This review is already out of date, see my comment at the end of this article.
The Mac Mini that was my studio computer was a wheezingly slow pile of rubbish. I needed a faster machine with an SSD and plenty of RAM. A quick search of the Internet revealed that DinoPC were selling rather well equipped, pre-built Intel NUC at very keen prices. The vast increase in performance with modern Intel Core CPUs and the head-turning speeds of SSDs meant the the DinoPC Intel NUC would totally satisfy my studio computer needs for years to come.
When I was specifying my NUC I dealt with a very friendly and courteous customer relations chap named Alan. He kept me fully informed about the building of my NUC and even when one component was out of stock he made sure I got my Intel NUC in the timeframe I had specified.
I am sure every customer relations person at DinoPC is as nice and helpful as Alan, but I wish to single him out for special praise. Firstly was he the chap I dealt with and he seemed a genuinely nice chap.
Moreover, in the demanding environment that is working in computer customer support, I have never encountered someone so willing to take the time to make sure their client (me, as he is known) was completely satisfied with their purchase. He also was a great help with an after market add-ons, even when none of this represented a huge money maker for their company. Well done Alan!
Now, some of you will have been pondering, “What the hell is this Intel NUC-thing he is wittering on about?” They are Intel’s Next Units of Computing. What that means is that Intel have built a processor and motherboard into a tiny box and sell them for you to add the components you want to make a complete, but still incredibly small, desktop computer.
“How small?” You ask. Here is mine in the palm of my hand:
That tiny little box will do everything most lumbering tower case computers will do without filling up some corner of a room gathering dust.
I spent £419 for a Intel NUC with a Broadwell i5 CPU 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 memory and a 240GB SSD. Broadwell may have just been superceded by Skylake processors, but this dual core, hyperthreading processor is faster than the Core i7 I had in my Surface Pro 3 (purchased in late 2014). Not taking inflation into account, and ignoring the fact that the Surface Pro 3 had a touch screen built in, the NUC cost a third the price of the Surface.
After I had received the Intel NUC, and got over the shock of its diminutive size, I decided I would future-proof it by adding an extra 8GB of memory. Alan helpfully pointed out the correct type of SODIMM I needed and I dropped a mere £28 on it.
If the size of the NUC was a surprise, then adding extra memory was mind bogglingly simple. I undid four screws on the base of the NUC, removed the base plate, slid the SODIMM into the empty slot and screwed the baseplate back in place. It was that easy!
I did not build the Intel NUC totally from scratch, but adding extra memory made my last attempt at building computer about six years ago look like a fiendishly difficult and confusing alogical puzzle. After building my last computer I swore I would never build a computer again; but if you are into building your own machines I would recommend an Intel NUC as being less of a pain in the arse than most PC builds.
The Intel NUC is well ported-out. It has four USB3 ports (one of which can pump out extra power for charging other devices), an HDMI port, a miniDisplayPort, an Ethernet port and a speaker/headphone jack. I have an enormous number of instruments and gadgets to plug in, so I have USB hubs plugged into three of the NUC’s ports. It handles them with transparent ease.
There is only one function I would not recommend this DinoPC Intel NUC for with wildly rabid enthusiasm: it would not make a good games machine. It can run two monitors with total ease, but the processor graphics would not handle 3D games very well. This is not an issue for me; the graphics performance is more than adequate for running Digital Audio Workstation packages.
The processor is also more than adequate for DAWs. I loaded my most frighteningly complex and fabulously powerful DAW, loaded and played the most complex demo tune (that had about 25 tracks including MIDI and software instruments, all with real time processing running on them). The processor usage hardly got close to 5% – I was mightily impressed!
This DinoPC Intel NUC is a keeper. It will be a long time before DAWs require more processor grunt than this delivers – it also has plenty of RAM that will further future proof it. It is, as far as I am concerned, the perfect studio PC – it is a joy to use. I imagine I will be using this for many, many years to come.
I say this because desktop/mini-desktop computers are about as fast as they are ever going to be, in any meaningful sense. Sure, they will continue, for a while, to use less and less power, and the graphics capability of processor graphics will improve. However, as far as the speed of the CPU goes we have simply reached a point where modern processors, that is to say any i5 or i7 processors purchased in the last year or so, are so fast we have no need for anything faster – and no huge strides in processor power will be made in the next five odd years. We have simply got our cake and are noshing it with gusto.
If you want a computer for browsing the web or running Office apps this will open as many Chrome tabs and Word documents than you will be capable of keeping track of. It is very fast, 8GB is plenty of memory and it is bloody minuscule! You can even mount it on the back of compatible monitors if you like so you will never see it.
The DinoPC NUC is a highly desirable desktop PC at a great price. If you are looking for a new computer, and you do not play many games, the DinoPC Intel NUC should be at the top of your shopping list.
Here is the Intel NUC in my studio. You may have to zoom in to spot it…