Intel NUC History: Moving Through the Generations – June Blog Post – Simply NUC

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Intel NUC History: Moving Through the Generations

June 2021

In part one of this two-part blog series, we went over some of the general history behind the formation of the Intel NUC, (Next Unit of Computing). Conceptualized over a decade ago and first available on the market in 2013, the Intel NUC began as a barebone kit with a motherboard, heatsink and fan, chassis, power supply and mounting plate – but has gone through numerous iterations and evolutions since it first launched. The NUC is now a major part of the mini PC industry with usages in many market segments across the world.  

At Simply NUC, we’re proud to offer a huge variety of Intel NUC products, from NUC kits to pre-configured NUCs to mini PC solutions, and much more. There have been numerous models and upgrades of the NUC product leading to the selection that is available today. Part two of our series will cover a few of the important points in this evolution throughout the years, helping lead us to where we are today.

Ahead of its Time: Box Canyon

During the early iterations, as we mentioned in part one of the blog, the NUC models that were released were somewhat limited in ”feature density”, the number of features that can be supported in a small space. Take the ”legacy free” model called Box Canyon, for instance. It featured a Thunderbolt port which was way ahead of its time in 2013 but, as a feature density tradeoff, had no Ethernet RJ-45 jack.  The thinking was that consumers don’t use LAN jacks and access their internet via wi-fi instead. In theory, the thinking was probably right, but in reality consumers made it very clear they wanted a LAN jack, and Box Canyon sales suffered accordingly.  Fortunately for Intel, they offered another NUC called Ice Canyon which had the LAN jack and more traditional interfaces. Also, over the generations Intel has greatly improved feature density on the NUC – there are models today that offer two Thunderbolt ports and two LAN jacks among many other interfaces.

Laying the Groundwork: Horse Canyon and Forest Canyon

The third generation of NUC involved adding a key Intel technology to the NUC line-up, as well as a flexible solution for power plugs.  Introduced in 2014, the Horse Canyon NUC was the first mini PC to support Intel vPro technology which allows for out-of-band remote management of deployed systems.  Support for vPro opened up a new world of opportunity for key verticals such as digital signage and kiosk, in addition to enterprise opportunities.  In addition to Horse Canyon, Forest Canyon was released as the first NUC that could be powered by a “wall wart.”  This enabled a more efficient power connection between the NUC and the wall socket with a single power cable between the NUC and the wall.  In addition, the wall wart design allowed for different international plugs to be clipped in, enabling a single SKU with US, UK, EU, and AUS plug schemes. The wall wart methodology was very successful for Intel up until NUC power requirements exceeded 90W at which time Intel reverted back to more traditional power bricks. 

Hitting Stride: Rock Canyon and Maple Canyon

Skipping a couple generations and moving forward to 2015, the fifth generation NUCs, based on Intel’s Broadwell-U processors, came in several options, and had several releases up to 2016. These models, named Rock Canyon and Maple Canyon, included updated CPU revisions, plus other upgrades like a 1GB Ethernet port, internal support for M.2 connectors for SSD storage, multiple USB connectors, internal USB headers, a headphone and microphone jack, and the capability to support up to 7.1 surround audio.  Another really important innovation that this generation introduced was replaceable lids. Given the size of NUCs, users often expressed the need for more USB or video ports or an extra LAN jack.  Replaceable lids enabled added functionality by placing these extra ports in a functional lid that provided a cable down to the NUC motherboard.  In addition, replaceable lids allowed for custom designs on the lids to support other colors or corporate logos.  Intel began to hit stride with feature density and innovation on the fifth generation NUCs.

The Breakthrough Performance Era: Skull Canyon, Hades Canyon, and Ghost Canyon

For the first many generations, NUC was limited to 25W processors, making it great as a power-efficient PC for productivity and home entertainment, but not at the performance level needed for gaming, engineering CAD work, or content creation.  A sixth generation NUC named Skull Canyon changed all that. Intel’s engineers innovated a thermal and cooling solution that enabled a 45W Skylake processor in a sub-liter chassis for the first time. Skull Canyon opened the door for usages that had never been imagined with the standard 4×4 NUCs. Jumping forward to more current times, Intel followed up Skull Canyon with Hades Canyon which featured a unique Intel processor SKU called Kaby Lake G, featuring a Intel CPU and an AMD GPU on the same substrate. Hades Canyon was the first NUC that featured discrete graphics enabling the first NUC that could support AAA games and premium VR experiences.  Moving forward again to early 2020, the ninth generation, code named Ghost Canyon or NUC 9 Extreme, included support for 8” desktop discrete graphic cards, plus a NUC compute element for CPU upgrades. This version came with an upgraded 5.0-liter case and an internal 500W PSU, allowing for a significant performance increase over prior sub-liter cases. 

Intel has continued to roll out updated versions of the NUC since Ghost Canyon, and we hope will continue to do so into the future. Feature density and innovation improvements are the basis of and continuing trend for the NUC.  For more on the evolution of NUC technology, or to learn about any of our NUC units, speak to the staff at Simply NUC today.