Raspberry Pi vs Intel NUC: Need to Know

Reviews 21 Jan, 2013

The budget Raspberry Pi is the best value ARM-based system available, but does the handheld Intel Core i3 NUC completely outshine it in this David vs. Goliath battle?

Verdict: 
Intel's NUC shows just what can be done with a low-end Core i3 processor and for firms the ability to run Microsoft Windows 7 or Windows 8 may rule out the Raspberry Pi completely. As general office desktop machine both the NUC and the Raspberry Pi are able to cope just fine but with the NUC there's more than enough headroom for CPU intensive tasks, something the Raspberry Pi lacks. However, the price escalates quickly and it may be worth investing in a tablet or laptop instead. The Raspberry Pi does very well with its hardware and as a device that can truly be used anywhere thanks to its size and the ability to transport the user environment by plugging in an SD card. However, for those who want to do serious workloads with a small computer Intel's NUC, despite its considerable price difference, is the one we would go for...although we'd probably get a Pi to sit on top.

Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) brings X86 processing power in its smallest form factor yet and IT Pro looks at how the NUC compares to the Raspberry Pi, which uses an ARM-based SoC design.

This isn't a traditional head-to-head. We didn't run the devices through a battery of benchmarks - primarily as the winner would be obvious. Plus the devices have two different aims.

The Pi has been developed by non-for-profit charity for use by enthusiasts and to help children learn to program. The NUC is more of a traditional commercial proposal – aimed at those who want to be able to carry around PC power in the palm of their hand.

So what's the point of this? With ARM chips making the transition over to tablet/laptop computing, and Intel looking to enter the mobile market, these sorts of battles are going to become increasingly common. We take a look at the implemention of these devices and how they are likely to be used.

Hardware

The first generation Raspberry Pi is powered by a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC with a moderate 700MHz clock speed - in real-world terms this is equivalent to a mid-range smartphone. The Pi has 512MB of RAM and is designed to be bootable from an SD card.

The Pi is usable out-of-the-box, but its System-on-Chip (SoC) design means that components are soldered on and cannot be upgraded.

Meanwhile, the Intel NUC is powered by an Intel Core i3 3127U (dual-core 64-bit running at 1.8GHz) and there is support for 2 x SO-DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR3 1,600MHz RAM. Ironically, the NUC is not ready to use immediately. Users will have to fit in the RAM, SSD and Wi-Fi adapter - but this does make it upgradeable.

In terms of ports there is little to differentiate the devices. The Pi features two USB 2 ports, HDMI output, composite video output and 3.5mm audio jack and an Ethernet socket. Intel's DC3217BY motherboard has three USB 2 ports, a HDMI output and a Thunderbolt socket. It doesn't pack an R45 jack either, which limits the functionality.

Intel's decision to stick with USB 2 is surprising and while a Thunderbolt socket offers promise of high bandwidth connectivity to hard drives and a second display output, currently devices that use the Thunderbolt interface are few and far between and come at a substantial premium.

The Raspberry Pi offers remarkably good connectivity options and the inclusion of a hardware Ethernet port is a boon. Wireless connectivity can also be added through a USB dongle.

While Intel's NUC is powered by a laptop-style power brick, the Raspberry Pi can be powered from a single USB port though, a USB power adaptor such as those used to charge smartphones is recommended.

Nevertheless the fact remains that the Raspberry Pi's power adaptor can be bought for £6 for those that don't already have one lying around and is smaller and lighter than a laptop power brick.

Ultimately Intel's NUC DC3217BY will win on just about every CPU, memory and storage benchmark thrown at it but in terms of what can be connected to the two devices and the expansion potential, the Raspberry Pi does better than the NUC.

The Lowdown

The Raspberry Pi is incredible value for money. Despite being £25, the device packs slightly better connectivity than the NUC, with key features such as the Ethernet jack included.

Meanwhile, the NUC is over 10x the amount. It costs £220 ex VAT - but you have to add on the cost of RAM, an SSD and Wi-Fi adaptor. Intel has failed to make use of USB 3 compatibility, instead choosing to go with USB 2 and Thunderbolt technology.

Specifications: 

Raspberry Pi:

Chipset: Broadcom BCM2835 SoC with 700MHz clock speed

Operating system: Linux

RAM: 256MB

Storage: SD card

Connections: 2x USB ports, 1x Ethernet port, 1x HDMI, 1x Audio jack, 1x microUSB power supply

Intel NUC:

Barebone system with CPU, cooling, case and power adapter supplied

CPU: Intel Core i3 3127U (dual-core 64-bit running at 1.8GHz)

GPU: Intel HD Graphics 4000 (integrated into CPU)

RAM: 2x SO-DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR3 1,600MHz

Expansion slots: 2 mini PCI-Express (1 full length, 1 half-length)

External connectivity: 3x USB 2 ports, 1x Thunderbolt port, 1x

Kensington Lock

Dimensions (including case): 4.59in x 4.41in x 1.50in

65W external power adapter

Pages

Disqus - noscript

Why would you even compare a £25 and a £220 computer? Just because they have the same size? Might as well compare it to a Macbook or a full size computer while you're at it...

"The killer blow for most users is that the Raspberry Pi cannot run Microsoft Windows due to its ARM-based chip." I don't think anyone looks at a Raspberry Pi to run Windows. Also, Windows 8 runs on ARM processors. I can't see how this is even a comparison. The Pi's main function isn't to be a desktop replacement.

These machines have two completely different user bases. The Pi is designed for hobbyists and tinkerers to build cool stuff with. It is also for introducing school kids to physical computing and programming. The Intel device is designed to be a desktop replacement.

Comparing the two only makes this blog less IT Pro and more IT Clueless.

Those with somewhat decent home cinema setups have AV recievers that do the audio decoding. 1080p with high bitrate DTS sound is no problem for the Pi provided your AV reciever does the decoding.

This article is stupid.

You have so spectacularly missed the point of the Raspberry Pi that this article can only be a joke. Did you let the 13 year old work experience kid write this? No, scratch that. I would expect a 13 year old to be significantly more in touch with the real world than this article would suggest.

If you have even considered the rPi as a standalone professional workstation or server choice, then that's your first problem. You might be a CIO -- and not a very good one. The fact that you would also be considering the NUC for the same purposes is another bad sign. Workstation users beware!

This post is satire, right?

if Raspberry Pi Foundation would try their hands at an onboard VIA Eden, some onboard RAM, a miniPCI connector, heck, even a SODIMM slot, etc, they might get something along the x86-x64 line, with the price increase du rigeur, they will get some board a la CubieBoard, or ODroid, sizewise, and still have it sold at somewhere between 100 and 150 USD... So this isn't really the point.

What a pity Intel really can't produce something that's sensible - thunderbolt on a system like this is just plain overkill and no Ethernet socket is plain silly!!

This is just utterly bizarre - which editor commissioned this piece and why did "Bob Charlie" even bother accepting the brief.