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Seven Small (But Powerful) Mini-PCs, Reviewed

Intel NUC DC3217IYE (Ivy Bridge)

We're including Intel's previous-gen Ivy Bridge-based NUC DC3217IYE as a comparison point. Armed with a 1.8 GHz Core i3-3217U, it represents the lower-end of the performance spectrum, though it still shames the diminutive machines I was reviewing a couple of years back. The on-die HD Graphics 4000 engine matches what Acer's Revo, LGX's ML300, and Zotac's Zbox can do, too.

Although it employs an older architecture, this product remains relevant in today's market thanks to discounts; it's available from Newegg for as little as $268, which is significantly less than newer NUC and Brix models. Of course, because this is a barebones system, RAM, wireless connectivity, and storage aren't included. Add in Windows 8.1 Professional, an Intel SSD 525 180 GB SSD, and 8 GB of Adata DDR3. The total ends up just north of $700 as-tested, making this the second-cheapest option in our round-up.

Bundle And First Impression

The NUC includes the bare necessities: an AC adapter, VESA mounting plate, and some documentation. But the power cord in the image above isn't included. You have to buy it separately, in addition to the RAM, SSD, and Wi-Fi adapter.

At 4.6" x 4.4" x 1.6", this isn't a large PC. But it is noticeably thicker than the Haswell-based NUC and significantly larger than Gigabyte's Brix. The DC3217IYE weighs about 1.1 lbs in the configuration we used for testing. The black-on-black style conveys understated simplicity.

There's not much to see up front except for one USB port and the power button on top.

Around the back, we find two more USB ports, two HDMI outputs, and a GbE connector. Notice the lack of 1/8" audio jacks? The only audio output you get comes from HD Audio through HDMI.

The insides should be pretty familiar by now. This is a design that Intel (and Gigabyte) doesn't stray far from in this generation's hardware. The CPU and active cooling solution are on the top of the PCB. With the bottom of the case removed, you see the other end, which provides easy access to the RAM, mini-PCIe slot, and mSATA interface.

Whereas the Haswell-based mobile processors require 1.35 V DDR3L memory, this Ivy Bridge-based NUC does not; it is compatible with our 1.5 V SO-DIMMs.

Special Features And Livability

There's not much to talk about from the differentiation front. After all, this is a simple, barebones product on which some of Intel's more recent introductions are based.

Intel does have a derivative NUC, the DC3217BY, which gives up an HDMI port in exchange for Thunderbolt connectivity.

Intel NUC DC3217IYE (Ivy Bridge)
ChipsetIntel QS77 Express
CPUIntel Core i3-3217U, Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 1.8 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3 Cache
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 4000, 350 MHz - 1.05 GHz
Graphics MemoryShared with system memory
System MemoryNot Included
Hard DriveNot Included
Optical DriveN/A
Operating SystemNot Included
Included PeripheralsNot Included
Internal Interfaces
Memory SupportDual-Channel 2 x DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, 1.35/1.5 V, 1333/1600 MT/s, 16 GB Max
Mini-PCIeOne slot
mSATAOne slot
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA1 x mSATA 6Gb/s
I/O Panel Connectors
DVINot Included
VGANot Included
HDMI2
DisplayPortNot Included
ThunderboltNot Included
MHSL InputNot Included
USB3 x USB 2.0
Memory Card ReaderNot Included
Network1
eSATANot Included
Digital Audio outHDMI
Analog AudioNot Included
IR SensorNot Included
Ethernet & Wireless
LANIntegrated Gigabit
Wi-FiNot Included
BluetoothNot Included
Audio
HD Audio CodecHDMI: Intel Display Audio
Audio Channels7.1 Digital Audio over HDMI
Physical Specifications
Size116.6 x 112 x 39 mm (4.59" x 4.41" x 1.55")
Weight500g (1.1 lbs)
Price
As tested: $701.95 (with Windows 8.1 Pro x64, Intel SSD 525 180 GB SSD, Intel 7260 Wireless AC card, and 2 x 4 GB Adata DDR3 SO-DIMMs)Barebone: $250.97 (Newegg)
  • outlw6669
    Not a single AMD based SFF PC?
    I am disappoint, this would be a great area for AMD to show their competitiveness.
    Reply
  • ta152h
    @outlw6669I built one based on the A6 5200, and it's perfect for what I need it for. It's low power, more than fast enough for what 99% of the people do, quiet, and inexpensive. I'm a little surprised they didn't choose something based on the Jaguar for that reason, but it might just be a situation where nothing with one was sent to them for review. Certainly this is a poor representation, without both Jaguar and Bay Trail missing. I got to the first page, read what they had, looked at the cases, and moved on. Reading about different versions of Ivy Bridge and Haswell and how they compare to each other is profoundly uninteresting.
    Reply
  • m32
    I wouldn't mind having a small system like this. Maybe Mid-Year when everyone's CPU/APUs are out, I'll have the chance to make a smart buy. Thanks for the article. :)
    Reply
  • blackmagnum
    Buy a laptop and hook a screen to it; no compromises.
    Reply
  • mesab66
    It is interesting that by going slightly larger with the enclosure space (still keeping within cube/rectangle/media player shape) opens up the possibility of so much more power....dedicated gfx, full cpu, etc etc., and, can be cheaper to build - depending on the users requirements.......of course, at the cost of power requirements, etc. I'm thinking most folk would ideally chose a slightly larger form factor for living room/media pc duties.On the other hand, if constraints are tight (form factor in this article) and the end user's requirements match, then these options are worth considering.
    Reply
  • mesab66
    Maybe Tom's could do some options on Media PC/HTPC builds for a future article?
    Reply
  • s997863
    Power. I don't care about no power. Where's the love for the old games? If I want to play some of the classics which just don't emulate properly, I have to hunt for a heavy old Pentium3 box and try to get it working. How about a cheap mini PC with miniaturized legacy hardware for full compatibility to dual-boot win98 & XP, with gameports, VGA & S-Video, PS/2 & USB, IDE & SATA external ribbon & power connectors, & a turbo button for choosing between 2 processors 200MHz & 3GHz?
    Reply
  • elgranchuchu
    this was exactly was i was looking for deploying php software
    Reply
  • vertexx
    I am a huge fan of compact systems. Almost everything I have built has been ITX. But I've had a hard time with the NUC form factor. As a desktop, I think it's actually too small. One of those boxes would get lost on my desk, continuously being pushed around by other clutter. Now, if I had a hutch with an optimally sized cubby, that might be a different story.

    VESA mounted on the back of a monitor, these look really clunky, and I'd rather go with an AIO kit using the thin mini-ITX form factor where I have more control over processor choice.

    I'd be more excited if this technology and form factor were applied in a more interchangeable system with a standardized GPU socket. I really like what ASRock and Gigabyte have done with their compact systems. They're not as compact, but having something a little more substantial on my desk is a good thing, and they pack a lot of punch. I just wish the standards were developed to allow builders to replicate that feat - pipe dream, I know.

    One thing is for sure, AMD needs to develop it's own equivalent of the NUC and thin Mini-ITX. The success of it's Kaveri line I think would be helped out by innovation in form factor.
    Reply
  • axehead15
    I think you should compare the Mac Mini to these, that way we can see how it adds up.
    Reply