Think that Apple is already making Macs as tiny and tightly-packed as they possibly can? Think again. Intel is showing off a new demo spec that could shrink down Thunderbolt-compatible, Sandy Bridge Mac minis to the size of the current Apple TV.
Intel’s calling their new spec the NUC, or “Next Unit of Computing,” a bold name for such a tiny PC.
The NUC is primarily aimed at challenging ARM’s dominance in the living room with set-top boxes like the Boxee Box, Apple TV and the Roku box, or homebrew newcomers like the Raspberry Pi.
The distinction is one of power. Inside the NUC is a complete Core i3 or i5 Sandy Bridge computer, including Thunderbolt, HDMI, USB connectivity, laptop memory ports, mini PCIe connectors, and HD3000 graphics. In other words, basically everything that’s in the existing Mac mini, except a lot smaller.
The great thing about the NUC is that depending on the chip you drop into the machine, it can either be a budget HTPC, a la the Apple TV, and sell for under $99, or a more powerful Mac mini-type PC. Or both!
Theoretically, Apple could adopt something like this for the Mac mini to shrink the size of the machine down to about the size of a pack of coasters. It’s unlikely though that Cupertino would ever consider Intel to power the Apple TV: they seem perfectly happy letting repurposed A-series ARM chips and iOS do double-duty there.