Recently, my wife encouraged me to go ahead and get myself a belated holiday present. I’ve been jonesing to try one of the new breed of NUC computers for some time now.
An NUC, short for “Next Unit of Computing”, is a small box-shaped computer that often won’t measure more than a few inches across or deep, containing an entire system crammed into its miniscule chassis.
Here’s the system I ordered from NewEgg.com:
ASRock AMD Ryzen Embedded CPU Barebone 4X4 BOX-V1000M SoC Dual GLAN Support Triple Displays Mini / Booksize Barebone System
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) 260-Pin DDR4 SO-DIMM DDR4 2400 (PC4 19200) Laptop Memory Model F4-2400C16D-32GRS
Sabrent 2TB Rocket NVMe PCIe M.2 2242 DRAM-less Low Power Internal High Performance SSD (SB-1342-2TB)
Total $739.07 (free shipping)
What did I get for more than $700? Well for starters, it really is tiny! The box is about four and a half inches square and only about two and a half inches tall.
The RAM modules looked like most of the others I’ve dealt with in the past and went into place with a minimum of bother.
What actually surprised me was the new 2TB SSD from Sabrent. It’s the first time I’ve seen one of this new generation. It is SMALL! The metallic clamshell packing case is slightly larger than a credit card and when I opened it, the actual SSD looked like a large postage stamp.
The heat sink assembly was comprised of a stamped metal frame, a cast metal heat sink with fins, and a grey conductive sheet with peel-off adhesive on each side.
I peeled one side of the flexible sheet and applied it to the back of the heat sink.
The SSD plugged into a socket that held it at a slight angle off the board. There was a tiny flathead phillips screw mounted too low for it to connect. This had me confused for a moment and then I remembered the zip-lock bag of nuts and screws that was packed with the instruction sheet.
Inside the hardware bag, I found a hex nut with a threaded bolt on the bottom and a matching hole on top. My smallest screwdriver removed the flathead screw and I replaced it with the nut that acted as an extender about an eighth of an inch long.
The stamped metal frame for the heat sink slid easily over the SSD module and a gentle pressure held it in place while I tightened the screw.
The next step was to peel the other cover from the conductive sheet and press the heat sink to the top of the SSD. As I applied pressure, the heat sink snapped and locked into the stamped metal frame.
Finally, I replaced the cover and snugged the four long screws that hold it in place. I had a complete system.
Now for the BIG test! I placed it on top of my primary desktop system, removed the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and network cables and plugged in the NUC. The external power supply is a brick almost as big as the NUC. I have a bootable 3.0 USB setup as a Kubuntu 20.10 install device.
My monitor was already on and I started counting seconds when I hit the power button on top of the tiny system. It was gratifying to see it boot to GRUB in less than ten seconds.
As one would expect, booting from a USB is very slow, but my patience was rewarded with an install or test option screen within a couple of minutes.
The entire Operating System install took about twenty minutes. When I pulled the USB and rebooted, the new system was ready to go in less than a minute!
Another hour or so for me to update and install some of my favorite software packages and now I’m writing this article.
My first impression, after only a day on it, is that this is much faster than the system I built just last year, and unless I run into major bugs, it just might be my favorite.
Here’s the current status:
Operating System: Kubuntu 20.10
Processors: 8 × AMD Ryzen Embedded V1605B with Radeon Vega Gfx
Memory: 30.9 GiB of RAM
Graphics Processor: AMD Ryzen Embedded V1605B with Radeon Vega Gfx
This is the whole system, sitting on top of my year-old mini-tower case. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this next generation of computers.