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June 6th 2014 10:55 am

How would you change Intel’s Next Unit of Computing?

What is Intel’s Next Unit of Computing? It’s far too bulky to be an Intel-hewn alternative to the Raspberry Pi or Arduino, nor is it powerful enough to be designed to replace a low-powered desktop. Sitting awkwardly between the two, we imagine that plenty of you bought one of these for curiosity’s sake, but have you used it? What projects did it fit into, and how easy was it to use? Share your experiences here, you're amongst friends.

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61 replies

It's neither bulky nor underpowered. Short of being a gaming system, it could probably replace half the general use home/office desktops on the planet and be an upgrade in performance. I'm currently using the latest i5 model as a WMC server to serve HD movies and live TV to five TV's in my home as well as various devices (ipads, tablets, phones) and it runs like a champ.
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This echoes my experience exactly with the D54250WYK. It is not underpowered as an HTPC, and the i5 chip and 8GB provide all the horsepower I need for that assignment. Its performance is similar to my Yoga ultrabook.
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I miss it. I'm just waiting to see if Intel decides to do the i7 - otherwise Lenovo's solution looks comparable to the Brix Pro, but need to check out the cooling.
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How is it not powerful enough to replace low-powered desktops? The haswell core-i5 version has as much power as many ultrabooks, which people happily use as their only PC. Sure, if you bought the original celeron version a couple of years ago it's likely a pile of crap, but the newer models function fine as desktop replacements if you aren't interested in playing games. Both my parents have NUCs now (one runs windows, the other linux) and my in-laws use one as a frontend for the TV streaming software MediaPortal.

Unless you want a laptop, a computer with a high powered graphics card or a computer with PCI-E slots, you should find the core-i5 Haswell NUCs are a great fit for a desktop replacement.

P.S. Why would anyone think the NUC be an alternative to a raspberry Pi or Arduino? Completely different target audience and functionality.
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The i5 NUC does, in all fairness, struggle sometimes with heavier loads. Turbo Boost does help but I won't try and run Eclipse on it, for example.
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I run Visual Studio 2013, eclipse and Dreamweaver on my i5 Haswell NUC and it works great, I was hesitant to buy it at first, but coupled with 16GB DDR3L and 128GB Curcial M4 SSD it works perfectly.
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You know I'll bet that additional 8GB would solve a lot of the problems on the build side. Otherwise my config was nearly identical to yours.
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+1 In all fairness you can't compare a Raspberry Pi to a Intel NUC. Two different things!

However other media boxes that have flooded the market are fair competitors / game. Why? Because they perform the same tasks and applications most people need and would do with a Intel NUC. People don't care about performance as long as they play a movie at 1080p @ 60p smoothly, or can browse the Internet and watch YouTube etc.

This is important. Because Intel's target audience are people who have some basic knowledge, enough to assemble the system using other parts and installing a OS. But the same people are also aware of Android TV boxes or ARM boxes on the market that are able to perform the same tasks but at a much lower price. Sometimes sub ~$100.

The factor here is price. I know that's the thing keeping me away from Intel's NUC.
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I use the NUC (haswell i5) as a perfect hackintosh. I have it completely replace my mac mini and windows machine using parallels. Just wish it has Thunderbolt for "future" GFX box (if there will be any...)
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As a desktop replacement, wish it has Iris Pro as well like the Gigabyte BRIX but without the noise issue that BRIX users complain about.
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The Celeron Haswell has Thunderbolt so hoping it will become the new mainstream (along with m.2 which already is as of the Celeron.)

Anyone else realize that Haswell i5 is near identical specs to the Macbook Air 11"?
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I use a NUC as a desktop replacement. It drives two 24inch monitors and I could not me more happy. If there is one thing, I would like change, it is the position of the power button. That thing is too damn close to the usb port: usb cables fit a bit tight and I almost always hit the power button while putting/pulling out the usb cable.
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It needs to have a completely passive cooling (ie fanless) option. An obvious application is as a HTPC or emulation PC for the living room, and for these types of applications fan noise is often unacceptable.
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You can't hear the Haswell i5 fan. And some of the lower end options do come fanless.
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Have 3 NUC's - 2 in Office, 1 at home.
2x Haswell 4010U NUC, 8GB RAM, 120GB mSATA SSD, Intel 802.11ac, Windows 8.1
1x BayTrail N2820 NUC, 4GB RAM, 120GB mSATA SSD, Intel 802.11ac, Fedora Linux

* Love the bare minimum NUC. Provides flexibility on RAM / Storage and Network
* Love the form factor

* Less USB 3.0 ports
* BIOS is buggy

* More BayTrail variants - Quad core?
* Fanless
* Waiting for Broadwell NUC for low power and speed
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BayTrail - Celeron is only one now - I'm also playing the waiting game for more coming out. (I have to ask if the Celeron is fanless, I'll ask someone I know who has it.)
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I dropped in 16GB of RAM and a Hybrid HDD and made it a VMware ESXi server. It hosts my personal site as well as serves as my home virtualization lab. It's definitely not underpowered nor bulky.
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*Disclaimer - I am an Intel Technology Provider (ITP) member.*

I started to look at the NUCs as part of Intel's ITP program. Most of the NUCs disappointed me because I am very familiar with Intel's graphics. Sadly even the i7-3770k's graphics left something to be desired for a high end CPU because I was losing so much of the CPU to graphics use.

That changed when they came out with the Haswell lineup. The i5-4250U was getting great reviews so I decided to pit it against the current desktop I had at home - A Quad 2 Core Q9400, 8GB DDR2 and 750GB SATA II hard drive. At this point I already had a WD MyCloud that I shifted most of the storage to so the space was no longer an issue.

I got the i5-4250U, RAM and SSD. Took a bit longer to get it set up because the memory I bought the first time wasn't right - it must be the low voltage (1.5V) DDR3 memory. Either case I purchased 8GB and a 120GB Micron SSD. Installed, allocated 1 GB to video right off the bat and then installed Windows 8.

This was good. Very good. It played every game that the Q9400 did and kept up with it - some even were able to bump up to medium settings (impressive for this little device!) But I did find one downside - the CPU maxing at 1.9GHz was just not high enough to handle some basic things.

I am one of many who have been telling Intel we shouldn't have to go to a manufacturer to get one - though Gigabyte has an impressive Brix Pro i5/i7 and I recently saw Lenovo has something similar and equally as impressive. This, to me, is a lost opportunity for Intel. Get these higher end devices out as true desktop/workstation replacements like others are - but without a $1k price tag - and I'm sure the demand will pick up. (But for end users the manufacturers that offer extended support will probably get a big part of this business.)
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*Disclaimer - I am just a random guy on the internet*

It is not the first time Intel has launched products they never really intend to sell widely, merely to fire up adoption in their manufacturing customers. I actually respect them for applying this strategy: it spreads their vision without (obvious) strong-arm tactics that are often attempted. They launch new markets with products at price points that can easily be beat and at the same time lower market entry risk for their customers.

The Ultrabook initiative is another ( very successful) example: set a standard for the label, produce a few laptops yourself and see what happens. In this case, their Ultrabook label sells laptops (and thus their chipsets) without Intel actually having to design and build many laptops itself.

I believe their NUC devices fit into this strategy. It is not (yet) as successful but as you pointed out at least Gigabyte and Lenovo are following Intel's leadership and producing similar products.

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Agree. The form factor shift in itself is enough to do damage. I think they'll sell the NUCs still but their target, as it always has been, is more "whitebox" - such as the NUC board 10 packs w/o enclosures - and then let someone else build off of that.
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And sorry about the disclaimer, didn't want someone coming back and saying I didn't disclose that earlier.
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> "nor is it powerful enough to be designed to replace a low-powered desktop."

Let me stop you right there.
Especially the i5 D54250WYK.
Depending on what you mean by "low-powered desktop", I think it is one the best. It is a great alternative to buying "ALL-IN-ONE" desktops, where you want to minimize cable mess and bulk. Could be cheaper than AIO's for similar specs, and lets you choose the display independently from the guts.

The one problem I have had is with the Intel Wireless AC-7260 card. With Win 8.1's default latest drivers, it is slow and intermittent. Even with Intel's 2014 drivers, it was slow. Hope Intel can fix this with drivers soon.
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Just updated to new Intel drivers posted just a couple days ago and I'm now hitting its max speed, almost doubling the 450 I had been at.
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Yeah, I see some drivers dated 2 June 2014 on Intel's website. I will try them soon.
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I have a problem with the Wireless AC-7260 too, the BT is not functioning, even after installing different kinds of drivers, i opted out to using a USB adapter and disabled the non functioning device :-(
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The entry level Bay Trail Atom based system has been the most difficult product I have ever tried to purchase in my life. I was not interested in the first generation as it was priced way too high in my opinion. Then last year the DN2820FYKH was announced and finally I decided this would be the system to build myself a nice HTPC. I waited and waited for it to become avaialble. Then finally last month my local supplier listed it and I placed my order. However, after doing some more research I saw that the processor in the unit was practically redundant already i.e. the change from 2820 to 2830 Atom. So I cancelled my order and now I have no idea when, if ever I will get an Atom 2830 based unit. Intel if you can send me a unit I will review it on the biggest forum in my country please.
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I do not have an NUC but have looked into them for a htpc setup. I just feel the price is too high by the time you add the components the barebones package excludes. If size was more of a deciding factor I probably would of leaned towards an NUC but I don't mind the idea of a micro-atx case sitting beside my tv. I have always liked the idea of the NUC though do to it's size and relative power for it's size.
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In this case eBay and other sites can be a good friend. The base price for the Haswell i5 NUC may not shift much (Avg. $385) but I was able to get the 128GB SSD for $60, 8GB Memory for $80 and O/S for free (student version of Win 8, but you can do Linux for free as well.) All said still around $500 for an i5 and similar specs to a MacBook Air.
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This beauty is perfect for XBMC. The now standard, IR sensor works like a dream. Installing OpenELEC and you have the best HTPC on the planet that boots up in 10 seconds with a proper SSD installed.

Love this machine!
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I have installed pretty much every NUC & BRIX ever made in various business settings. My wishlist includes:

1. Headphone jack on back (for speakers). The addition of the front jack is nice, but it looks messy to run a cable up front.

2. Matte top. The shiny top scratches easily & picks up dust & fingerprints too easily. All of mine are scratched within minutes of coming out of the box, no matter how careful I am.

3. Desktop CPU versions (ex. BRIX Pro): The cooling fan is too noisy. I would buy more if they were silent like the Laptop CPU versions, but they can really rev up at times, which is annoying in quiet office environments. With a full-sized desktop tower, the whir of the fans is usually a non-annoying sound, and also isn't typically sitting on the desktop, but rather under the desk (it's easier to setup the NUC's on the desktop next to the monitor, so noise becomes more of an issue)

4. Intel Haswell NUC's: Needs at least one standard port like the BRIX series. For dual monitors, I do HDMI + a MiniDP-to-HDMI adapter (from there, I can use an HDMI cable or an HDMI-to-DVI cable, depending on the monitor). With the Intel Haswell NUC, only a few monitors have the Mini-HDMI & Mini-DP ports natively, so I have to buy adapters or adapter cables for everything. I specifically buy the BRIX over the NUCs in business for this reason - one less adapter to purchase.

5. Would like to see a version with one of the newer mobile graphics units (GTX 860M & Quadro K5100M) for enhanced gaming & light CAD usage. That would be amazing in the "Pro" models that have the desktop quad-core CPU's in them - they could replace everything outside of custom workstations for gaming & CAD.

6. The IR port needs Windows software, no one has any idea how to actually use it with an infrared remote control. No clear answer from Intel on how to implement this functionality.

7. From a consumer standpoint, I would like to see a cheaper motherboard-only version (which is more expensive than the entire kit, for some reason) along with a lot more aftermarket case options. These are great for replacing your parent's & grandparent's computers, small biz computers, etc., and some added customizability would be nice.

8. Would like to see Thunderbolt back in more models.
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FYI, if you have a business look into getting the 10 pack of the motherboard-only version. Might have to do some registration with Intel and its distributors but worth it if you're doing that kind of volume.
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I have the latest i5 nuc and love it.

Things I would change are:
  • cheaper price. $380 for the barebones unit is too much
  • Add more USB 3.0 ports. 6 or 8 would be ideal since it's the only expansion available.
  • Redesign the case so it's easier to clean out the CPU fan.
  • Move the headphone audio jack to the rear.
  • Switch to full HDMI port instead on mini HDMI.
  • Offer all black case again, instead of two-tone.
  • Get Intel and Google together to make an official Chrome OS installer for NUCs.
I'd say Intel needs to keep on keeping on.
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I'm not sure how this isn't powerful enough to replace a low-powered desktop. I've been using one of the 3rd generation i3 models as an HTPC since they were released. Besides watching stuff, I've on many occasions used it to play 4 player split screen racing games (Blur, Sonic & Sega All-stars, Bang Bang Racing) without hitch. I use Microsoft's wireless Xbox controller for Windows, which utilizes only 1 USB port per 4 controllers, along with a logitech TK820 for wireless mouse and keyboard on the couch. For what this system is, its gaming prowess is extremely impressive to me. As a barebones kit, I found it also very well made and easy to open and install pieces.

This is a great product. It's very small and also light enough to easily transport around. Easy to hook up at a friend's place and start playing. I comfortably carry it in my laptop bag with my Xbox controllers when I want to transport it. With portable gaming consoles like the nvidia shield out there, you can't really call this thing bulky =P
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1) Fanless. I mean seriously. I know there are Akasa cases, but they aren't so easy to get, and moving it from NUC case is not something intended for average user.
2) Optional form factor to support full 3.5 inch hard drive? May be even SoHo NAS friendly version with 2 SATA and 2 HDDs?
3) eSata port?
4) Full size HDMI, or at least cheap adapter from mini-HDMI included?
5) Better QA? A lot of complains (by high Intel standarts) on malfunctioning device.
6) Price. After one buys RAM, storage, wireless and Windows license, you may question if getting notebook, which has screen, keyboard, and batteries wouldn't make a better option moneywise, if size is not so critical.
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And meanwhile I use the i3 version running openLEC xbmc for my home theater. Everything is perfect in the setup beating raspberry pi in terms of response and speed. Only missing feature is the CEC....
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I have 3 nucs. Two i3's running XBMC which I'm very happy with and one i5 with 1tb SSD running Windows Media Center. The i5 one does an "ok" job of being a steam streaming front end, but could use a little more oomph. I think having options for powerful external video cards would be useful.
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Which i5 do you have? Although I don't personally have the non-Haswell one I have heard that the difference in graphics/video performance is night and day. It's why I waited for the i5-4250U and went with it.

Also agree that discrete video cards would be great support but doubt you're going to see it. When I asked Gigabyte and Intel about it the biggest issue mentioned is cooling in that form factor. Wonder if that has changed with Devil's Canyon as they've been overclocked to 4.6GHz fanless.
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I have the Core i5-4250U
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What I found - the dynamic allocation of VRAM leaves some to be desired. If you have 6+ GB installed I would allocate the full 1 GB to Video that you can in the BIOS. Should fix any video issues you were having.
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I went with a BRIX Pro i5. Main reason was the quad core CPU. It's great for a mini lab box: running a few Hyper-V VMs with 2 EVO SSDs (one mSATA). I upgraded the wifi to AC. In the next version of these boxes I would want them to support 32GB of RAM.
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How's the cooling? #1 concern i hear is that when the fan runs at full speed it's noticeable. The Haswell NUC (i5-4250U) wasn't.
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I purchased one of the i3's when they initially came out to be used as a replacement home theater machine. It has been the best purchase i have ever made. the machine works flawlessly without any issues and quite as mouse.

Intel skimped on a few things though.

NO Second USB header was ever installed even though the port is there.
NO CEC support on the HDMI, Big Drawback.
NO internal Hard Drive. Big Drawback!
And What is up with no Power cord! You have got to be kidding me!
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As Intel has stated before, the kits are designed to be sold globally. No power cord means they can ship anywhere without any regional concerns. (SKUs with the 1 at the end should have it though.)
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Mine came with a power cord from Amazon.
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I tried to get a review unit for the website l work with (Popzara) a while ago mostly out of long-term curiosity, but I never believed that the performance/specs matched the consumer value for money when they were introduced with Ivy Bridge processors, It's a bit of shame because the NUC works for people adamant about HTPC/XBMC duty or workstation/Hackintosh use, or at least that's the impression I got with a brief hands-on impression at CES earlier this year.

I wish I had more than an couple hours time playing with the NUC because with the right combinations of ports installed (ideally DisplayPort 1.2/Thunderbolt/USB 3.0) it would definitely be more of a standout. In fact, most tech people I know aren't even aware that Intel makes something like the NUC.
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They can insert two projectors into it. Suppose that the first of them will project screen, and the second (the other side) will project the keyboard. Also on the top panel can be placed the touchpad.
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I have purchased three of these as XBMC/OpenElec machines. They work great. I also have a Raspberry Pi XBMC/OpenElec machine and it also works great. Big difference between the two is performance. As the article states I think the NUC is a nitch market. It would probably make a good replacement desktop machine but by the time you add the memory, drive, wireless card ,etc then you can probably get an equivalent or even cheaper machine from Dell, HP, etc. The big thing for me is the size. Since its small and very quiet it makes a great machine for the media room/family room, etc.
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If this can run linux + java + mono, I would hands down buy this for a small build server for my open source projects.
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I posted this in the NUC forum but haven't received any bites so far :)

NUC DC3217BY HTPC with 12TB Parity Storage Space - Please bring back Thunderbolt!!


NUC DC3217BY with 16GB Ram

Windows 8.1 with iTunes (yes, I have had iTunes since the beginning)

Thunderbolt daisy chain >> LaCie 5big with 5x3TB drives >> LaCie Little Big Disk with 2x32GB Intel X25E SSD's >> Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adaptor

We have done a lot of interesting things with NUC's over the years at my work but this recent addition to my home was a fun exercise using leftover "bits" from around the office. We never found a use for the LaCie 5Big because Mac's have given up on Raid 5. The 5x3TB Hitachi drives were left over after we upgraded our NAS to 4TB drives. The Little Big Disk was my travelling editing drive. The two old (and once VERY expensive) Intel X25E 32GB SLC SSD's have been gathering dust for what seems like ages.

For those of you who have never used Microsoft Storage Spaces, now is probably a good time to start. With the release of Windows 8.1 (and Server 2012 r2) Microsoft introduced the concept of using SSD’s as write-back cache which has improved the write performance of their Parity Spaces considerably. All I had to do was use the Storage Spaces GUI to combine all seven drives into one space. Then I used the following PowerShell command to create the Virtual Disk:-

New-VirtualDisk -StoragePoolFriendlyName iTunesPool -FriendlyName iTunesLibrary -UseMaximumSize -ResiliencySettingName Parity -ProvisioningType Fixed -NumberOfColumns 5 -WriteCacheSize 30GB

(Update: Please ensure that you open PowerShell using "run as administrator" or you will have permissions issues)

Microsoft then automatically finds the two SSD’s for the write-back cache and combines the 5x3TB drives to give me 11.2TB of parity protected high speed Thunderbolt-attached space on my tiny little i3 NUC.

Over the past 24 hours I have been using iTunes HomeSharing to transfer my current work iTunes Library (on an old Mac Pro – with Raid 5) consisting of just over 8TB of content to my new NUC based home library. For most of the time, the transfer is limited by the network pipe running at around 90MBytes/sec but every so often it drops to 20MBytes/sec for a short while. During this time the poor little NUC i3 runs at 100% CPU while (I have now determined) Microsoft flushes its write-back cache to disk.

If Intel had only had the foresight to continue with a Thunderbolt port on my new i5 NUC’s, this probably wouldn’t have been a problem.

So when is my new Thunderbolt 2 i7 NUC being released?
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Registered to Engadget after several years of lurking to post this:
Keep LEGO in mind, this will make sense later.
Does any of you recall the Thermaltake Level 10 PC case with BMW concept?
Not exactly confined to the restricted space of this unit, I would shift things a little:
1) Either flip the orientation of the CPU socket so that a close circle water cooling system could be installed (think of an additional box of similar size, half the height of this box, sitting beneath acting as a water tank, pump and being shaped as a radiator.
Or open the roof of the case so that a bigger heatsink could be installed.
Goal: normal desktop cpu, without any issue of throttling, and having a cpu that supports HD5200.

Now we could stop right there BUT:
2) About that LEGO, consider the above a module that replaces the red roof (and heatsink) of the one that is found in the original picture, now think of an option where you could attach this "cpu + port box" to one, or two additional GPU cases (that could fit up to GeForce Titan Black)

3) And obviously an alternative PSU box needs to be available, one that can actually support such components.

4) also yeah... regular RAM (not low voltage), thunderbolt 2.0, integrated BT4 and WiFi AC, with an optional jack for triple external antennas

TLDR: a different take on the regular dekstop pc, where instead of replacing\adding parts inside the case, you add small cases depending on your specifications and needs.
As clumsy\big as you need it to be, very elegant, and thanks to good design reduces overall heat by separating the hardware.
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