Last week, I posed a question on Google+, looking for suggestions on a minimal physical format, x86 machine.  I was looking for something like a Raspberry Pi (of which I already have one), but really it had to be x86.

I was aware of a few options out there, but I was very fortunately introduced to one spectacular little box...the Intel NUC!

The unboxing experience is nothing short of pure marketing genius!



The "NUC" stands for Intel's Next Unit of Computing.  It's a compact little device, that ships barebones.  You need to add DDR3 memory (up to 16GB), an mSATA hard drive (if you want to boot locally), and an mSATA WiFi card (if you want wireless networking).

The physical form factor of all models is identical:

  • 4.6" x 4.4" x 1.6"
  • 11.7cm x 11.2cm x 4.1cm

There are 3 different processor options:


And there are three different peripheral setups:

  • HDMI 1.4a (x2) + USB 2.0 (x3) + Gigabit ethernet
  • HDMI 1.4a (x1) + Thunderbolt supporting DisplayPort 1.1a (x1) + USB 2.0 (x3)
  • HDMI 1.4a (x1) + Mini DisplayPort 1.1a (x2) + USB 2.0 (x2); USB 3.0 (x1)
I ended up buying 3 of these last week, and reworked my audio/video and baby monitoring setup in the house last week.  I bought 2 of these (i3 + Ethernet) , and 1 of these (i3 + Thunderbolt)

Quite simply, I couldn't be happier with these little devices!

I used one of these to replace the dedicated audio/video PC (an x201 Thinkpad) hooked up in my theater.  The x201 was a beefy machine, with plenty of CPU and video capability.  But it was pretty bulky, rather noisy, and drew too much power.

And the other two are Baby-buntu baby monitors, as previously blogged here, replacing a real piece-of-crap Lenovo Q100 (Atom + SiS307DV and all the horror maligned with that sick chip set).

All 3 are now running Ubuntu 13.10, spectacularly I might add!  All of the hardware cooperated perfectly.




Here are the two views that I really wanted Amazon to show me, as I was buying the device...what the inside looks like!  You can see two mSATA ports and red/black WiFi antenna leads on the left, and two DDR3 slots on the right.


On the left, you can now see a 24GB mSATA SSD, and beneath it (not visible) is an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 WiFi adapter.  On the right, I have two 8GB DDR3 memory modules.

Note, to get wireless working properly I did have to:

echo "options iwlwifi 11n_disable=1" | sudo tee -a /etc/modprobe.d/iwlwifi.conf


The BIOS is really super fancy :-)  There's a mouse and everything.  I made a few minor tweaks, to the boot order, assigned 512MB of memory to the display adapter, and configured it to power itself back on at any power loss.


Speaking of power, it sustains about 10 watts of power, at idle, which costs me about $11/year in electricity.


Some of you might be interested in some rough disk IO statistics...

kirkland@living:~⟫ sudo hdparm -Tt /dev/sda
/dev/sda:
Timing cached reads: 11306 MB in 2.00 seconds = 5657.65 MB/sec
Timing buffered disk reads: 1478 MB in 3.00 seconds = 492.32 MB/sec

And the lshw output...

    description: Desktop Computer
product: (To be filled by O.E.M.)
width: 64 bits
capabilities: smbios-2.7 dmi-2.7 vsyscall32
configuration: boot=normal chassis=desktop family=To be filled by O.E.M. sku=To be filled by O.E.M. uuid=[redacted]
*-core
description: Motherboard
product: D33217CK
vendor: Intel Corporation
physical id: 0
version: G76541-300
serial: [redacted]
*-firmware
description: BIOS
vendor: Intel Corp.
physical id: 0
version: GKPPT10H.86A.0025.2012.1011.1534
date: 10/11/2012
size: 64KiB
capacity: 6336KiB
capabilities: pci upgrade shadowing cdboot bootselect socketedrom edd int13floppy1200 int13floppy720 int13floppy2880 int5printscreen int14serial int17printer acpi usb biosbootspecification uefi
*-cache:0
width: 32 bits
clock: 66MHz
capabilities: storage msi pm ahci_1.0 bus_master cap_list
configuration: driver=ahci latency=0
resources: irq:40 ioport:f0b0(size=8) ioport:f0a0(size=4) ioport:f090(size=8) ioport:f080(size=4) ioport:f060(size=32) memory:f6906000-f69067ff
*-serial UNCLAIMED
description: SMBus
product: 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family SMBus Controller
vendor: Intel Corporation
physical id: 1f.3
bus info: pci@0000:00:1f.3
version: 04
width: 64 bits
clock: 33MHz
configuration: latency=0
resources: memory:f6905000-f69050ff ioport:f040(size=32)
*-scsi
physical id: 1
logical name: scsi0
capabilities: emulated
*-disk
description: ATA Disk
product: BP4 mSATA SSD
physical id: 0.0.0
bus info: scsi@0:0.0.0
logical name: /dev/sda
version: S8FM
serial: [redacted]
size: 29GiB (32GB)
capabilities: gpt-1.00 partitioned partitioned:gpt
configuration: ansiversion=5 guid=be0ab026-45c1-4bd5-a023-1182fe75194e sectorsize=512
*-volume:0
description: Windows FAT volume
vendor: mkdosfs
physical id: 1
bus info: scsi@0:0.0.0,1
logical name: /dev/sda1
logical name: /boot/efi
version: FAT32
serial: 2252-bc3f
size: 486MiB
capacity: 486MiB
capabilities: boot fat initialized
configuration: FATs=2 filesystem=fat mount.fstype=vfat mount.options=rw,relatime,fmask=0022,dmask=0022,codepage=437,iocharset=iso8859-1,shortname=mixed,errors=remount-ro state=mounted
*-volume:1
description: EXT4 volume
vendor: Linux
physical id: 2
bus info: scsi@0:0.0.0,2
logical name: /dev/sda2
logical name: /
version: 1.0
serial: [redacted]
size: 25GiB
capabilities: journaled extended_attributes large_files huge_files dir_nlink recover extents ext4 ext2 initialized
configuration: created=2013-11-06 13:01:57 filesystem=ext4 lastmountpoint=/ modified=2013-11-12 15:38:33 mount.fstype=ext4 mount.options=rw,relatime,errors=remount-ro,data=ordered mounted=2013-11-12 15:38:33 state=mounted
*-volume:2
description: Linux swap volume
vendor: Linux
physical id: 3
bus info: scsi@0:0.0.0,3
logical name: /dev/sda3
version: 1
serial: [redacted]
size: 3994MiB
capacity: 3994MiB
capabilities: nofs swap initialized
configuration: filesystem=swap pagesize=4095

It also supports: virtualization technology, S3/S4/S5 sleep states, Wake-on-LAN, and PXE boot.  Sadly, it does not support IPMI :-(

Finally, it's worth noting that I bought the model with the i3 for a specific purpose...  These three machines all have full virtualization capabilities (KVM).  Which means these little boxes, with their dual-core hyper-threaded CPUs and 16GB of RAM are about to become Nova compute nodes in my local OpenStack cluster ;-)  That will be a separate blog post ;-)

Dustin

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