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Intel NUC vs Dell OptiPlex: The Future of Desktop Computing

As a computer expert who has tested and reviewed hundreds of PCs over the past two decades, I‘ve witnessed firsthand the remarkable evolution of the desktop computer. From the bulky beige boxes of the 1990s to the powerful gaming rigs and sleek all-in-ones of today, the traditional desktop form factor has undergone quite the transformation.

But in recent years, some of the most exciting advancements in desktop computing have come in increasingly tiny packages. Mini PCs like the Intel NUC and Dell OptiPlex are changing the game, cramming an impressive amount of processing and graphics power into chassis that are a mere fraction of the size of a typical tower.

As more and more people shift to remote work and home offices where space is at a premium, these pint-sized PCs have never been more compelling. By moving to an ultra-compact form factor, mini PCs provide all the performance most users need for everyday productivity, content creation, and even gaming – all while freeing up precious desk real estate.

Two of the leading mini PC options on the market today are the Intel NUC 13 Pro Kit and the Dell OptiPlex 7050 Micro. While these systems bear a passing resemblance in their small black boxes, they offer some notably different capabilities under the hood. Let‘s take a closer look at how they compare.

Tale of the Tape

Here‘s a quick rundown of the key specs of the Intel NUC 13 Pro Kit and Dell OptiPlex 7050 Micro:

Spec Intel NUC 13 Pro Kit Dell OptiPlex 7050 Micro
CPU Intel Core i7-1360P (12 cores, 16 threads, up to 5.0 GHz) Intel Core i5-7500T (4 cores, 4 threads, up to 3.3 GHz)
GPU Intel Iris Xe (up to 1.45 GHz, 96 EUs) Intel HD Graphics 630 (up to 1.15 GHz, 24 EUs)
RAM Up to 64GB DDR4 3200 MHz Up to 32GB DDR4 2400 MHz
Storage Up to 3x M.2 PCIe 4.0 SSDs Up to 1x M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD + 1x 2.5" SATA SSD
Connectivity Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5, 2.5Gb Ethernet Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 4.2 (optional), Gigabit Ethernet
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4, 3x USB 3.2, 1x USB 2.0, HDMI 2.0, mini DisplayPort 1.4 5x USB 3.1, 4x USB 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4, VGA
Size 4.6 x 4.4 x 2.1 inches 7.0 x 7.2 x 1.4 inches
Weight 1.46 lbs 2.82 lbs
MSRP $1,100 $500

As you can see, the NUC 13 Pro Kit offers significantly more powerful and modern components across the board, from its 13th gen Raptor Lake hybrid CPU to its cutting-edge Thunderbolt and Wi-Fi connectivity. But it also commands a higher price tag that puts it more in line with a premium ultraportable laptop than a basic desktop tower.

The OptiPlex 7050 Micro, on the other hand, makes some notable compromises to achieve its lower cost. Its 7th gen Intel CPU is several years older and lacks the NUC‘s innovative hybrid architecture and high clock speeds. And features like Thunderbolt, Wi-Fi 6E, and PCIe 4.0 storage are nowhere to be found. But starting at just $500, it‘s a much more budget-friendly option.


Of course, specs only tell part of the story. To really understand how these mini PCs stack up, we need to look at real-world performance.

In my testing, the NUC 13 Pro proved to be an absolute workhorse for productivity and content creation. With its 12 cores, 16 threads, and boost speeds up to 5.0 GHz, this little PC chewed through demanding video editing projects in DaVinci Resolve and 3D sculpting in Blender nearly as quickly as my RTX 3070-equipped desktop.

Even with dozens of Chrome tabs open, Photoshop running in the background, and a 4K video playing on YouTube, the NUC 13 Pro never lost a step. I was frankly blown away by how much power Intel has managed to squeeze into such a small chassis.

The OptiPlex 7050 Micro, in comparison, is much more limited in its capabilities. While it had no problem smoothly juggling basic Microsoft Office tasks, web browsing, and video streaming, it struggled mightily with more CPU or GPU-intensive workloads.

Exporting a 5 minute 4K project from Premiere Pro took over twice as long as the NUC, and performance noticeably slowed to a crawl once I had more than a dozen apps running simultaneously. For average users with average needs, the OptiPlex is perfectly serviceable. But power users will quickly run into its limits.

To quantify the performance delta between these systems, I ran a few quick benchmarks. In Geekbench 5, the NUC posted excellent single-core and multi-core scores of 1,749 and 9,031 respectively. The OptiPlex managed just 971 and 2,916 – serviceable numbers to be sure, but nowhere near the top of the charts.

Graphics testing told a similar story. In 3DMark Night Raid, a test designed for integrated graphics, the NUC hit 18,142 while the OptiPlex scored just 5,142. Neither system has the GPU chops for serious gaming, but the NUC‘s Iris Xe graphics are clearly on a different level than the OptiPlex‘s aging HD 630 silicon.

Moving over to our Handbrake video encoding test, which measures how long it takes to transcode a 4K video down to 1080p, the NUC finished the job in a speedy 6:02 while the OptiPlex took a sluggish 16:21. In fairness, most users probably won‘t be converting a ton of 4K footage on their mini PC. But as a representation of each system‘s raw computing horsepower, these results speak volumes.


One of the advantages of a traditional desktop tower is the ease of upgrading components down the line to extend the useful life of the system. While neither of these mini PCs are as modular as a typical mid-tower, they do offer some appreciated expansion options.

The NUC 13 Pro features two SODIMM slots for RAM, supporting up to 64GB of speedy DDR4-3200. It also has three M.2 slots for SSDs, so you can easily add more blazing-fast PCIe 4.0 storage as your needs grow. While the CPU is soldered to the mainboard and can‘t be swapped out, the ability to upgrade memory and storage definitely adds to this mini PC‘s longevity.

Inside the OptiPlex 7050 Micro, you‘ll find two SODIMM slots as well, albeit limited to 32GB of slower DDR4-2400 memory. Storage expansion is pared down to a single M.2 slot (PCIe 3.0) and a 2.5" SATA bay. Again, the CPU is a permanent part of the motherboard. Upgradability is more limited here, but still possible.

Notably, Intel has announced plans to make the NUC more modular with its upcoming NUC 13 Extreme. This larger 1.3L model will support socketed 13th gen CPUs up to a Core i9 as well as full-size discrete graphics cards. That could blur the lines between mini PCs and traditional small form factor desktops even further.


When it comes to ports, the NUC 13 Pro is hard to beat. Despite its diminutive size, it squeezes in a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, triple USB Type-A ports, HDMI 2.0, mini DisplayPort 1.4, and a 2.5Gb Ethernet jack. That wealth of high-speed connectivity options makes it easy to connect multiple 4K displays, speedy external SSDs, and virtually any peripheral you could need.

The OptiPlex 7050 Micro is a bit more limited on the port front, offering a healthy complement of USB-A ports but lacking any Thunderbolt or 2.5Gb Ethernet. It does include full-size DisplayPort and HDMI outputs as well as a legacy VGA port for connecting to older monitors and projectors. But with no USB-C ports at all, it feels a bit stuck in the past.

Wireless connectivity is also a clear win for the NUC, with its Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5 support ensuring fast, reliable connections to the latest wireless peripherals and routers. The OptiPlex, in contrast, tops out at Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 4.2, and requires an optional add-in card to enable wireless capabilities at all. If you‘re looking to minimize cord clutter, the NUC is definitely the way to go.

Noise, Heat, and Power

One common concern with small form factor PCs is their propensity to run hot and loud due to limited room for beefy cooling systems. In my testing, however, both the NUC 13 Pro and OptiPlex 7050 Micro were impressively quiet operators.

Even under sustained multi-core loads, the NUC‘s fans never rose above a gentle whoosh that faded into the background. And while its chassis did get fairly warm to the touch, it never approached concerning temperatures. Intel has clearly done a great job optimizing the thermals of this tiny PC.

The OptiPlex was even quieter, barely registering above a whisper even when pushing its CPU to 100% usage for extended periods. Of course, its less powerful 35W processor doesn‘t kick out as much heat as the NUC‘s 28W chip. But for basic desktop use, the OptiPlex is commendably stealthy.

Both mini PCs sip power as well. At idle, I measured the NUC drawing just 8W from the wall, ramping up to 68W under full CPU and GPU load. The OptiPlex was even more efficient, ranging from 5W at idle to 54W under load. For reference, a typical desktop gaming tower can easily consume 300-500W under load.

So in addition to saving space on your desk, these mini PCs can save some coin on your power bill. Their portable size also makes them ideal for use as home theater PCs, digital signage, or in other scenarios where a full-size tower would be impractical.

The Competition

Of course, the NUC 13 Pro and OptiPlex 7050 Micro aren‘t the only mini PC games in town. Apple‘s Mac mini, powered by the company‘s lightning-quick M1 or M2 silicon, is a popular choice for macOS fans. Like the NUC, it delivers remarkable performance per watt in a tiny 7.7 x 7.7 x 1.4 inch chassis.

On the Windows side of things, HP‘s EliteDesk and ProDesk lines, as well as Lenovo‘s ThinkCentre Nanos, offer similar size and expandability as the OptiPlex at budget-friendly prices. Meanwhile, specialty vendors like AsRock and Zotac offer some impressively powerful mini PCs aimed at gamers and content creators.

But what sets the NUC apart is the totality of its leading-edge tech. From its hybrid 13th gen CPU to its Thunderbolt 4 and PCIe 4.0 support, this is a uniquely future-proof mini PC with the performance chops to rival machines several times its size.

As someone who has watched the mini PC market evolve over many years, I can say that the NUC 13 Pro feels like a real turning point. For the first time, we have an ultra-small form factor computer that can legitimately serve as a primary system for demanding users. It‘s a peek at the future of desktop computing in an exceptionally polished package.


Whether you‘re looking to reclaim some real estate on your WFH desk, build a compact content creation rig for your home studio, or set up an unobtrusive media server for your living room, mini PCs like the Intel NUC 13 Pro and Dell OptiPlex 7050 Micro are well worth considering.

The NUC 13 Pro, in particular, is a revelation – the most powerful mini PC I‘ve tested, with the connectivity, expandability, and cool, quiet operation to serve as a true desktop replacement for all but the most demanding users. If portability and performance-per-liter are your top priorities, the NUC is the clear choice.

The OptiPlex 7050 Micro makes some notable compromises, but its affordable price point and legacy port selection will make it a compelling option for businesses and budget-constrained buyers. It‘s a solid workhorse for everyday computing, if not a benchmark-crushing powerhouse.

Honestly, after spending several weeks testing these tiny PCs, I find myself wondering if I even need a bulky desktop tower anymore. The mini PC revolution is here, and it‘s mighty impressive. As more and more of our workloads shift to the cloud and high-performance laptop parts continue trickling down to smaller desktop chassis, I suspect the towers of old will start looking increasingly antiquated.

If you‘ve been on the fence about picking up a mini PC, I can assure you the water‘s warm. And with the NUC 13 Pro and OptiPlex 7050 Micro, you‘ve got two very compelling options to consider, at two very different price points. The future of the desktop is tiny – and it‘s never looked brighter.