Last year saw the presentation of the Intel NUC 11, a new generation of compact computers with which the chip giant completed an important, and necessary, update of one of its best-known and most popular product lines, which, as many of our readers will remember, is subdivided into several different models.
For example, we have the Intel NUC 11 Essential models, which feature a more modest hardware configuration centered around Intel Pentium and Intel Celeron processors, and which are an excellent choice for office, web browsing and basic tasks. This range contrasts with the powerful Intel NUC 11 Extreme, which is designed to condense all the power of a Gaming PC in a chassis of just 8 liters, and in a more balanced point are the Intel NUC 11 with eleventh-generation Core processors.
The model that we have been able to test, thanks to Intel Spain, has been the Intel NUC 11 with eleventh generation Core i5 in its small size version, a very compact computer, so much so that it fits easily in the palm of your hand and that, despite everything, comes with a configuration capable of offering great performance, although we will go into this in more detail later.
I know many of our readers have been wondering what a NUC is really capable of, and if it’s really worth the investment it represents. We’re not going to leave you wondering. We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the NUC in this review, starting with a fair and realistic approach, since, as we said, it’s such a small device that it fits in your hand.
Intel NUC 11, first look
Right out of the box, the first thing that struck me about the Intel NUC 11 is its size. Yes, I’m aware that these are very small computers, and we’ve been talking about them for a while now, but as they say, “it’s not the same to tell it as to live it”. The Intel NUC 11 is so small that it literally fits in the palm of my hand, and it also weighs practically nothing, two values that make it, without a doubt, a perfect computer for those corners where space is an issue.
With a computer like the Intel NUC 11 you could assemble a complete PC in any corner, since it hardly takes up any space, and also gives us the possibility of installing it directly behind a monitor without having to go into complicated configurations. Interesting, isn’t it? This makes it, as we anticipated, a team full of possibilities, but the best thing is that, despite its small size, it is able to offer a really good performance.
In terms of design, the Intel NUC 11 presents a sober and discreet finish, with a dark blue finish in the central part of the chassis and black on both the top and bottom. Both areas allow us to access the inside of the computer, although to make hardware modifications, such as expanding the RAM, installing a new SSD or a network card, we will have to use the lower part. It’s very easy to open, just remove four standard Phillips screws and you’re ready to go. The top cover is made of plastic, and is removed by pressure.
To get a good airflow the Intel NUC 11 chassis integrates three zones with grilles, two on the sides and one on the back. On the front, it has two USB Type-A 3.2 connectors and the on/off button, while on the back it has two full-size HDMI outputs (2.0b), one Thunderbolt 4 and one Thunderbolt 3 connector (USB Type-C, can work as DisplayPort 1.4 output), one USB Type-A 3.2 port, one USB Type-A 2.0 port and one 2.5G LAN connector.
As we can appreciate, the set of connectors, and outputs, that integrates the Intel NUC 11 is not bad at all, especially considering its size. As far as wireless connectivity is concerned, this model comes with an Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 networking solution that also integrates Bluetooth. This means it’s ready to connect to any next-generation Wi-Fi network, and to any peripheral completely wirelessly.
We’re now taking a look inside, and we’ve found a pretty powerful heart, as we’ve already told you. The Intel NUC 11 that we have analyzed is powered by an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor, a quad-core, eight-thread chip based on the Willow Cove architecture (Tiger Lake range) that is manufactured in 10 nm SuperFin process, and is capable of working at a frequency of 2.4 GHz-4.2 GHz, normal and turbo mode. It has a TDP of 28 watts, which means that it is a low power chip.
The GPU used in the Intel NUC 11 is an integrated solution in the processor, namely an Intel Iris Xe Gen12 G7 with 80 execution units, running at 400 MHz-1,300 MHz, normal and turbo mode. It supports DirectX 12 at API level 12_1, the maximum possible, and has a performance similar, at best, to an NVIDIA MX330. Not bad, especially considering that we’re talking about an integrated graphics card.
This NUC is sold without pre-installed RAM and storage, which means we have to buy them separately. In this case, to make our review easier, Intel has sent us a NUC 11 with a 512GB M.2 SATA III SSD and a 16GB RAM module at 3200MHz.
With that configuration, we can enjoy a very good user experience, although the ideal would have been to mount two RAM modules to take advantage of the dual-channel and make the integrated GPU work with a 128-bit bus. On the other hand, the SATA III SSD performs flawlessly and offers good performance, although it obviously doesn’t reach the level of a PCIE NVMe drive.
As far as internal space is concerned, it’s impressive how well utilized it is. The Intel NUC 11 allows us to expand the RAM, storage unit and network card. It’s effortless to get inside, and the whole process is very simple and intuitive. Even if you have no previous experience you will be able to configure, or upgrade, the Intel NUC 11 effortlessly, and without a problem. As you might have guessed, due to its small size it doesn’t have room to mount a 2.5-inch storage drive.
Intel NUC 11: Specifications
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- Compact, high-performance mini PC.
- Intel Core i5-1135G7 Tiger Lake series processor (Willow Cove architecture) with four cores and eight threads at 2.4GHz-4.2GHz, normal and turbo mode. BGA form factor (soldered to the board).
- Supports Intel VirtualizationTechnologies (VT-x), Intel Platform Trust and Intel Virtualization for Directed I/O (VT-d). Also includes Intel’s new AES instructions.
- GPU Intel Iris Xe Gen12 G7 with 80 execution units at 400 MHz-1,300 MHz.
- 16GB of DDR4 memory in single channel. Supports up to 64GB dual-channel at up to 3200MHz.
- 512GB PCIE SATA III SSD.
- Built-in audio.
- Two USB Type-A 3.2 connectors on the front.
- On the back there are two full-size HDMI outputs (2.0b), one Thunderbolt 4 and one Thunderbolt 3 connector (USB Type-C, can work as DisplayPort 1.4 output), one USB Type-A 3.2 port, one USB Type-A 2.0 port and one 2.5G LAN connector.
- Active cooling system, consisting of a radiator with a copper contact base and a turbine-type fan, which blows hot air to the outside from the back of the NUC.
- Wi-Fi 6 AX201 network card, with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
- Windows 10 Pro as operating system.
- Dimensions: 117 x 112 x 37 millimeters.
Intel NUC 11: Performance and user experience
The installation and setup process of the Intel NUC 11 is really simple. We just have to choose the corner where we want to place it (we can install it behind the monitor), connect the cabling and that’s it.
As I said, the model we have received comes with preinstalled RAM, a SATA III SSD and Windows 10 Pro, and therefore our tests will focus on that configuration, but I want to remind you that we can buy the Intel NUC 11 in barebone version, i.e. without memory, storage or operating system. That version is interesting for those who want to configure it freely.
In terms of expandability, the Intel NUC 11 is a real marvel, both for how easy it is to install new components and for the options it offers. The only downside is that the processor is soldered to the board, so we have to be very careful when choosing the model we want to buy, as we won’t be able to change the processor. However, we shouldn’t worry too much, since starting with a Core i5 like the one in the model under review, we’ll have a computer with a long lifespan.
The Intel NUC 11 allows us to access the interior in a very simple way. All we have to do is remove four Phillips screws (standard format, any screwdriver that fits the size of the notches will do) and ready, we will enter the space where we can install the RAM, storage unit and M.2 expansion cards.
As soon as we finish connecting the Intel NUC 11 cabling and press the power button, the charging process starts, and in a few seconds we are ready to start using it. This test unit came preconfigured with Windows 10 Pro in English, but we can change the language at any time, and obviously the models marketed in Spain come in our language, so you have nothing to worry about.
When the Intel NUC 11 started working I was very struck by how quiet it is. Working with basic, everyday tasks, such as office and web browsing, and playing multimedia content, the cooling system barely makes a sound. If we push the device to the limit and keep it at 100% load, the fan is noticeable, but quite subtle, and at no point does it become annoying. This, together with its small size, makes it an excellent choice as an office PC, or as a multimedia device for the living room.
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In terms of performance, the configuration of this Intel NUC 11 is not completely optimal because, as I said, it has two points to improve: the RAM memory, which comes in a single module, which prevents activating the dual channel (this reduces the performance of the integrated GPU, and the CPU itself), and mounts a SATA III SSD instead of a PCIE NVMe drive. The latter isn’t such a big deal since we have an SSD after all, and this means we won’t be affected by the classic limitations of mechanical storage drives, nor by the slowness of eMMC solutions.
The user experience offered by the Intel NUC 11 is very good. Startup and shutdown times are quite fast, documents, files and applications load smoothly and overall the system performance allows us to enjoy a clear sense of dynamism at all times. The Intel Core i5-1135G7 performs wonderfully in applications that do not require more than 8 threads to run optimally, and the 16 GB of RAM guarantee us total fluidity even in intensive multitasking.
<img src=”https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ssd-1.jpg 1567w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ssd-1-500×324.jpg 500w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ssd-1-630×408.jpg 630w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ssd-1-768×497.jpg 768w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ssd-1-1536×994.jpg 1536w” alt=”Intel NUC 11 in Review: A Powerful PC that Fits in the Palm of Your Hand 40″ width=”1567″ height=”1014″ />
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I know more than a few of our readers might think the SATA III SSD is a bit of a clunker, but it actually performs quite well. As we said, this drive allows us to overcome the classic limitations and problems that are usually associated with HDD and eMMC solutions. Its performance is, as we can see in the attached image, very good, as it is around 500 MB/s in sequential read, and maintains acceptable working temperatures when working at 100% intensively. A PCIE NVMe SSD would give us better performance, but this SATA III drive is enough to get an optimal experience.
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In the attached images we can see the performance of the Intel Core i5-1135G7 in CPU-Z and Cinebench R23. Despite the fact that we are dealing with a chip with only 28 watts, it is able to outperform the Intel Core i7-7700K, offers fantastic single-threaded performance, and has very good multi-threaded performance.
The PassMark results confirm that good performance that we referred to. Obviously, the Intel NUC 11 isn’t one of the most powerful PCs in the world, but it is one of the smallest in the world, and it still manages a reasonably good score.
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As with Intel’s entire Tiger Lake series, the Core i5-1135G7 has a turbo mode that works quite aggressively, and is dynamically activated and adjusted in real time, depending on temperatures and workload. In this case, we have an explosive startup that boosts the performance to the maximum and takes us to a peak of 84 degrees. Subsequently, the temperature stabilizes in the range of 75 degrees, totally safe figures.
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The connectivity options offered by the Intel NUC 11 we tested are more than enough for almost any user profile, and the wireless connectivity works flawlessly (Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth). As far as its GPU is concerned, it’s a fairly powerful solution for an integrated, low-power solution. It’s not capable of running current games in high quality and 1080p, but it can handle many titles in 720p and medium to high quality, and even some in 1080p and low to medium-low quality, depending on the requirements of each title.
However, you should keep in mind that the Intel NUC 11 I tested comes with single-channel RAM. If we install two modules and activate the dual channel, the performance of this will increase significantly (up to 27%, depending on the game used).
Final notes: Good perfume comes in small bottles
The Intel NUC 11 has proven that power and size are not at odds. It’s capable of performing well enough to run even some current-generation games in 1080p, as long as you adjust the graphics quality according to the demands of each particular game, and it’s done so with a 28-watt chip in a chassis measuring just 117 x 112 x 37 millimeters. Yes, that’s impressive.
In normal everyday use, the Intel NUC 11 performs wonderfully. The Intel Core i5-1135G7 responds perfectly at all times, and is capable of tackling any task with all the guarantees. The 16GB of memory that comes with the unit we tested is all we need.
to a guarantee, both now and in the future, as they far exceed the recommended minimum of 8 GB, which translates into a long service life. If we need to expand this component, we can do it without problems, as it supports up to 64 GB of RAM. However, I recommend you always use a dual-channel configuration (install two modules instead of one)
It seemed that the SSD was going to clash because it is a SATA III solution, but the truth is that it has fulfilled without problems, and has achieved that feeling of fluidity and agility in response times that we like so much, and that will make our daily work easier and more enjoyable. The 512 GB of the model we tested will be more than enough for almost all user profiles, except for those who want to install massive amounts of games, although I can already tell you that this is not the main use for which this Intel NUC 11 was conceived.
Compact, well finished, easy to expand, quiet and able to offer a good level of performance without sacrificing a wide range of connectors. The Intel NUC 11 allows us to have everything we need in the palm of our hand, and this makes it one of the best computers in its class. An excellent choice if size, and noise, are two key factors for you. We can buy the Intel NUC 11 in its barebone version from 391 euros
. Final rating SUMMARY
The Intel NUC 11 has proven that power and size are not at odds. This computer is able to offer a good enough performance to run even some games of the current generation in 1080p, as long as we adjust the graphics quality according to the demands of each particular title, and it has done so with a 28 watts chp integrated into a chassis of just 117 x 112 x 37 millimeters. Yes, it’s impressive. Compact, well finished, easy to expand, quiet and able to offer a good level of performance without sacrificing a wide range of connectors. The Intel NUC 11 allows us to have everything we need in the palm of our hand, and this makes it one of the best computers in its class. An excellent choice if size, and noise, are two key factors for you. We can buy the Intel NUC 11 in its barebone version from 391 euros.