How to Install Linux on Intel NUC

The previous week, I got myself an Intel NUC. Though it is a tiny device, it is equivalent to a full-fledged desktop CPU. Most of the Linux-based mini PCs are actually built on top of the Intel NUC devices.

I got the ‘barebone’ NUC with 8th generation Core i3 processor. Barebone means that the device has no RAM, no hard disk and obviously, no operating system. I added an 8GB RAM from Crucial (around $33) and a 240 GB Western Digital SSD (around $45).

Altogether, I had a desktop PC ready in under $400. I already have a screen and keyboard-mouse pair so I am not counting them in the expense.

Intel Nuc
A brand new Intel NUC NUC8i3BEH at my desk with Raspberry Pi 4 lurking behind

The main reason why I got Intel NUC is that I want to test and review various Linux distributions on real hardware. I have a Raspberry Pi 4 which works as an entry-level desktop but it’s an ARM device and thus there are only a handful of Linux distributions available for Raspberry Pi.

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Installing Linux on Intel NUC

I started with Ubuntu 18.04 LTS version because that’s what I had available at the moment. You can follow this tutorial for other distributions as well. The steps should remain the same at least till the partition step which is the most important one in the entire procedure.

Step 1: Create a live Linux USB

Download Ubuntu 18.04 from its website. Use another computer to create a live Ubuntu USB. You can use a tool like Rufus or Etcher. On Ubuntu, you can use the default Startup Disk Creator tool.

Step 2: Make sure the boot order is correct

Insert your USB and power on the NUC. As soon as you see the Intel NUC written on the screen, press F2 to go to BIOS settings.

BIOS Settings of Intel NUC
BIOS Settings in Intel NUC

In here, just make sure that boot order is set to boot from USB first. If not, change the boot order.

If you had to make any changes, press F10 to save and exit. Else, use Esc to exit the BIOS.

Step 3: Making the correct partition to install Linux

Now when it boots again, you’ll see the familiar Grub screen that allows you to try Ubuntu live or install it. Choose to install it.

First few installation steps are simple. You choose the keyboard layout, and the network connection (if any) and other simple steps.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 1 Tutorial
Choose the keyboard layout while installing Ubuntu Linux

You may go with the normal installation that has a handful of useful applications installed by default.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 2 Tutorial

The interesting screen comes next. You have two options:

  • Erase disk and install Ubuntu: Simplest option that will install Ubuntu on the entire disk. If you want to use only one operating system on the Intel NUC, choose this option and Ubuntu will take care of the rest.
  • Something Else: This is the advanced option if you want to take control of things. In my case, I want to install multiple Linux distribution on the same SSD. So I am opting for this advanced option.
Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 3 Tutorial

If you opt for “Erase disk and install Ubuntu”, click continue and go to the step 4.

If you are going with the advanced option, follow the rest of the step 3.

Select the SSD disk and click on New Partition Table.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 4 Tutorial

It will show you a warning. Just hit Continue.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 5 Tutorial

Now you’ll see a free space of the size of your SSD disk. My idea is to create an EFI System Partition for the EFI boot loader, a root partition and a home partition. I am not creating a swap partition. Ubuntu creates a swap file on its own and if the need be, you can easily create swap files in Linux to extend the swap size.

I’ll leave almost 200 GB of free space on the disk so that I could install other Linux distributions here. You can utilize all of it for your home partitions. Keeping separate root and home partitions help you when you want to save reinstall the system

Select the free space and click on the plus sign to add a partition.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 6 Tutorial

Usually 100 MB is sufficient for the EFI but some distributions may need more space so I am going with 500 MB of EFI partition.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 7 Tutorial

Next, I am using 20 GB of root space. If you are going to use only one distributions, you can increase it to 40 GB easily.

Root is where the system files are kept. Your program cache and installed applications keep some files under the root directory. I recommend reading about the Linux filesystem hierarchy to get more knowledge on this topic.

Provide the size, choose Ext4 file system and use / as the mount point.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 8 Tutorial

The next is to create a home partition. Again, if you want to use only one Linux distribution, go for the remaining free space. Else, choose a suitable disk space for the Home partition.

Home is where your personal documents, pictures, music, download and other files are stored.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 9 Tutorial

Now that you have created EFI, root and home partitions, you are ready to install Ubuntu Linux. Hit the Install Now button.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 10 Tutorial

It will give you a warning about the new changes being written to the disk. Hit continue.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 11 Tutorial

Step 4: Installing Ubuntu Linux

Things are pretty straightforward from here onward. Choose your time zone right now or change it later.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 12 Tutorial

On the next screen, choose a username, hostname and the password.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 13 Tutorial

It’s a wait an watch game for next 7-8 minutes.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 14 Tutorial

Once the installation is over, you’ll be prompted for a restart.

Install Ubuntu Linux On Intel Nuc 15 Tutorial

When you restart, you should remove the live USB otherwise you’ll boot into the installation media again.

That’s all you need to do to install Linux on an Intel NUC device. Quite frankly, you can use the same procedure on any other system.

Intel NUC and Linux: how do you use it?

I am loving the Intel NUC. It doesn’t take space on the desk and yet it is powerful enough to replace the regular bulky desktop CPU. You can easily upgrade it to 32GB of RAM. You can install two SSD on it. Altogether, it provides some scope of configuration and upgrade.

If you are looking to buy a desktop computer, I highly recommend Intel NUC mini PC. If you are not comfortable installing the OS on your own, you can buy one of the Linux-based mini PCs.

Do you own an Intel NUC? How’s your experience with it? Do you have any tips to share it with us? Do leave a comment below.

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  • Sleep/hibernate is an issue though. Sometimes works, but most of the time it ends with freeze and reboot. Also when the idle limit is reached, the display turns off and never wakes up.

  • I own an intel NUC. One thing I found was a shortage of usb ports for all the usb peripherals I own. a great solution was the purchase of a new lid for the NUC that contains two USB ports with cables that attach to two USB header connectors on the NUC motherboard. Works great and having the two additional USB ports for things such as mice, keyboards and other USB peripherals was really nice without having to add a USB hub with all the messy cables

  • I followed your instructions to install Ubuntu 20.04 on an Intel NUC7i3BNH with 8GB Crucial RAM and a Toshiba 128GB M.2 SSD.

    The install crashes with ‘Errorno5’ while copying files. I tried everything I could find on Google about ‘Errorno5’ and I cannot get the install to finish without crashing.

    I tried disabling the slide show during install. I tried installing without internet connection and wireless disabled.

    I tried three different USB keys flashed with both Rufus and Etcher.

    I read it could be a RAM problem, I removed and re-seated the RAM and I checked the RAM in another PC.

    I tired installing on a 2.5″ SATA SSD instead of the M.2 drive.

    I thought there must be some other hardware error so I downloaded and intalled Windows 10 without any issue at all.

    I’m completely stumped now, don’t know what else I can try to get it working.

    Any Ideas?

      • Hi – Thanks for responding. I ran a checksum on the iso file and it was OK.

        However, after I boot from a USB stick flashed in iso mode or DD mode from Rufus it fails the file check at bootup. mostly with at least one error, but I have had 5 and 7 errors come up with various USB sticks.

        I tried flashing the iso file in DD mode to a 2.5″ SSD in a USB case. I booted the NUC from this in Legacy boot mode and it passed the file checks OK, but it still crashed with errorno5 during the install.

        I tried downloading the 18.04 iso image, but I could not get past the file check at bootup without errors, so I had to give up on that.

        I posted in the “Ask Ubuntu” forum where someone pointed me to a NUC certified image of Ubuntu 16.04.

        I downloaded that, but it failed again with errorno5.

        I tried Linux Mint, and that failed with errorno5 as well.

        I’m at the point where I don’t know what else I can try, other than stick with Windows.

  • Hi Sir. Thanks for this post.
    I plan to get a NUC kit (i7 or higher) 64gb RAM and 2 x 2tb SSD.
    Will be used for PenTesting CyberSecurity Lab.

    OS on it will be Linux kodachi (base on Ubuntu 18.04)
    And VMware Workstation Pro for many VMs like Kali Linux, Windows, etc …

    Witch model do you recommend ?

  • Great instructions here. Q’s: have you any experience installing and using the intel Optane memory? Also, have you every watched Foyles War w Kitchen et al? Great mysteries. thanks again