Intel NUC as a Media Center or Desktop

Prior to 2015 my primary computer of choice was always a laptop.  I’ve used a few different brands over the years, including Dell, HP, Compaq and IBM.  My favorite has been Dell, but that’s probably because I’ve had the least problems with them.  I also like the simplicity of their keyboard layout.  I don’t think I’ve missed a generational change in portable computing power since I bought my first laptop many years ago.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had desktops, too.

As practical as it is to have a laptop for work, I find it less than satisfactory for gaming and other non-work related activities such as media playback.  Like many of you I found it necessary (and convenient) to maintain a desktop computer to satisfy my gaming needs.  Gaming can take a toll on a laptop in many ways, from repeated keypresses to overheated CPU and Graphics processors.  I confess that both my wife and I have fried laptops from even infrequent gaming.  Adobe Flash is the devil incarnate for a GPU.

Media playback was always bit tricker.  Having an office for the desktop and the living room for media center meant that my desktop was not practical as a playback device.  For quite a few years I would hook up a VGA cable to my laptop and stream sports and movies to our big screen television.  The results were usually less than perfect.  It was also not so good for the laptop.  Not being rich or indulgent enough to buy a dedicated PC just for media playback, I simply accepted things as they were.

Of course that all changed when Stick Computers and TV Boxes came onto the scene.  I’ve already talked about how long I waited for these products to finally appear and how happy I am to take full advantage of their capabilities for all kinds of media playback.  But no matter how happy I am with the current crop of devices, there’s always room for improvement.  I’m still wanting devices that are smaller, cheaper, faster, cooler and more customizable.

One thing that I was not able to do with a Stick or TV Box was replace my work laptop.  There simply hasn’t been enough computing power in these devices to enable a true desktop experience.  That all changed about a year and a half ago when I took the plunge on an Intel NUC.  I had been watching with interest what Intel was up to in this form factor, and when they hit the 5th Generation Broadwell I finally pulled the trigger and got one.  It turned out to be one of the best computer purchase decisions I’ve ever made.

Now I use my NUC exclusively for both work and entertainment.  It’s not going to win any benchmark contests, but I’m able to play the games I care about without issue and without setting the thing on fire.  It rarely runs hot, even after a decent session on an MMORPG.

VESA mounted to the back of a large screen monitor also makes it a viable candidate for my media streaming.  Because I work at home, I use it for about ninety percent of my computing needs.  The other ten percent is split between my Fire Tablet, Fire Stick and various other Android devices.

I still have a laptop, but I mainly use that to try out new Linux distros whenever possible.  Linux runs better on the NUC, but I’ve got too much installed on this now and it takes too long to get it back to work-ready condition for me to distro hop any more.

So with glowing praise for my 5i5RYH, I can heartily recommend almost any version of the Intel NUC as either a general purpose computer or media streamer.  On the lower end of their spectrum, the 6th generation 6CAYH is a Celeron based unit that will serve quite well for either function. You get HD 500 Graphics, Dual Band WiFi and USB 3.0 ports, and you can load it with bunches of memory and hard disk space to run any sort of gaming or media app.  You can run Windows, or like me you can run Ubuntu MATE (or most distros) without issue.

The Bare bones version of this unit comes without disk space, RAM or OS, so you’ll need to add those.  Getting at least 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD will give you a powerful streamer or serviceable desktop for little more than $200.

INTEL NUC Kit Component BOXNUC6CAYH

Product Highlights

  • Quad-Core Intel Celeron CPU 1.5GHZ
  • Intel Name Brand
  • Fits 2.5″ SSD or HDD
  • HDMI 2.0 4K @60HZ
  • SDXC Memory Slot
  • Runs Windows or Linux
  • Supports Dual Channel DDR3L
  • Intel HD 500 Graphics
  • 7.1 Channel Audio
  • USB 3.0

This kit gives you the choice to install the OS, memory, and hard drive you want so you can create the exact system that you need. New features include a dual-array front mic and a multi-color LED ring so you can customize your NUC with the look you want. And there’s 4K display support via a full-sized HDMI 2.0 port, so you can have 4K  at a cost-effective price point.

What Customers Say:

For what this system is, it is incredible.  And, it is upgradeable, which for most use cases I would highly recommend pursuing.

Very impressed with this small device which replaced my old desktop tower. Setup was relatively easy. Added two 4GB SODIMM cards and a 500GB hard drive, and used a HDMI to DVI cable to connect to my existing monitor. Performance is impressive compared to my old desktop.

Ok, so I bought this mainly because it’s really cute. It’s almost impossible to not play with this thing. I have added an SSD and memory and may add a Gorite functional lid replacement. If and when I set up a Linux box, I can transfer the SSD and maybe the memory.