Personal Computing

What’s a NUC

This post reviews the Intel NUC purchased to be our Roon ROCK. And it introduces System76, our favorite small company computer supplier.

NUC is an Intel trademark for its line of IA64 small form factor computers. Intel offers a broad palate of NUCS. Some are designed for general use and others are tailored for various OEM channels. NUC is often used as a workstation device in industrial control systems. These may have specific legacy interfaces for FieldBus, Control Area Network, and VGA for legacy displays mounted in industrial control bench boards.

Dismal Manor has a NUC. We use it as a host for our Roon ROCK music server. An earlier post talked about putting our ROCK together. Here I want to spend a little more time with NUC.


  1. 2023-04-08 Original
  2. 2023-04-08 Provide missing Reference 3 at System76
  1. References.
  2. Mouser’s Intel product selector

Intel Offers Many NUCS

The Wikipedia article [1] reviews the Intel NUC history and generations. I ordered the Dismal Manor NUC from System76 in System76 livery. This was a conscious choice as I found it difficult to know what I was getting otherwise. I wanted to be sure that it was Genuine Intel and not a Chinese imposter. I wanted to be sure that it was from legitimate sources and not from a container than fell off a ship or truck. And I wanted to know that it had the proper memory and SSD fitted.

Mouser distributes Intel products, some come in boxes, others on tape reels for pick/place machines. If you play with the search tool at [2], you can get a feel for the embedded boxed (Mouser speak for NUC) computers available from Intel. Want a Xeon with that? Mouser has you covered for $1800. Fries and a drink are extra generally. And Mouser will gladly sell them in singles or by the shipping container FOB.

Bare Bones, Kit, or System

NUC comes in 3 forms, bare bones, kit, and system. Bare bones gets you a chassis but no memory or storage. A NUC kit includes memory and storage. A system includes a MS Windows license.

Pruning the Search Space

To avoid becoming an expert on Intel NUC boards, memory, and storage the hard way (one botched choice at a time), I remembered my friends at System76. I learned of them when trade press carried their Thlio product announcement.

System76 is a small manufacturer, the Schiit Audio of computing, that designs and assembles high-value computers for professional use by creatives be they engineers and designers, scientists doing modeling and simulation or proving Fermat’s last theorem, and audio and video producers. They offer servers, office machines, and laptops tailored to run Linux but they work well with FreeBSD and Windows. But they are Linux specialists so the video, Ethernet, and WiFi drivers are already in the kernel.

System76 offers Meerkat small form factor computers that look very much like NUC. This one is ours, a 11th Gen i3 chosen from those on reference [3].

Our System76 11th Gen i3 Meerkat

The options list appears below captured from the product offering page.

Courtesy of System76 2023-04-08

I picked an i3, 16 GB of memory, and a 256 GB disk. The memory expansion provisions both memory channels. The disk option provides a fast WD Black branded disk at the time of my order.

Be Alert to Change

I placed my order. Before the day was out, the 12Gen i3 NUC was available. Also, System76 like Schiit Audio is coping with parts availability so products come and go and specifications are subject to change based on market availability. So review the ports list, the graphics spec, and the networking parts.

System76 provides a link to the technical data at the bottom of the product description page. That takes you here where you can see the product details, something you can’t generally do at Amazon Intel Shop or other mass-market outlets.

Meerkat 5 Specifications Page

These happen to be minimums. The machine, as shipped, has 2 HDMI ports and 2 USB-4 Thunderbolt4 ports and will gladly support up to 8 displays. But the important thing is that the processor be from the family Roon Labs specified. Roon provides hardware drivers for a subset of the NUC offerings, generally, the SOHO and consumer versions like those System76 resells.

Our ROCK poses for rear connection photo

Roon ROCK is a headless application so we have an embarrassing richness of video interfaces. We have 2 USB4 channels, one in use for an external SSD that holds our Roon music library. And ROCK is connected to the hard network via my Desk switch.

Changes to be a ROCK

Other than curated parts selection, there was little to do to ready the machine for ROCK. System76 assembles each machine, installs your choice of POP_OS or Ubuntu, and does a pre-shipment burn-in. In this procedure, the update the UEFI firmware and configure the device for UEFI boot. About the only thing I had to do was to confirm that USB boot was enabled and give it priority so I could replace POP_OS with RoonOS.

Meerkat was perfectly happy with a Raspberry Pi mouse and keyboard and my Panasonic ST40 TV as a display. Just had to watch the video mode so that overscan would be defeated. POP_OS popped right up, fastest boot every on the 11th Gen i3 NUC architecture. Installing ROCK was simple as ROCK is simple. But it is so simple, you really have to read Roon’s fine print regarding ffmpeg and database migration.

By davehamby

A modern Merlin, hell bent for glory, he shot the works and nothing worked.