The Intel NUC is a very popular platform for home labs. The small Intel NUCs are intended to be HTPCs, business PCs and similar productivity tools. Many of the Intel NUCs (and similar NUC-like machines) can be used as virtualization hosts (ESXi, VirtualBox, KVM, Hyper-V), Docker Swarm nodes, video encoding nodes or even as shared storage.
Intel NUC Pros
Intel NUC Cons
- Low cost and integrated
- Usually have Wi-Fi built-in or it can be added easily
- Intel NICs
- vPro on many Core i5 and Core i7 models
- Very small - you can have a dozen nodes in the same space as many mini ITX cube systems
- They look nice even on a desktop
For these reasons, the Intel NUCs will often be used alongside other infrastructure such as a shared NAS unit.
- No IPMI management
- Need to buy $100 RealVNC license to use server-like vPro features
- Limited core counts on embedded CPUs
- Limited memory and drive expansion (only some models support a 2.5" drive)
- Use external power bricks which can add up when you have a cluster
- Not rack mountable without a shelf.
- Only 1 wired NIC which isn't enough for most server applications
- Only 1 gigabit Ethernet
Which NUCs to get
Recommended 5th generation Intel NUCs for a home lab:
The 6th gen ones are coming out but I have not seen them online. This guide will be updated once they come out. The non-vPro version is about $60 cheaper so you are paying $60 per machine and $100 for the RealVNC license to use remote management on them.
- 5th Gen Core i5 w/ 2.5" support no-vPro Intel NUC5i5RYH
- 5th Gen Core i7 w/ 2.5" support no-vPro Intel NUC5i7RYH
- 5th Gen Core i5 w/ 2.5" support vPro support Intel NUC5i5MYHE
What else to get with them:
I would budget about $410 for the vPro i5 NUC, $67 for the RAM, $90 for a m.2 SSD. So each NUC node costs around $567. Add $67 for the 1TB WD Red or more if you get a fancy 2.5" SSD.
- RAM - 16GB RAM kit - Amazon.com: Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3-1600 MT/s (PC3-12800) 204-Pin SODIMM Notebook Memory CT2KIT102464BF160B / CT2CP102464BF160B: Computers & Accessories (Don't get less, you will kick yourself later)
- Storage (m.2 high-end options) - 500GB Crucial (Amazon.com: Crucial Technology 2-Inch 500 GB SATA 6.0 Gb/s Internal Solid State Drive CT500MX200SSD6: Computers & Accessories ) or Samsung SSD ( Amazon.com: Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB M.2 3.5-Inch SSD (MZ-N5E500BW): Computers & Accessories )
Don't waste money on expensive SSDs with these NUCs. There isn't that much CPU, RAM and network to really need it
- Storage (m.2 low-end option) 250GB Samsung - Amazon.com: Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB M.2 SSD (MZ-N5E250BW): Computers & Accessories you can go smaller but just get 240GB minimum these days
- Storage (2.5") - If you are looking for SSDs, go to the STH Great Deals forum and pick something up. If you are looking for lots of cheap NAS capacity get the 1TB 2.5" WD Red. I'd get these over standard laptop drives.
I'm just outlining this to get people's reactions. I plan to update this as I get more time.