Hardware

Intel Compute Element For Next-Gen NUC Allows Powerful Mini PC Builds With Modular Components

Intel unveiled the next evolutionary step in miniaturized personal computers. The Intel Compute Element is essentially the next generation of Mini PC technology that collates all the essential components of a powerful computer, including the relevant ports and connectivity options. The entire single unite of the Compute Element can then be assembled into a powerful mini-computer as per the requirement. Intel appears to be building upon its success of Next Unit of Computing, or NUC, a platform of barebones, small form factor PC kits.

The Intel NUC Compute Element is the most recent approach by the chipmaker to offer modular, scalable slim Mini PCs.  These PCIe slot-based Mini PCs house an entire array of modern-day connectivity and networking options in slim hardware form factor with an external connector to make it easy to remove from a device to either swap, upgrade or repair.

The Intel NUC Compute Element Offers New Possibilities In The Small Formfactor PCs With Modular Capabilities

The Intel NUC Compute Element is essentially a CPU/DRAM/Storage on a dual-slot PCIe card, with Thunderbolt, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and USB, designed to slot into a backplane with multiple PCIe slots, and paired with GPUs or other accelerators. The prototype displayed by Intel consisted of a small dual-slot PCIe card powered by a BGA Xeon processor. The Slot-based Mini PC also contained a provision for two M.2 slots, two slots for SO-DIMM LPDDR4 memory, a cooler, and then additional controllers for Wi-Fi, two Ethernet ports, four USB ports, an HDMI video output from the Xeon integrated graphics, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports, reported AnandTech.

Both the M.2 slots and SO-DIMM slots can be accessed and serviced by end-users. The entire assembly has a PCIe slot. Based on the design, it is quite likely that Intel is looking to offer a simple solution that allows multiple such units, in varying capacities and technologies, to be slot-fitted on to a based PCB with multiple PCIe slots.

The Intel NUC Compute Element could eventually find their home on a standard backplane – a PCB with multiple PCIe slots. The primary PCIe slot would be the master host slot. This would invariably house the NUC with the CPU/DRAM/Storage combination. The main slot would also serve as the power input for other cards. There appear to be talks of a direct PSU into the backplane which would serve 75W to each of the PCIe slots. The prototype had an additional 8-pin PCIe power connector, which could technically make about 225W available for CPU, DRAM, and storage.

Consumers could insert other peripherals and internal components such as discrete GPUs, professional graphics, FPGAs, or RAID controllers on the remaining slots of the backplane. Needless to add, the components would ship with standardized PCIe slots for quick and easy insertion.

The Intel NUC Compute Element Meant For Enterprises, Home Users And Gamers As Well?

According to the current version, the Intel NUC Compute Element appears to be headed to enterprises. The very configuration and the ability to scale up or down as per the requirement is quite appreciated by companies who want to customize their machines. However, Mini PCs or NUC have successfully transitioned or evolved into a home and even dedicated gaming machines. The configurability of the Mini PC could also mean buyers may eventually be able to order an Intel NUC Compute Element based on the intended end-use which could be streaming, gaming or home-office.

The prototype of the Intel NUC Compute Element may have an underpowered CPU, but the power delivery and the other specifications, clearly indicate the company is thinking about larger and more powerful processors. Intel mentioned the OEMs could get their hands on the Compute Element in Q1 2020. However, it did not divulge any information about pricing or availability to end-users.


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