I’ve written before, in Contemplating the Cute Brick, that I’m a big fan of Intel’s NUC line of small-form-factor computers. Over the last week I’ve been having some unpleasant learning experiences around them. I’m still a fan, but I’m shipping this post where the search engines can see it in support of future NUC owners in trouble.
Two years ago I bought an NUC for my wife Cathy to replace her last tower-case PC – the NUC8i3BEH1. This model was semi-obsolete even then, but I didn’t want one of the newer i5 or i7 NUCs because I didn’t think it would fit my wife’s needs as well.
What my wife does with her computer doesn’t tax it much. Web browsing, office work, a bit of gaming that does not extend to recent AAA titles demanding the latest whizzy graphics card. I thought her needs would be best served by a small, quiet, low-power-consumption machine that was cheap enough to be considered readily disposable at the end of its service life. The exact opposite of my Great Beast…
The NUC was an experiment that made Cathy and me happy. She especially likes the fact that it’s small and light enough to be mounted on the back of her monitor, so it effectively takes up no desk space or floor area in her rather crowded office. I like the NUC’s industrial design and engineering – lots of nice little details like the four case screws being captive to the baseplate so you cannot lose them during disassembly.
Also. Dammit, NUCs are pretty. I say dammit because I feel like this shouldn’t matter to me and am a bit embarrassed to discover that it does. I like the color and shape and feel of these devices. Someone did an amazing job of making them unobtrusively attractive.
Last week, Cathy registered a complaint that her NUC was making a funny noise. I went and listened and, alas, it was clearly the sound of the fan bearing in the NUC, screaming. That sound means you have worn or dirty bearing surfaces and the fan could fail at any time, forcing the device to shut down before it roasts its own components.
PSA #1: If you web-search for “NUC fan replacement”, you may well land at the website of a company specializing in NUC sales and support, named “Simply NUC”; I did. Do not buy from these people; they are lazy jerks.
First reason I know this: the “Fans” subpage in their Accessories section carries a link to exactly one model of fan. No indication of the range of NUC variants it matches, and not even a general warning that there are NUC models that require a different-sized fan. I had to find this out the hard way by pulling out the innards of Cathy’s NUC and sitting the fan I bought from Simply NUC next to it.
Second reason I know this: Simply NUC tech support was unhelpful, telling me they only carry that one fan and suggesting that I RMA Cathy’s machine back to Intel for repair, because obviously there could be no conceivable problem with it being out of service for an indefinite amount of time.
When I asked if Simply NUC knew of a source for a fan that would fit my 8i3BEH1 – a reasonable question, I think, to ask a company that loudly claims to be a one-stop shop for all NUC needs – the reply email told me I’d have to do “personal research” on that.
It turns out that if the useless drone who was Simply NUC “service” had cared about doing his actual job, he could have the read the fan’s model number off the image I had sent him into a search box and found multiple sources within seconds, because that’s what I then did. Of course this would have required caring that a customer was unhappy, which apparently they don’t do at Simply NUC.
Third reason I know this: My request for a refund didn’t even get refused; it wasn’t even answered.
It actually took some work to get the NUC board and fan out if its case. I watched some YouTube videos purporting to illuminate the process; none of them quite matched the hardware I was looking at and none told me the One Weird Trick I actually needed to know. Therefore:
PSA #2: If you’ve taken out both hold-down screws and the board still seems mechanically locked in place, it may well be because the NUC case is designed like that. On some NUCs you need to flex the two case walls with connector ports outwards by about a millimeter on each side so the connectors will pop out of their exit holes. The case is made of thin, springy metal; thumb pressure will do it.
So now I’m waiting on a second replacement fan to arrive. But there is good news; while I had the thing disassembled I blew out all the dust I could see with a can of air, playing it liberally over the fan. And since I reassembled it, it hasn’t screamed once. So:
PSA#3: Your NUC fan noise problem might be solvable just by blowing out the moondust under and around the fan bearings.
We’ll see. If I’m feeling lazy when the new fan arrives, I’ll leave it in the parts drawer until and unless the one now in the NUC fails. If I’m feeling energetic, I’ll swap in the new one, then disassemble and thoroughly clean and oil the old one before putting it in the drawer.