Less Is More–The Intel NUC 5i5RYK

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, June 7, 2015

I love technological marvels. I’ve been lusting after the new iMac, the one with the 5K 27” screen, but since I didn’t have that kind of money my new tech toy is the tiny Intel NUC 5i5RYK – a powerful desktop computer smaller than a book. Whenever I buy a new computer I have great expectations before my purchase, and all kinds of imaginative ideas how I would redesign the computer afterwards. Because I’m reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was inspired to get the NUC to significantly reduce computer clutter.

The evolution of computers in my lifetime has been towards smallness. How little can a fully functioning desktop computer get, and still offer all the usability and configurability that a traditional desktop offered? Many users have already given up on desktops, switching to laptops, tablets and smartphones, but those mobile devices have limitations that force their users to buy extra gadgets to return them to desktop functionality – like keyboards for tablets. Or they invent kludgy apps, like programs that use the camera to scan images. People write novels and edit movies on laptops, but it’s doubtful we’ll see that kind of work done on a smartphone or tablet. And even heavy-duty laptop users often add an external monitor, mouse and printer.

This experience has made me wonder what the perfect desktop computer setup would be for me. Contemplating tidying up my life reveals the essence of my tech needs.

  • Fast computer (I hate waiting)
  • 27” monitor with highest resolution possible (I love to see the digital world as sharply as possible)
  • scanner (paper input)
  • printer (paper output)
  • speakers (digital music output)
  • keyboard mouse (for me the best interface for communicating with computers)

I figure the Apple 5K iMac with its 27” screen is about ideal for reducing the size of a computer and leaving it big enough for productive work. However, it costs a fair penny. Since I’m a do-it-yourselfer and cheap, I bought an Intel NUC 5i5RYK. The NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is tiny. My NUC was $384, plus $98 for 16GB of memory, and $117 for a Samsung 250GB M2 SSD, and $20 for an Amazon Basics wireless keyboard and mouse.

NUC with wall wart

The machine the NUC is replacing is a desktop I built myself with an Intel i5 2500K CPU, 8GB of memory, a 2TB drive, housed in a spacious Antec ATX case with 600w power supply. The NUC seems about 1/30th to 1/40th the size, yet has roughly the same capabilities. Intel even claims the NUC can drive a 4K monitor – something I want to buy in my future. I threw Windows 10 Technical Preview on it and installed all my favorite software. My desk is closer to the Zen simplicity of my fantasy, and my home office is silent enough for meditation.  Since I ran my old desktop 24×7, I didn’t know how much ambient noise it made.

Both machines are fast enough for me. The old chip, a 4-core i5, ran at 3.3 Ghz, and the new 2-core i5 runs at a much slower clock speed, but is a 5th generation Broadwell chip that is much more efficient. I assume my old machine has a lot more muscle for processor intensive work, but I don’t do those kinds of jobs, nor do I play games. I’ve also learned moving to a SSD drive is blazing fast compared to the mechanical drive. I don’t ever want to go back. The boot up time is so fast I don’t mind shutting the NUC down when I’m not using it. Not only is this computer small, but it only uses 6-30 watts of electricity, as oppose to 80-200 watts of the old machine.

My fantasy before buying the NUC was to have a very clean desk. I pictured this simple box sitting on the desk, out of sight, or even attached to the back of my 27” monitor. The NUC does come with a plate to do that. However, I didn’t foresee how many wires I’d have to plug into the thing, which has turned it into a desktop octopus. It has two USB ports on the front and back, including one powered port in the front.

It terms of clutter configurability, I wished all it’s ports were on one side. What I need is two USB hubs. One to snake around to the front of the monitor for easy access for removable devices, and second hub for permanent connects I can hide in the back.

I currently have a 27” 1080p monitor without USB ports. I plan to buy a 27” 4K monitor with 4 USB 3.0 ports when the price is right.  That should solve most of those wiring problems.  You can never have too many USB ports, but how many are too little? I never had enough USB ports on my iMac at work before I retired, or my big desktop at home. I’m always swapping out cables. Engineers can design smaller computers, but we still have all the peripherals to deal with. I have these USB devices (but don’t always use them):

  1. Printer/scanner/copier all-in-one.
  2. Web cam
  3. Microphone
  4. Wireless nub for keyboard and mouse
  5. UPS backup
  6. External drives
  7. Apple iPhone/touch/Nano/iPad and other MP3 devices
  8. Kindles and a Nexus 7 
  9. Cameras
  10. Memory card readers
  11. LP turntable
  12. External Soundblaster

All-in-one computers elegantly solve the problem of reducing clutter, but if something goes wrong, they are hard to fix. Modular systems are ungainly, but it’s easy to swap out components. The goal is to get rid of wires and cables. A wireless keyboard and mouse are about perfect in their minimal footprint. All-in-one printer/copier/scanner machines are approaching an ideal minimal design. My Epson WF-3540 has SD card readers and a USB port, and it’s wireless. Sadly, the wireless only works with printing, but I can print from my iPad and iPhone. I wished the scanner would work through the Wi-Fi so I could store the Epson out of sight. I hate seeing it on my desk.

My speakers are now the ugliest thing on my desktop. Each speaker is about seven times the size of the Intel NUC, plus an ugly subwoofer under the desk, and they have a lot of tangled wiring. No all-in-one computer has great sound, but I might find high-fidelity nirvana with a sound bar, or a SONOS system. There’s no reason why the music playing from my computer must come from near my computer. On the other hand, Mackie Studio Monitor Speakers might be the way to go.

Finally, I have my ugly UPS surge protector. Since the new setup is so low powered, I will be able to get a much smaller UPS in the future. Most people don’t use a UPS backup, and I wonder if I could live without one too.

I haven’t decided if I’ll put iTunes on this system, or even use Windows Media Player. I only use iTunes to put Audible.com files on old Nano players. I only used Windows Media Player to rip CDs. I’m very close to giving up CDs and MP3s because of Spotify, and I get all my audio books through my iPhone now.

Most of my data and photo files are in the cloud. I think going from the 2TB HD to a 250GB SSD is possible.

I’m already well satisfied with the NUC. I gave one of my desktops away, and packed the other in the back of a closet. My on-the-go computer is a Toshiba Chromebook 2 with a 1080p IPS screen. It’s also tiny. Once I let go of my old desktop, I’ll be done with CD/DVD/BD drives and mechanical disk drives. Next, I wonder if I can ever give up printing and scanning?

JWH

Simplifying an Overloaded Life

I found a web site today that inspires me, Zen Habits by Leo Babauta.  Babauta claims to have found a key to successful living by making one small change at a time, and over time these small changes have led to major changes in his life.  Since he is succeeding at things I have longed to attain, his web site made me sit up and take notice.

zenstones

I have been trying to make dozens of changes in my life for years, and although I succeed in small ways, it’s always with one step forward and two steps back inefficiency.  Babauta’s breakthrough insight is to pick one goal, focus on it exclusively, and stick to it until it becomes a habit before attempting any other changes.  He even created The Sea Change Program that focused on 12 monthly goals, many of which matched mine.  Unfortunately, his study group seems to have been designed for 2013, so I’m 12 months late.  His goals were:  stop procrastinating, eat healthier, meditate, exercise, write daily, simplify your day, get organized, declutter, be grateful, reduce/eliminate debt, read more and let go – are almost a perfect fit to my goals, if I had the sense to organize my thoughts, which is why they resonate so strongly.

Procrastination

My life has been one long act of procrastination.  I have so many things that I try to do, that I want to do, that I feel required to do, that I do very little at all. Also my sense of decisiveness makes Hamlet look like General Douglas MacArthur.  Babauta’s idea of picking one goal and sticking to it exclusively until it’s attain scares me on many levels.  First, I have to pick the one and only goal, two I have to ignore all the others, and three I have to act.  That requires both decisiveness and commitment, two traits that aren’t in my genetic makeup.

Health

Interestingly, Babauta’s second goal is to eat healthier.  Because my arteries got clogged enough to require getting a heart stent this year, plus discovering that I’m gluten intolerant, and finally having my GP and cardiologist both freak out over my cholesterol just weeks apart causes outside forces to make a decisive decision for me – eat healthier.  So my goal for December 2013 is to studying my diet and health books and solve once and for all what my eating habits should be.  I have books by five different doctors each claiming their diet will restore my health – unfortunately they don’t completely agree.  Strangely enough, they do agree on enough to make certain eating decisions obvious – eat more vegetables and fruits, and stop eating junk food, that I can commit to the basics right away.

My goal for December will be to study all my health and diet books, decide what is good to eat, to stop eating what is bad, to develop a repertoire of meals to regularly cook, research menus at local restaurants that will support my healthy diet, study how to buy and store fresh healthy produce, learn techniques to cook all the meals I need to eat, and then stick to my diet so I can give away all my health and diet books and stop thinking about food.

Discovering that I’m gluten intolerant has been interesting.  I’ve had stomach problems for years which I’ve attributed to many causes, but now that I’ve gone several weeks without Pepcid and Tums,  and my stomach is quiet, the chest pains have faded away, the pains in my knee have disappeared, and my hip pain has been reduced so much that on some days I don’t even notice it, I’ve come to believe that what I eat does affect my health.  Now I just need to learn what to eat or not eat to reduce the clogging in my arteries.  My cardiologist doesn’t seem to believe that diet can reverse plague in arteries, but I have books by other doctors who claim it can.  I need to follow what they say to test their theory.

Meditate

Mediating has always been a mystery to me, but I keep coming across people who claim it works.  It shall be a future goal.  I wonder why Babauta ranks it third though.  Obviously he considers it very important.

Exercise

I already routinely do physical therapy exercises for my spinal stenosis related back problems.  My next goal is to commit to additional daily exercises that are more aerobic, strength and stamina building.  I don’t see why I can’t combine this with my December health goal, but I’ll follow Babauta’s advice and make it a separate goal for January.

Write Daily

I already write daily, but it’s blogging.  My ultimate goal once I get my health related goals accomplished is to write fiction daily.

Simplify

Now this goal is one I ache to achieve.  Years ago when I got my debt under control it was by focusing on paying off one debt at a time until I had only one credit card which I charged everything and paid off each month.  This mirrors Babauta’s ideas about goals.  I haven’t worried about paying bills since.  My daily life is so full of distractions that I feel like I have a thousand bill collectors after me.  The major cause of this is I want to do too many things.  I need to simplify my goals and ambitions.  I’d like to get up in the morning and only think about writing my novel.

Organize

Three of Babauta’s goals simplify, organize and declutter seem to be closely related.  Maybe as I work on them their individual distinctiveness will emerge.

Declutter

I’m constantly trying to declutter.  I’ve been doing this my whole life.  But fighting the battle of endless crap accumulation is an endless war.  I would think decluttering would come before simplify and organize.  I could write a million words about mental and physical clutter.  I don’t know how I’m ever going to accomplish this goal.  For example, I have over 1,000 books, audiobooks and ebooks that I own hoping to read.  I have a book shopping habit where I buy more books to read in one year than I could read in ten.  And I figure there’s easily 10,000 books I would love to read.  I think I already own more unread books than I have time to read for the rest of my life.  Reading is my life – so how could I possibly declutter all the books in my life?  How do I organize my reading when I want to master all the major literature of history.  When you add music, movies and television shows, you can imagine how cluttered my mind is when it comes my pop culture addiction.

Gratefulness

I’ve always been grateful my whole life.  One of my core hopes is that I have a moment before I die where I can contemplate how grateful I am for this chance to exist before I cease to exist.  This is one goal I have down.  All the time I spend with my friends and family, all books I read, the songs I hear, the shows I watch on television, all remind me how grateful I am to be here. 

Eliminate Debt

I’ve already conquered this goal too except for my mortgage.  Now that I’ve retired I’ve got to learn to spend less, and on that too.

Read More

Another goal I don’t have to worry about.  I should probably study how to read less, but I won’t.  My life is reading.  With audio books, ebooks, tablet computers, the world wide web, I’ve become more and more efficient at reading.

Letting Go

Now this one is complex.  I’m not sure what Babauta plans to say, but I went through a Buddhist phase in my early twenties and it has stuck to me my whole life.  Mentally, I’ve let go of so much over the decades that even though my mind is starting to fail, I like my headspace so much now that I never wish to be younger.  Oh sure, I’d love a younger, healthier body, but I would never trade if it meant I had to go back to a younger mental self.  I’m like a Hindu who has done a lot of work to get off the wheel of life and death, and I wouldn’t want to undo all that effort.  That’s how I define letting go.  But I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe we get multiple lifetimes to work on letting go.  We have to do it all in this lifetime.

But what are we letting go of?  Now that’s the interesting part.  If you’re Buddhist or Hindu, then it’s desire.  If you are Zen Buddhist its illusions.  But if you’re a westerner with heavy Christian heritage, it’s sin.  If you’re an atheist, it’s all three and more.  It’s a complete deprogramming of the past, and the twelve goals Babauta has selected is great start.

JWH – 12/2/13

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