The Intel NUC DIY Barebones Kit Arrives For Haswell CPUs

Last year the Intel introduced the Next Unit of Computing (NUC) and we were amazed by the power, capabilities and performance of what you could do with a four inches square.  PC users around the world quickly found out that the Intel NUC was small yet powerful and used them as general use PCs, home theater PCs, media servers, and/or a multitude of other configurations.The first generation NUC left us impressed, but there was certainly room for improvement. Intel is severely limited by the NUC's ultra-compact device design, but the new Intel NUC packs more features into an even slimmer form factor. This is not a small feat as the designers had a long list of changes to be made. Besides making the NUC faster and more energy efficient, they also had to improve cooling and add better connectivity options.


The largest change is the move to Intel 4th generation Core i3/i5 'Haswell' 22nm processors as that is the heart of mighty NUC. Intel didn't stop there and now includes four USB 3.0 ports, a consumer infrared sensor, a headphone/microphone jack, and Mini HDMI and Mini DisplayPort video interfaces on both of the two announced Haswell based NUC's. Last year Intel released two models using Intel 3rd generation Core i3 'Ivy Bridge' processors and they both used very different input/output (I/O) configurations. This meant that you basically had to buy the model you wanted by the connections you needed and made purchasing an aftermarket case a pain in the butt.

Intel has simplified things by keeping everything the same on the two models with the exception of the processor. We really like this idea as you are paying for the level of performance that you need and not if you need Gigabit LAN or Thunderbolt.  It should be noted that Intel dropped Thunderbolt altogether on the new NUC models!

Intel NUC Kit Comparison Table For Haswell SKUs
 Model D34010WYK D54250WYK
Codename Wilson Canyon Wilson Canyon
CPU Intel Core i3-4010U Intel Core i5-4250U
  1.7GHz Dual-Core Up To 2.6GHz Dual-Core
Turbo / Hyper Threading No / Yes Yes / Yes
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4400 Intel HD Graphics 5000
Chipset Intel Lynx Point Intel Lynx Point
RAM 2 x DDR3L SO-DIMM slots 2 x DDR3L SO-DIMM slots
Mini HDMI Output 1 x 1.4a 1 x 1.4a
USB 4 x USB 3.0 4 x USB 3.0
Gigabit Ethernet Yes Yes
mini PCIe (half-height) 1 1
mini PCIe (full-height, mSATA support) 1 1
Chassis Color Black Black
Power Supply External 19V 65W DC External 19V 65W DC
Overall Unit Size 116.6mm x 112.0mm x 34.5mm 116.6mm x 112.0mm x 34.5mm
Warranty 3-Years 3-Years
Street Price Estimated to be $283 Estimated to be $360

The new Intel NUC w/ Haswell chassis is smaller than the Ivy Bridge versions, which is a bit of a shock. The motherboard inside still measures 4″x4″ (101.6mm x 101.6mm), but the outside chassis is not 4.59″ x 4.41″ x 1.36″ (116.6mm x 112.0mm x 34.5 mm). The original was 4.59″ x 4.41″ x 1.55″ (116.6mm x 112.0mm x 39.4 mm), so Intel shaved off 0.19″ or about 12% of the thickness of the unit.

Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK

The Intel NUC that we are looking at today is the D542050WYK, which is the version that is the high-end version with the Intel Core i5-4250U processor (1.3GHz w/ turbo capability to achieve 2.6GHz, Dual-Core processor w/ 3MB smart cache)  and Intel HD Graphics 5000 (base clock 200MHz to a maximum clock of 1Ghz). This is a 4th Generation Intel Core i5 ‘Haswell’ dual-core 22nm processor that has a max TDP of just 15 Watts! This processor is embedded, so it is permanently soldered to be motherboard.


Intel NUC D54250WYK Bundle

Inside the retail packaging of the Intel NUC Kit D542050WYK you'll find the PC, instructions, 65W power brick, VESA mounting bracket and the necessary screws for mounting the NUC behind a monitor.


The switching power adapter that came with our test sample was a 19V, 65W power brick made by FSP Group and sold under part number FSP065-REB. This adapter is rated with 'V' level efficiency, which is the highest category right now for these power bricks. It's nice that Intel included the power brick, but only certain SKU's will come with the 3 prong 'Mickey Mouse' power cord that goes to the wall. Not many people have an extra 3 prong cable, but they are only $3 shipped if you need to buy one for a NUC that doesn't come with one.

10/3/13 Update: Intel sent us the following message about the power cord:

The pre-production NUC units we sent you did not have power cords.  This is because we did not want to card multiple SKUs of pre-production units.  However, with our production SKUs we WILL have power cord options for US, EU, and UK. We’ll also continue to carry “no cord” SKUs for markets that have other adapters. - Intel PR

Let's take a look at what is inside the NUC!

Outside and Inside The Intel NUC Kit D542050WYK

Before we go into testing we wanted to take a second and strip down the Intel NUC Kit D542050WYK so you get a good understanding of what it is and what it comes with.


According to Intel, the tiny little NUC uses the new uCFF form factor (Ultra Compact Form Factor), which from what we can tell means that the motherboards are no larger than 4"x4"x2". The Intel NUC uses a 4"x4" motherboard inside the case that measures 4.59"x4.41"x1.36". This chassis uses an aluminum center section that left its natural color with a black colored plastic top and a black bottom cover with ventilation holes. The power button and storage drive activity light are located on the top of the unit. Across the front bezel you'll find a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, a 3.5mm audio jack and the consumer infrared sensor.

Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK

 When it comes to rear connectivity you'll find the DC power plug, mini DisplayPort 1.2, Mini HDMI 1.4a, Gigabit Ethernet, and then two more USB 3.0 ports.  There is a Kensignton lock on the side of the chassis to prevent it from being stolen.


You can also clearly see the hot air exhaust ports for the CPU Cooler on the back side of the NUC. Intel beefed up the HSF on the Haswell NUCs by adding a copper base plate, more cooling fins and by removing the mesh screen that was once covering these ports.


The bottom of the Intel NUC has four rubber feet that keep it from sliding around a desktop. You should also notice the fresh air intake on the bottom of the NUC. This is the only place that fresh air can easily come in, so you don't want to sit the NUC on carpet or something similar as it would block the cold air supply.


It should be noted that you'll likely need to purchase an adapter to connect the NUC to your display as most people don't have spare mini-DP or mini-HDMI to full size connectors laying around. We connected our NUC with the HDMI video output and used an adapter that we had around the lab. You can purchase a small adapter for under $4 shipped, so be sure to plan ahead if you need one. Intel says that this little box can handle 4K video output thanks to the Intel HD Graphics 5000 GPU!

Intel was able to get 4K resolution working on the HDMI 1.4a port on their 50” Seiki display in the lab. It works, but only at 30 Hz refresh or lower.They also mentioned that DisplayPort runs 4K resolution just fine and that you can even do DisplayPort Multi-Stream Transport! With the correct monitors you can have 3 DisplayPort panels running off the NUC too. The one issue they said they have run into with that though is that as you add more DisplayPort monitors downstream the resolution has to decrease.  You can find out more about 4K HDMI functionality here.


Inside each rubber case foot you'll find a Philips screw. When each one is loosened the bottom covered can be removed and you gain access inside the NUC. Intel is using the NUC Board D54250WYB inside the NUC Kit D54250WYK. This board is held down by two small black Philips screws, so once you remove those last two screws, you can lift the board from the chassis.


The NUC Kit D54250WYK is a barebone desktop PC kit, so you'll need to supply the memory, wireless card and mSATA SSD. On the bottom side of the motherboard you'll find two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots for up to 16GB of 1333/1600MHz 1.35V Low Power DDR3L memory. On the other side of the board you'll two mini PCI Express slots. One is a full size mini PCI Express slot that is for the mSATA SSD and the other is a half size mini PCI express slot for a wireless card.


The white 2-pin internal power header was checked and runs at 19V.


One of the major additions to the new Haswell NUC boards is the addition of one internal SATA III data and power header! We are glad to see it, but it really sucks that the Intel chassis doesn't support a 2.5" notebook drive! Just to the left of the SATA header you'll see the front panel connections (only needed it you change to a 3rd party chassis) and an internal header for a pair of USB 2.0 ports. 

11/4/2013 Update: We have learned that the internal SATA power header does NOT have 12V being supplied to the power connector. This means that you won't be able to run a 3.5” Hard Drive off this power header. Intel informed us that they would have had to add another DC – DC vreg in order to support 3.5-inch drives and that there was not enough room on the board for another voltage regulator.


On the top side of the motherboard you'll find the CPU Cooler, which consists of a notebook style fan and heatsink that help keep the Intel Core i5-4250U processor from overheating. The black header next to the yellow battery is the LPC header, which is used for monitoring Post Codes for debugging. The blue header just below the battery is the Custom Solutions Header or the HTPC Header as many enthusiasts would call it. The custom solutions header provides access to signals that can be used for custom designs of embedded systems, All-in-One (AiO), and Home Theater PCs (HTPC). Here is the pinout for it:


You have a couple pins for DMIC (Digital Microphone), a programmable LED, +3.3V standby, +5V standby, Ground, power button, and HDMI CEC (Provides the communication signal from the HDMI connector for Consumer Electronics Control (CEC). The signal is exposed through this header for third-party daughter card solutions to monitor and control CEC activity between multiple HDMI devices. HDMI-CEC adapters are available from vendors such as Pulse-Eight.) There are a couple General-purpose input/output (GPIO) pins, which could be for a DirectApp Launch or something like that.



Here is a quick look at the hot air exhaust from the CPU cooler and another look at the rear I/O panel connectors.


Intel is proud of the fact that the new CPU Cooler uses a copper base plate, so if you look under the blower fan you can just make out the edge of the copper plate.  Intel said they were able to drop temps by more than 20C thanks to using a copper baseplate, adding more aluminum cooling fins and improving airflow by removing the mesh insert.


With the Intel NUC Board D54250WYB entirely removed from the system, you can see how the wireless cards antennas are routed around the top cover and are terminated with what appears to be conductive copper tape. Notice the bottom cover has a thick thermal pad on it. This is to help dissipate heat from the mSATA SSD and was not on the original production run for last years models.

Let's put some hardware in the NUC!

Building The Haswell NUC

Since the Intel NUC is a barebone DIY kit we needed to add three major components before firing up the tiny little system for the first time.


That would be the mSATA Solid-State Drive, DDR3L memory kit and a wireless adapter if you wanted to have WiFi and/or Bluetooth. The 3-pin Mickey Mouse power cable is also critical as you need that to turn it on!


We are using an 8GB (2x4GB) 204-pin DDR3L 1600MHz SO-DIMM laptop memory kit from Crucial . This means we will be running 8GB (4GBx2) dual channel at 1600MHz with CL11 timings (11-11-11 w/ 1T command rate) at 1.35V. This laptop memory kit is sold under part number CT2KIT51264BF160B for $74.99 shipped


When it comes to wireless and storage responsibilities we turned to Intel. The Intel 7260HMW is the new flagship 802.11AC card from the folks at Intel. This tiny card offers dual-stream (2x2), dual-band, 802.11AC Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 4.0 support for under $33.99 shipped. WiFi performance is rated up to 867Mbps (433Mbps per stream) and you get Intel Wireless Display support.


When it comes to finding a mSATA SSD there should be no problem finding one as Newegg currently offers 106 of them ranging from 30GB all the way up to 480GB. We went with the Intel SSDMCEAF180A4, which is listed as an Intel Pro Lite Series 1500 mSATA SSD  according to Google. We asked Intel and it turns out that this is the new Intel 530 mSATA drive! This is basically an Intel SSD 525 series drive that uses newer 20nm MLC NAND Flash instead of the 25nm Flash used on the 525 series. This mSATA SSD isn't available yet, but should be priced around the $199 price point.

After adding up the rough costs of all the components in the NUC you are looking at a hardware cost of right around $675 to build this exact system that we are building. Keep in mind that you still need to install an OS on it, so by the time you install Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 on it, you'll be looking at a final build cost of over $700 and that is assuming you already have a keyboard, mouse, monitor and all that good stuff.


To install the memory, SSD and wireless card in the NUC you are looking at about five minutes of work. You first need to install the wireless card by placing it in the half-height mini PCIe slot and screwing it down. Once it's tightened down you can pop on each of the wireless antennas and the wireless card has been properly installed.


To install the mSATA SDD drive you need to use the full-height mini PCI slot. Just like on the wireless card you put it in at an angle and then hold it down flat for the screw to be put in place. Once you get the screw slightly tight you are done installing the wireless card and the SSD.


Next up is the 204-pin DDR3 SO-DIMM memory modules! The Crucial DDR3L modules easily slid into each SO-DIMM socket at an angle and then were easily laid flat and clipped into place with the retention mechanism. Installing the memory takes just a few seconds.


Once all the components are installed you'll end up with a fully assembled NUC that looks like what is shown above. All that is needed is a #1 sized Philips screwdriver and about five minutes of time to get the job completed. Anyone that can use a screwdriver and has the ability to line things up can build a NUC!

Windows 8 Installation on the D54250WYK

We were able to install Windows 8 Enterprise with an external USB powered Flash Drive. Keep in mind that the NUC doe not shave an optical drive, so you have to use a USB optical drive or a USB Flash drive in order to install an OS.

USB flash drive installation of Windows


OS installation:

  1. From a separate system, using the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool, copy the Windows ISO image you want to install to a USB flash drive for the OS image.
  2. Plug the USB keyboard and USB mouse into the rear USB ports.
  3. Plug the USB flash drive with the Windows image into the front USB port.
  4. Power on the system.
  5. Boot to the USB flash drive.
  6. Follow the Windows installer instructions.
  7. After the Windows installation is complete, unplug the USB flash drive.
  8. From a separate system, download the latest Intel NUC drivers from Download Center.
  9. Copy the downloaded drivers to the USB flash drive.
  10. Plug the USB flash drive into the front USB port.
  11. Copy the drivers from the flash drive to the internal drive on the system.
  12. Install the drivers.
  13. Connect to the Internet.
  14. Install required Windows updates.

The Windows 8 installation was very quick (under 20 minutes), but downloading the 50+ Windows updates and installing them took nearly half an hour!


Here you can see the basic information for the system with Windows 8 installed.


Here are the HWiNFO64 screenshots for the test rig in case you are wondering what the full system settings are.


At idle the Intel Core i5-4250U processor runs at 800MHz for power efficiency.


At full load the Intel Core i5-4250U processor clock speed dynamically increases up to 2600MHz (2.6GHz) thanks to Turbo Boost 2.0 technology. This is nice as it gives the system the ability to ramp up for CPU compute intensive tasks. This processor has two physical cores with 3MB of L3 cache and Intel HyperThreading, so common tasks will not be an issue on this machine.

Let's take a look at the Windows Experience Index score as that is one that you can easily compare this system to other systems.


As you can see the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK has a base score of 5.2 with the lowest scoring component being the Intel HD 5000 graphics that is inside the Intel Core i5-4250U 'Haswell' Processor. The processor scored a 6.9, the memory a 7.5 and the mSATA SSD got the highest score of the bunch at 8.1.

Let's move along to testing the NUC!

General NUC Performance


The Intel NUC scored P995 on 3DMark 11 with the performance preset. The Intel HD 5000 graphics scored 898 on the GPU test and the Intel Core i5-4350U processor scored 3103 on the Physics test.


In the latest build of 3DMark we found solid performance with a score of 39,339 in Ice Storm, 4,409 in Cloud Gate and 679 in Fire Strike.


In PCMark 8 we found the Intel NUC had an overall score of 2700 with a casual gaming score of 20.6 FPS.


Moving along to Cinebench we found the Intel NUC with the Intel Core i5-4520U processor scored 15.72 FPS on the OpenGL benchmark and then 2.49 points on the multi-core CPU test and 1.13pts on the single CPU test.


The x264 HD 64-bit benchmark showed around 28 FPS on the first pass and then 5.2 FPS on the second pass. Not bad rendering performance from the Intel Core i5-4250U!


A quick look at the memory performance showed just shy of 18 GB/s of bandwidth. This sounds about right for a dual channel memory kit running at 1600MHz with 11-11-11-28 2T memory timings. It should be noted that we had some issues running a 2x8GB memory kit, but we expect the issue to be fixed before this model hits the market in October 2013.


In Sandra Processor Arithmetic the aggregate native performance score was 28 GOPS.


The Sandra Processor Multi-Media aggregate performance score was 120.62MPix/s.


The Sandra processor Cryptographic score was 2.15GB/s.


In the Encryption Algorithm Benchmark that comes inside TrueCrypt we found an AES mean score of 1.3GB/s.


A quick run of CrystalDiskMark v3.0.2f showed the sequential read speed at 399 MB/s and the write speed at 261 MB/s! The Random 4K read speed was 21MB/s and the 4K random write speed was 69MB/s. This is the brand new Intel SSD 530 Series 180GB mSATA drive that just was launched in August 2013.


Taking a look at another storage benchmark called ATTO, we find that the SSD reaching speeds of up to 548MB/s read and 520/s write!


Does the internal SATA III 6Gbps header work? We cracked open the case again and tried it out with a Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB SSD!  We didn't have the proper female to female SATA power cable, so we hooked up a secondary power supply to do this test.


As you can see with HWiNFO64, we now have two SATA 6 Gb/s devices hooked up to the Intel D54250WYB NUC Board and it was properly detected in Windows 8. A quick run of CrystalDiskMark showed that we were getting SATA III speeds and everything was working properly.

LAN Speed Test

When it comes to wireless performance the we used LAN Speed Test to check the performance of the new Intel 7260HMW 802.11AC Wireless Card. We used a desktop with Gigabit Ethernet to run LAN Speed Server that was hard connected to the ASUS RT-AC66U 802.11AC wireless router on the 5GHz band and moved it 15-feet away from the NUC test machine to check out performance with both 1MB and 100MB packets. We ran LAN Speed Test on the NUC with the wireless card to test the throughput and found roughly 175Mbps (20MB/s) write speeds and 250-325Mbps (30-40MB/s) read speeds.

This is the first 802.11AC card from Intel, so we were curious how it would perform and these are solid for a 2x2 802.11AC wireless card.


The last performance test that we wanted to run was Bootracer 4.5 to see how fast the system is able to boot Windows 8 64-bit. We were happy it takes just 7 seconds to get to the logon screen and in just 22-23 seconds everything was up and running on the desktop! 

Power Consumption & System Noise


With the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK running Windows 8 the entire system was consuming just 4.6 Watts of power from the wall outlet! This test was done with the Haswell C8/C9 low-power states enabled. The old Ivy Bridge NUC ran over 6 Watts at idle without a wireless card, so we are seeing a significant power reduction at idle. Having your entire desktop PC running under 5 Watts at idle is awesome!

(Click here to see how low we can get the idle Wattage when you take out the wireless card, remove a DDR3L memory module and drop the DRAM voltage down to 1.325V.)


At full load the NUC was found to often peak around 25-26 Watts in CPU+GPU intensive applications like the Cinebench GPU test and 3DMark11. Not a bad power draw from a very capable desktop computer and shows that the carbon footprint of running the NUC is very small. It is clear that consumers want to be green these days and energy efficiency is a big deal.


With the Intel NUC turned off we found the ambient room noise to be 31.9dB. With the system up and running on the desktop in an idle state the system was observed to be right at 39.0dB.


With the NUC fully loaded running Prime95 27.9 64-bit we were seeing 43.4dB from about 5 inches away. This is an increase of 4.4dB from idle to full load, which isn't that bad at all.  In a quiet room you can hear the single case fan spinning, but once you have some background noise and you can barely hear the fan slowly spinning when the NUC is running! The Intel NUC comes set to ramp up the fan at 78C, but with the room at 21C we were unable to get the NUC hot enough for the fan to kick into high gear. The top of the NUC gets warm, so let's take a look at the temperatures.


When it comes to temperatures, we used Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility to monitor temperatures and voltages. The Intel Core i5-4250U processor idled at 0.6870V with a core temperature of 36C.  Idling at 36C is a very good temperature for the small HSF used on this 15W TDP processor! The GPU was at 39C!


We fired up Prime 95 and we saw the CPU Core Voltage jump up to 0.8650V and the CPU Core Temperature rose to 77-78C.

We launched up 3DMark11 when Prime 95 was running to try to load up both the GPU and CPU and found that the CPU temperature actually dropped down to the high 60′s and the GPU temp was up in the low 70′s.

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

We were impressed by the Ivy Bridge powered NUC family last year, but there were a few minor issues that needed to be dealt with. The major issue last year was with heat and Intel quickly released newer revisions that had thermal pads to help disperse the heat from the SSD and altered the CPU fan profile in the BIOS to ensure the original models worked well in the field. It's tough to keep everything cool and quiet in such a small sized case, but we had high hopes that Intel could do better with the next-generation NUC's. We were elated to find out that Intel took the time to go back to the drawing board per say to improve the cooling solution for the new Haswell versions. We are also happy to say that it appears that they have satisfactorily resolved the issue by switching to copper for the base plate, adding more aluminum cooling fins and improving the air flow by removing a mesh insert. The Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK we tested idled at 36C, never went over 78C at full load and never once throttled! Success!

The Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK was an absolute blast to setup and use. We were able to fully assemble the system and install Windows 8 with all the updates in just over an hour. The performance of the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK was found to be very impressive thanks to the 4th generation Intel Core i5-4250U 'Haswell' processor. This 22nm dual-core processor is often found on Intel Ultrabooks and other high-end mobile platforms and is very powerful as we showed you in our benchmarking section. For example last year on the Intel NUC Kit DC3217BY (Core i3-3217U) we got an overall score of P594 on 3DMark11 and on the new Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK (Core i5-4250U) we got P995, so nearly double! Other benchmarks like Cinebench jumped up from 0.75pts to 1.13pts, so the CPU and GPU performance has greatly improved.  Other areas like memory bandwidth, system boot times and overall storage drive performance remain close to the same as there really haven't been any major performance advancements in those areas over the past year.

You'd think that power consumption would go up with the jump in performance, but it actually was found to go down thanks to the power efficiency improvements that Haswell brought to the table. We were happy with the 4.3-4.7 Watts of power being consumed at the wall in an idle state. That is nothing in the big picture, so you can use the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK without having to worry about using gobs of power. Even at full CPU load we were seeing just shy of 30 Watts of power being consumed. If you load everything up on the NUC you'll be able to get close to 65W rating on the power brick, but we were running Prime 95 and 3DMark 11 at the same time and couldn't break 30 Watts!

Increased performance is certainly welcomed, but we really love the improved connectivity that the new NUC has. We love the fact that it now has four SuperSpeed USB 3.0 headers, a 3.5mm audio jack, DisplayPort and HDMI and consumer infrared for remote controls. That makes using the NUC so much easier and should reduce the number of reasons why people wouldn't want to go with this form factor. The NUC is also impressive in the sense that the  4" x 4" x 2" cube can be mounted out of site behind the monitor thanks to the VESA mount. This is awesome for business users that are looking for the most desk or counter space possible.

Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK

The one major gripe that we have with the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK is the fact that Intel included an internal SATA header, but there is no room in the chassis for a 2.5-inch notebook hard drive or SSD. Intel is looking at bringing out larger chassis with a different SKU later this year, but for now it is a useless port with this enclosure.

After adding up the rough costs of all the components in the NUC you are looking at a hardware cost of right around $675 to build the system that we tested today. You can shave off a few bucks here and there, but this is the general figure that you'll be looking at spending before adding in the OS and all your other software requirements.


At the end of the day the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK proves that good things do come in small packages.  This system was amazingly powerful and you just can't beat the form factor or the power efficiency. This is good news as it shows that the desktop PC is still alive and kicking, albeit inside it is pretty much all mobile parts that are usually found in Intel Ultrabooks!

We highly recommend trying one of these out when they hit the retail market in late October if all goes well!

Update:  We've posted up another article on overclocking the memory on the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK that can be read here if you were interested in overclocking performance.

LR Recommended Award

Legit Bottom Line: Last year the Intel NUC kits were impressive, but the new Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK shows you what happens when you have a more time to fine tune a design and beef it up with a new CPU architecture. Intel has a winner on their hands with the Haswell powered NUC's!