After getting my INTEL NUC, I decided to install openelec (a Linux distro that just runs XBMC).
I chose openelec because I was building this for a 70 year old in-law with no experience with computers whatsoever. I built an E-350 AMD Foxconn build almost six months ago for my computer illiterate 80 year old dad. He has been using it ever since with no problems. He is 80 and has zero, absolutely zero experiences with any computers whatsoever. Hence, openelec with a remote control is a no brainer. Moreover, there are a few video add-ons that make openelec into an IPTV (IP based TV) that gets foreign tv programming. I am currently paying a few dollars a month to comcast for these channels and a separate satellite for free terrestrial foreign TV will cost me around $500. This build pretty much make sense for my use case.
It was basically a 10 minute install. I downloaded the INTEL x64 build, popped in 4GB of RAM I had lying around, plugged in HDMI, plugged in keyboard and booted into the installer. Voila, 10 minutes later, I had a build. Once installed, I no longer need a keyboard to function as I will only be using a remote control with it.
Here is a picture to give you an idea of how small this thing is compared to a third generation AppleTV. The wire below is the USB infrared sensor for the remote. As for USB storage, you only need 1GB for the entire OS. Hence, any old USB stick lying around would work.
The key ingredient to a successful openelec appliance is the remote. If you use a wireless keyboard, a 60-80 year old won't figure it out. However with a decent remote control, you can teach them to navigate. For my dad and his old friends, it works.
I got a few of these Windows Media Center MCE usb remotes from amazon.com. They go for around $8-13.
With a remote, you no longer have a "computer" for those lay folks. Rather, it now becomes an "appliance."
Installation is rather straightforward. Plug in ethernet, HDMI, micro USB, USB for remote and power.
One thing that I forgot to mention earlier, INTEL does not supply the AC mickey mouse three head cable. They provide the power supply but no $3 cable which is strangely odd. I happen to have a few spare ones lying around.
Once you boot into openelec, the installation is pretty straightforward and the whole install took less than 3 minutes even with an old slow USB stick. I didn't want to add any cost to this (e.g. install an MSATA SSD) and booting into USB is still very quick. The whole OS boots in less than 30 seconds. I spent more time plugging in the cables and looking for a spare keyboard for the install.
In my TV stand, the NUC is now in the middle of an AppleTV and a 4 year old Western Digital WDTV media player. Again, these pictures are for reference in regards to how small this device is.
I installed a few add-ons and activated a few things. For example, the Plex-XBMC plugin works like a charm. This device now pulls from my Plex media server and all the video is served from the remote. I still have a free USB port in the front if I want to plug in a USB drive or stick for movies. XBMC also have UPnP, SAMBA sharing and even Apple AirPlay receiver support.
The openelec build is strictly network based. With a 1GB usb stick, I don't need to store anything locally. This HTPC is going into the guest room so my guests (the inlaws) can easily pull up programming and video on-demand.
I have to say, it has been working very good even for a "Celeron" 847 1.1 GHZ build. I haven't encountered any heating issues. So far, it is doing it's job very well. I can play 1080p HD content through the network and locally. I've even thrown a few 10GB MKVs and it was able to play with no sweat. My earlier Foxconn AMD E-350 build often struggled with larger MKV files whereas this one didn't. I'm sure the higher clocked i3 models would do better but for my needs, this processor set-up works admirably. There has been a few times where a few of the 3rd party "add-ons" I've been using have locked up the machine but a hard reset usually solved the problem.
The great thing about this is power consumption:
1.2W when the machine is off.
IDLE is roughly 14W and playing video (720P and 1080P) is any where from 14 to 18 Watts.
So there you have it. The INTEL NUC is a pretty good XBMC box. I'm sure you can probably do a few cool things with this box. It is basically just a computer and everyone I know have been incredibly surprised. They ask, "is that another media player, streamer or Android set-top box?" I reply, "nope, just another computer." And when I tell them these are easily hackintoshable, their eyes light up. I probably won't go there with this but I think I'm going to get another one just to mess around with for myself.
Link: openelec INTEL build.