Intel released a new smaller format motherboard named NUC, or next Unit of Computing, aimed at the gap between desktop computers and handhelds, the home theatre market, local servers, and anything else you can run without a fan. They are nice, a touch too small for my requirements, but they are headed the right direction and I look forward to future releases.
No, the NUC is not quiet because there is a fan on the processor. Fan noise is reduced because the power supply is separate and is a noiseless brick. The supplied case could have external heatsinks but no, you have a fan.
You could look at a bigger case and replace the standard fan with a passive heatsink. There are currently no bigger cooler cases designed for this form factor.
Both use a form factor named UCFF probably meaning Ultra Compact Form Factor but really meaning Lock out all those tiny Via boards.
Both have an Intel® Core™ i3 3217-U processor soldered down so you cannot replace it, just like notebooks. Intel is switching all the non server designs to soldered down processors. The change might lock out competing processor manufacturers and push more people towards Intel motherboards.
The processors have an
active heatsink which means a fan which means noise and the first point of failure. You will have to wait until someone releases a competing design with an adequate heatsink not needing a fan.
Both have two SO-DIMM slots for 1333/1600 MHz memory because they are based on notebook designs. Expect future models and competing designs to include some memory soldered down, just like notebooks.
Both use the Intel QS77 Express Chipset, limiting their speed and capability, but this is not a big deal because the small size limits the overall capability to far less than the chipset can handle. Intel have already announced faster versions with i5 and i7 processors. The faster models will have chipsets matched to the capability of the processor.
You can run Intel High Definition Audio through the HDMI or Thunderbolt ports.
Both have a full-size mini PCI Express connector with mSATA support and a half-size mini PCI Express connector. If you buy the model with two HDMI ports and no Thunderbolt port, you will need mSATA to connect a disk or to provide USB 3 connections.
Both have five USB 2.0 ports, three external ports and two via internal headers, but neither has USB3, forcing you to use the Thunderbolt port or add an expansion card. I will wait for a later model with USB 3.
Both have a three year warranty and in both cases it will be the cooling fan that fails first, unless you live near me and are hit by lightening.
Intel® Desktop Board D33217CK
This version has dual HDMI ports supporting HDMI 1.4a. You can set up a small Web development machine with two monitors or a video editing with the timecodes on one screen and the resultant video on the other screen. The processor will be too slow for full resolution video editing. Wait for an i5 or i7 version.
This version has an integrated Intel 10/100/1000 network connection for a wired connection to your Gigabit Ethernet LAN and is the fastest way to transfer data across a network. The other version requires something in one of the PCI Express ports.
Intel® Desktop Board D33217GKE
This version has one HDMI ports supporting HDMI 1.4a and one Thunderbolt port supporting displayport 1.1a. You can set up a small Web development machine with two monitors or a video editing with the timecodes on one screen and the resultant video on the other screen.
The advantage of Thunderbolt is the ability to connect several disks at full speed over the same change as the video. Thunderbolt is effectively a HDMI port plus an eSATA3/USB 3 port using the same cable. That leaves the PCI Express slots open for other uses.
This version does not have an integrated Ethernet LAN connection. If you have a wired network, you will have to add something in a PCI Express port. What you do get is the option to add a wireless connection instead of a wired connection. When you need both wired and wireless, you will need two PCI Express devices or you could add one USB 3 PCI Express card then connect to networks through USB. You might also connect through the Thunderbolt port of you can get a Thunderbolt device with all the connections.
Bigger may be better
There are slightly bigger format motherboards with more connections build it. If you are starting with a UCFF motherboard with all expansion options loaded up, there is no room for future expansion. A form factor one or two sizes up will give you everything you want and room for future expansion.
Nano-ITX format is the closest format in size to UCFF but is only available from VIA.
The Mini-ITX format has about twice the area and is available with low power Atom processors designed to run without fans. There are a huge range of boards available with different sets of connectors. I have not looked at Mini-ITX motherboards for a while and do not know if you can get anything truly modern with USB 3 etc.
You can plug in a a series of Thunderbolt devices. You end up with a mess of cables and boxes, something familiar to Mac users since day one of the first Mac but unusual for everyone else. Life is easier when you buy a single device that does what you want without Mac mess.
You can also plug in Thunderbolt docking stations and, at this stage, there are not many because Thunderbolt is missing a major component for connection to a docking station, power. Thunderbolt is designed to supply power to devices, not to recharge from a docking station.
Perhaps one day Intel will go back to the convenient original optical Light Peak design instead of the cheap copper based version manufactured for the Apple Mac. The Light Peak optical cable could fit in the power supply cable from the power brick. This is not science fiction, it is very old technology and the patents have run out, making it cheap enough for Apple, Dell, anyone.
I can see some uses for the current models but not in my office. I will wait for an i5 version in a bigger box with no fan and USB 3.