Intel NUC: An alternative to the Raspberry Pi?

Starting Up

The NUC housing looks expensive and is fairly heavy. It can be taken apart by loosening four screws that have been sunk into the rubber feet of the housing. Once these screws are removed, the bottom plate and the remaining screws can be removed. This is one design detail that Intel has thought out thoroughly.

Figure 2 shows a view of the inside of the Intel NUC5i3RYH. The location for inserting the M.2 SSD sits to the left. You can see two slots on the right side that are used for the memory modules. The company provides an illustrated set of installation instructions, much like you would get when purchasing Ikea furniture.

Figure 2: The interior view of an Intel NUC NUC5i3RYH showing the slots for installing the SSD and memory modules.

The bottom plate (Figure 3) has extra space for an additional 2.5-inch disk. The conductive strip seen to the left absorbs heat from the M.2 SSD and transfers it to the housing. For cooling, which is adequate, a small, hard-to-access fan is on the rear side of the board. Unlike the Raspberry Pi, therefore, the NUC is not completely quiet when running.

Figure 3: A slot for a 2.5-inch HDD/SDD is in the bottom plate of the large NUC model.

As with a standard PC, installation of the operating system comes after hardware configuration. The NUC boots without problem from a USB stick or an external CD-ROM drive. Pressing F2 lets you enter the BIOS, which appears very clean. It can even be operated solely with a mouse. Intel put a BIOS update [11] online in April that corrects a problem with the infrared port. During testing in the lab, the update process was both uncomplicated and successful. I simply downloaded the BIOS, copied it to the USB stick, rebooted the NUC, and then switched into the BIOS update mode via F7 instead of F2. The NUC documentation includes instructions for this procedure.

NUC Instead of Pi?

As described previously, the NUC costs significantly more than a Raspberry Pi 2. Several factors justify the premium pricing. The NUC offers significantly more processor performance, which makes many projects easier to execute, some of which might not have been possible without a NUC. The NUC can play back 4K videos, offers fast Gigabit Ethernet, and delivers significantly higher I/O throughput rates when accessing the disk. Even Raspberry Pi alternatives with Gigabit LAN and SATA connection, such as the Cubietruck or the Banana Pi, don't take full advantage of the capabilities of these interfaces.

Easier software installation and a stable and solid housing are other advantages offered by the NUC. Unlike the Raspberry Pi, the cables don't stick out in all directions and don't pull on a lightweight housing. The simpler installation admittedly does not apply to the standard Raspbian installation. However, when special requirements for the system exist (e.g., using it for a server or with a distribution that doesn't have a ready-made Pi image), then the capabilities of a standard x86 system and a flexible installation process are helpful.

Wake On LAN and RTC alarm only work with the NUC. Wake On LAN lets you wake up the NUC remotely. For example, you can wake up the NUC at preset times using a reasonable BIOS that has a real-time clock. Windows fans can use Windows on the NUC. Linux fans profit from various hardware add-ons with proprietary drivers that do not exist for the ARM architecture.

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