Intel’s first NUC laptop is a stylishly generic notebook

We’ve come a long way from Intel’s original Next Unit of Computing modular computer that brought tiny computing to the mainstream. We’ve come so far, in fact, we’re not sure what’s actually “NUC-y” about Intel’s new NUC M15 laptop, which is intended as a “whitebook” design that other notebook makers can utilize for their own products.

Intel unveiled its in-house-designed laptop yesterday with a list of specs that is simultaneously welcome and somewhat confusing. The NUC M15 comes with either an 11th gen Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1165G7 processor, paired with either 8GB or 16GB of LPDDR4X RAM. For ports, you get two USB-A and two Thunderbolt 4, plus a full-size HDMI port, lock port, and headset jack.

We welcome the inclusion of two old school USB-A ports, but their presence should tell you about the body of the laptop. It’s a striking CNC-milled aluminum “unibody” shell with appealing right angles everywhere. In many ways, its looks to us like a bigger version of Google’s original Chromebook Pixel.

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Intel’s NUC-based M15 laptop features a premium look and feel 

The key difference is the screen size: With a 15.6-inch diagonal display width, the NUC M15 is a pretty big laptop for “just” a low-wattage CPU without discrete graphics. Usually, premium laptops deploy 13-inch screens for low-wattage parts, and 15.6-inch displays for high-wattage CPUs with discrete graphics.

Intel takes advantage of the large body by fitting in a pretty massive 73-Watt-hour battery, which the company says is good for 16 hours of video playback. However, it also adds to the weight: All that aluminum, battery, and screen results in a hefty 3.5-pound package, “only” a half-pound heavier than a Dell XPS 13—but also “only” a half-pound lighter than Intel’s previous in-house laptop design, which we reviewed under the given name of XPG Xenia 15.

The Intel/XPG laptop impressed us. Sure, the software may not have been as polished as what you’d find in an Alienware, Asus or MSI gaming laptop, but it really packed in the performance at a reasonable price. And by reasonable, these won’t be fire-sale laptops—expect the premium body and features to cost from $1,000 to $1,500 for the NUC M15.

Just why is Intel doing this?

Because it was designed by Intel (and built by laptop maker Tongfang), the XPG Xenia 15 also made some intelligent choices to not sacrifice performance at the altar of thinness. In some ways, that’s what Intel may be trying do overall to with its “Whitebook” program. With these Whitebook kits, Intel is basically footing the bill for most of the expensive design work of making a laptop, and then letting smaller vendors add their own flourishes before selling them under their own banners.

Putting a 15- to 28-watt CPU into a 15.6-inch laptop is, perhaps, Intel’s effort to show what its Tiger Lake chips can do when they aren’t constrained by thermals. While very impressive overall, Intel’s 11th-gen sings the loudest when it’s given a little more power to consume and a little more room to get hot. 

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