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Intel preps low-cost miniature computer for launch: Photos

The Next Unit of Computing (NUC) boards see Intel target consumers and retailers with a low-cost PC that still packs an Ivy Bridge punch.

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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 3 Jack Clark

Intel is set to release a small yet capable computer for retail stores, digital signage and consumers who want an unobtrusive media player, as the chip giant tries to develop new products for burgeoning 'PC-plus' devices.

The Next Unit of Computing (NUC) devices (pictured), are small computers with Intel's Ivy Bridge Core i3 processor. They are designed to appeal to consumers who want a computer for simple tasks like media playing or web browsing in a small form factor, and digital signage and shops that want to output video.

"We think smaller PCs are part of the future," Mark Jose, a technical marketing engineer for Intel, told ZDNet on Thursday. "I think if you look at the desktop market now, everyone wants to go smaller... people are starting to move away from the boxes and go all-in-one."

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2 of 3 Jack Clark

Initially the NUC devices come in two variants. One has two HDMI ports and is designed for signage and retail (pictured, bottom right), while the other has one HDMI port along with a Thunderbolt port and is meant for the consumer. 

Both units will be available either as boards or within chassis from October exclusively through Intel channel partners, Jose said.

In the future, Intel expects to use other processors in the platforms. It plans to launch a NUC model with a Celeron chip by the end of 2012 and aims to drop in its upcoming when they arrive in mid-2013, Jose said. Intel hopes to be able to fit an as-yet-undisclosed Haswell variant with a TDP of 8W into the boards in the future. 

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3 of 3 Jack Clark

The boards (consumer version, pictured) can accommodate a maximum of 16GB of RAM. They support a mobile SATA SSD card via a full-length PCIe Mini Card and use a 19V DC power input.

They use the Intel QS77 Express Chipset and each have a i3-3217Y 22nm 'Ivy Bridge' processor. The chips have 3MB of Intel Smart Cache, a clock speed of 1.2GHz, two cores and are 64-bit. Their TDP is around 17W.

At IDF, ZDNet saw the dual-HDMI version's processor consume between 13W and 15W while running 12 videos concurrently. The whole device uses around 22W and rarely goes above 25W, Jose said. 

Aside from HDMI and Thunderbolt, the boards have two USB 2.0 connectors on the back panel, one USB 2.0 connector on the front panel and two PCIe mini slots. The initial form factor is four inches by four inches.

Prices start at $399 for a version with a 40 gigabyte mSATA card, an entry-level Wi-Fi card and 2GB of RAM. Top-end versions with both HDMI slots and more memory will be closer to $500, Jose said, without giving a specific price.

The goal with the NUC was to see "how small we can go and still have a core processor and a fully functioning computer", he said.

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