Regular readers of We Got Served will know that I’m a big fan of Intel NUC mini PCs. These small form factor computers have been around for a few years now and are excellent choices for desktop use, home theater PCs, mini media servers and more.
I have a small collection of NUCs that I use in our NAS and networking reviews. With pre-configured and self-build options supporting budget CPUs like the Intel Celeron up to crazy Skull Canyon Intel Core i7s there’s a NUC for every budget.
Typically, I run Windows 10 on these PCs, but they actually support a range of operating systems. Windows Server and Windows Embedded, alongside legacy Windows client SKUs can be installed but with a little help you can get Linux running on some NUCs too. Intel’s official OS support page for NUC mentions Arch Linux, Fedora, Gentoo, Linux Mint, OpenElec and Ubuntu installations among others, although there are “not validated” by Intel, so there’s no first-party support.
While Windows works really well on the Intel NUC, there are benefits to running a Linux OS on the PC, especially if it’s a lower-end model. Linux variants tend to run on a much smaller resource footprint than Windows, opening up the potential for a lower cost, yet high performing home theater PC. Indeed, Intel itself has published a white paper with instructions for configuring a home theater NUC running Linux Mint and Kodi (XBMC), so it’s definitely an option to check out.
Of course, before jumping in with both feet, if you’ve already installed Windows on your Intel NUC you may wish to try a Linux distro alongside, rather than wipe the drive clean and start afresh. If that’s the case, here’s how to dual boot a Linux OS (in this case, Ubuntu) with Windows 10 on an Intel NUC.
1. Upgrade Your BIOS
For this guide, our test subject is one of last year’s Intel NUC models, the NUC6i5SYK. It’s a fabulous PC, powered by a 6th generation Intel Core i5-6260U processor with Intel Iris graphics 540 supporting 4K display, an M.2 SSD slot, integrated 802.11ac wireless, full-sized HDMI (1.4a) and Mini DisplayPort, 7.1 surround sound and more. How they fit all of these features into such a small, attractively priced kit is beyond me.
Gushing aside, the first step I’d always recommend when pushing outside (relatively) of traditional usage is to ensure your PC’s motherboard is running the latest BIOS release. On first release, like all PCs, NUCs have been known to suffer from minor issues, but Intel are pretty decent about servicing their devices with regular updates. It’s really worthwhile ensuring your PC is running the latest and greatest firmware before proceeding with an OS installation.
The NUC Blog is a great resource in general for NUC fans, but it also publishes an up to date list of BIOS releases for each NUC model. Otherwise, head to the Intel website to find BIOS updates for your particular model.
While I usually keep my BIOS up to date, I see that Intel sneaked out an update for this NUC last month. They offer a range of methods for installing BIOS updates, but installation from a USB drive is perhaps the safest. Download the Recovery BIOS (.BIO) file from the Intel website and copy it to the root of a blank USB thumb drive.
Plug the USB device into the NUC’s USB port and power on or, if you’re already running, restart the PC. During boot, when the F7 prompt is displayed, press your F7 key to enter the BIOS Flash Update tool. I usually recommend that you work with a wired keyboard and mouse – just to ensure your input controls work – but I’ve always had success with Logitech wireless keyboards/trackpads like the /K410 when working with the NUC BIOS too.
Unlike the slick-looking UEFI BIOS Interface you see when configuring BIOS Settings on the NUC, the Flash Update Tool is strictly old school. Select your USB device, which should be listed under Mass Storage and press Enter.
Now select the .BIO file held on the USB drive and press Enter once again. You’ll be asked to confirm the update by pressing Enter a third time, after which the update will begin.
A couple of minutes later, the update will be complete – you can remove the USB drive and reboot the PC.