: an entire computer in the palm of your hand!

In 2023, Intel announced the discontinuation of NUC mainboard development, with ASUS taking over production under a non-exclusive license.

Key Features of a NUC

Compact Design

NUC mini PC in a hand emphasising it's compact design

The obvious standout feature of a NUC is its size. It can easily fit into small spaces, making it perfect for clutter-free environments. Imagine having a full-fledged computer on your bookshelf, barely noticeable!


Don’t let the size fool you. Modern NUCs come equipped with powerful processors, RAM capacities, and even integrated graphics that can handle daily tasks with ease. It’s like having a lion’s strength in a cat’s body!

Connectivity Options

With USB ports, Wi-Fi capabilities, HDMI outputs, and more, NUCs can connect with multiple devices seamlessly. Ever thought a device so small could offer so much?

Benefits of using a NUC

Space Efficiency

Living in a compact apartment or have a cramped workspace? A NUC is a game-changer, taking up minimal space without compromising on functionality. How’s that for efficiency?

Energy Efficiency

Not only does it save space, but NUCs also consume less power, making them energy-efficient. It’s like driving a fuel-efficient car in the world of computers!


Whether it’s for home entertainment, office work, or even light gaming, NUCs have got you covered. Isn’t it amazing how something so small can be so versatile?

Potential Drawbacks

Limited Expandability

One of the trade-offs for its size is the limited room for upgrades. Can you imagine trying to fit a massive graphics card in a tiny box?

The inside of a NUC mini PC

Price Point

Compact technology can sometimes come at a higher price. Think of it as buying a luxury car; it’s sleek, and efficient, but can be a tad expensive.

Cooling and Thermal Management

Packing power in a small form factor poses challenges in terms of heat dissipation. Efficient cooling solutions are vital to prevent overheating.

What is a NUC Used For?

Individuals and businesses seeking compact yet powerful computing solutions should consider a NUC (Next Unit of Computing). NUCs are ideal for those who require efficient multitasking and computing performance in a small form factor. They are suitable for various use cases, such as:

  1. Space-Conscious Users: People with limited space for a traditional desktop setup can benefit from NUCs. They offer high performance without taking up much room.
  2. Home Entertainment Enthusiasts: NUCs can serve as excellent media centers, delivering high-quality audio and video playback. They’re perfect for streaming content, gaming, and connecting to home theaters.
  3. Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) Professionals: NUCs provide a powerful computing solution for professionals working from home or small office spaces. They handle tasks like document editing, video conferencing, and web browsing efficiently.
  4. Gaming Aficionados: Gamers who value a compact setup can enjoy a satisfying gaming experience with NUCs. While not as powerful as gaming PCs, they still handle a variety of games effectively.
  5. Digital Signage and Kiosks: Businesses in need of reliable digital signage or interactive kiosk solutions can benefit from NUCs. Their compact size and performance make them suitable for showcasing content in various environments.
  6. Edge Computing and IoT Deployments: NUCs are well-suited for edge computing setups, where data processing and analysis occur close to data sources. They’re also suitable for Internet of Things (IoT) applications due to their small footprint and processing power.
  7. Content Creators: NUCs can be a great choice for content creators, such as video editors and graphic designers, who require substantial computing power but prefer a smaller workspace.
  8. Businesses Needing Compact Workstations: Enterprises looking to optimize office space and reduce clutter can employ NUCs as compact workstations for employees. They’re capable of handling productivity tasks efficiently.
  9. Educational Institutions: NUCs can be used in educational settings, offering students and educators a capable yet space-saving computing platform for research, programming, and learning activities.
  10. Server Infrastructure Optimizations: Data centers aiming to increase server capacity without expanding their physical footprint can deploy NUCs to optimize server infrastructure.

Anyone seeking a balance between performance, size, and energy efficiency can find value in NUCs. Their versatility makes them suitable for various scenarios, from personal use to professional applications across different industries.

NUCs for Smart Homes and Automation

NUC systems have carved a niche in the realm of smart home and home automation setups, offering a compact and powerful solution for managing various interconnected devices and technologies.

Their small size, energy efficiency, and processing capabilities make them an attractive choice for building smart home ecosystems. Here’s how NUCs are playing a role in shaping the future of smart homes and automation:

  1. Centralized Control: NUCs can serve as central control hubs for managing smart devices such as lights, thermostats, cameras, and smart speakers. Their processing power allows for efficient management and communication among these devices.
  2. Home Automation Software: NUCs can run home automation software platforms like Home Assistant or OpenHAB. These platforms enable users to create customized automation routines, integrate various devices, and monitor their homes remotely.
  3. Media and Entertainment: NUCs can power home entertainment systems such as Plex, managing media playback, streaming services, and even serve as a home theater PC. They offer the processing power to handle high-definition content seamlessly.
  4. Security and Surveillance: With their compact size, NUCs can be discreetly placed as dedicated security system controllers. They can manage cameras, sensors, and security protocols while offering storage for video footage.
  5. Energy Management: NUCs can integrate with smart thermostats and energy monitoring devices, providing insights into energy consumption and enabling users to optimize their energy usage.
  6. Voice Control and Virtual Assistants: NUCs can host voice recognition and virtual assistant software, enabling voice-controlled interactions with smart devices and systems throughout the home.
  7. Local Processing: NUCs provide the advantage of local processing for automation tasks, reducing latency and dependence on cloud services. This can result in faster response times for smart home actions.
  8. Customization and Flexibility: Homeowners and enthusiasts can tailor NUC-based setups to their specific needs, adding compatible hardware and software components as their smart home ecosystem grows.
  9. Compatibility: NUCs can support various communication protocols, such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi, making them compatible with a wide range of smart devices.
  10. Data Privacy: With local processing, NUCs can enhance data privacy and security by reducing the need for constant data transfers to cloud servers.
  11. Expandability: As new technologies and devices emerge in the smart home market, NUCs can be upgraded or expanded to accommodate evolving requirements.

NUCs are well-suited for creating a centralized, powerful, and customizable smart home control center.

Whether managing security, energy efficiency, entertainment, or a combination of functions, NUCs offer the processing power and flexibility needed to create a seamless and responsive smart home environment.

The Future of NUCs

As technology continues to advance, NUCs will likely become even more potent, with enhanced performance and innovative cooling solutions.

As mentioned earlier, Intel will no longer be developing NUC mini PCs or mainboards, instead, ASUS will be taking over in a non-exclusive agreement. The future could also see other manufacturers sign further agreements with Intel to also develop their own NUCs creating competition and hopefully reducing prices for consumers.

NUC Alternatives

In addition to NUCs, there are several alternative computing solutions available in the market. These alternatives cater to various needs and preferences, offering different form factors, performance levels, and features. Here are some noteworthy NUC alternatives:

Raspberry PiThe Raspberry Pi is a popular single-board computer known for its affordability and versatility. It’s suitable for educational projects, DIY electronics, and basic computing tasks.
Mini-ITX SystemsMini-ITX motherboards and cases provide a larger form factor than NUCs, allowing for more powerful components and customization. They are suitable for building compact but high-performance PCs.
Micro ATX and Mini ATX SystemsThese motherboards offer more expansion slots and connectivity options compared to NUCs, making them suitable for users who need a balance between compactness and flexibility.
Small Form Factor (SFF) PCsSFF PCs are compact desktop computers that offer a variety of configurations, often featuring more powerful processors and dedicated graphics cards compared to NUCs.
Laptop DocksSome laptop docks or docking stations offer the ability to connect external GPUs, additional storage, and other peripherals, effectively transforming laptops into powerful desktop systems.
All-in-One (AIO) PCs: AIO PCs integrate the computer components into the monitor, offering a sleek and space-saving design. They are suitable for users who want an integrated solution without a separate tower.
NUC CompetitorsOther manufacturers have introduced their own compact computing solutions similar to NUCs. Examples include products from Zotac, Gigabyte BRIX, and ASRock DeskMini.
Gaming ConsolesGaming consoles like the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch offer both gaming and multimedia capabilities, making them alternatives for entertainment-focused users.
Cloud ComputingCloud-based services and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions provide remote computing resources accessible from various devices, offering scalability and convenience.
Traditional Desktop PCsWhile not as compact, traditional desktop PCs offer powerful performance and ample room for customization and expansion.
Laptop/Desktop HybridsSome 2-in-1 devices or convertible laptops can serve as both laptops and desktops when connected to external monitors, keyboards, and mice.
List of NUC alternatives

When choosing an alternative to NUCs, it’s essential to consider factors such as intended usage, performance requirements, available space, and budget. Each alternative offers a unique set of advantages and limitations, so assessing individual needs will help determine the best fit for your computing needs.


A NUC is truly a marvel in the computing world. It’s compact, powerful, and versatile.

While it has its limitations, the benefits often outweigh the drawbacks for many users.

So, next time you’re thinking of a computer upgrade, why not consider going small? After all, they say great things come in small packages, right?


What does NUC stand for?

NUC stands for Next Unit of Computing.

Can a NUC replace my traditional desktop?

Yes, depending on your computing needs, a NUC can replace a traditional desktop.

Is the performance of a NUC comparable to a regular desktop?

Absolutely! Modern NUCs are designed to offer impressive performance, suitable for various tasks.

Can I game on a NUC?

While NUCs are not primarily designed for heavy gaming, they can handle light to moderate gaming efficiently.

Where can I buy a NUC?

NUCs are available at major electronic retailers and online platforms.

Can I upgrade a NUC like a traditional PC?

Upgrading a NUC is more limited due to its compact design, so it’s important to choose a model that meets your long-term needs.

What is the difference between a laptop and a NUC?

While both laptops and NUCs are types of personal computers, the primary distinction is that laptops are portable all-in-one systems with an integrated display, keyboard, and battery, whereas NUCs are compact desktop PCs without integrated displays or input devices, requiring external peripherals for full functionality.

About Danny

I am the primary editor of the whatsmarthome.com blog where I post helpful articles about smart home products, how-to guides, and much more.