Chaco Canyon is here, and although I found the specs to be on the “lite” side, I love the design. My wife calls it the “Chaco taco”.
One of Chaco’s cool features is the front panel, which provides a way of adding ports without increasing the size. In most other NUC models if you want to add ports you have to use a lid. This works great, but it does add some bulk to your NUC.
With Chaco Canyon, the idea is that you can add ports without modifying the shape or size of your NUC. This is a great way to go if you plan to use the NUC in small spaces.
This isn’t the first NUC to include the blank panel. Maple Canyon was the first, with a small panel on the back. Dawson Canyon continued the idea by adding a much wider panel (wide enough for three USB ports). Chaco is the first one to have the panel on the front of the unit, though.
Typically a NUC will include internal USB 2.0 headers that lids can take advantage of. Chaco Canyon ups the game by including two USB 2.0 headers, as well as a single USB 3.0 header, and even a serial connector. These combine to give you multiple expansion options.
GoRite, my go-to NUC lid company, has already released several access cards that take advantage of Chaco’s panel. They were kind enough to send me three to try out, one for each of the internal header options.
Dual USB 2.0 Card
First up we have the Dual USB 2.0 card, model GR-CC-1000.
Simple and basic, this is a great option if you need more USB ports but not necessarily the speed of USB 3.0. This card connects to both of the internal USB 2.0 headers.
Installation is straight forward…you can watch it below.
You mount the card to the underside of the NUC’s back plate. The mounting screws are supplied with Chaco Canyon.
Once mounted, the card’s ports are positioned so that when the cover is reattached everything lines up.
This is a great option if you’ll be connecting low-speed USB devices (keyboard/mouse dongles, for example). Let’s face it, USB 2.0 is slow.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of devices out there that work just great with it. I have a couple of webcams that are USB 2.0 and they work just fine.
USB 3.0/Gigabit Ethernet Card
Next we have the USB 3.0/Gigabit Ethernet combo card, model GR-CC-1045. This one gives you a single USB 3.0 port and an extra Gigabit Ethernet port. This is a great option if you plan to use Chaco as a custom router or traffic manager.
Installation is as easy as the first, and as with the previous card, no extra drivers are needed.
The GB Ethernet portion of the card shows up in Device Manager as an “ASIX AX88179 USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter“:
The USB 3.0 port shows up as a “Generic SuperSpeed USB Hub”:
Finally, we have the RS232 option. This one connects to the serial header, but doesn’t need to be mounted as it’s not a card but a simple cable.
Installation was as easy as mounting the port to the cover and plugging it in to the header on the motherboard. My sample didn’t include the mounting screws, but I had a couple handy so so it wasn’t an issue. Here’s a video of the installation process:
The result looks clean and professional:
After installation I noticed the cable ran right across the m.2 slot. With an SSD installed, the cable would block the thermal pad and could cause problems with cooling.
Then I realized the cable was exactly the right length to tuck around the m.2 slot. It looks like GoRite thought that one through as well.
I have no serial devices to test this with (it’s been a while since I’ve had to play around with serial ports), so I’ll have to assume it “just works” like the others. In Device Manager, the COM1 port is always active, and this just gives you a connection to it.
GoRite does also offer a USB 2.0/RJ45 card but they didn’t send me one, likely because it looks and installs the same as the USB 3.0/Gigabit card.
I imagine GoRite has more options planned to take advantage of Chaco Canyon. One obvious choice would be an HDMI card that could connect via the USB 3.0 header. This would open up capabilities for multiple signage displays (assuming Chaco’s CPU/GPU could handle three displays). Or a memory card reader, perhaps? TV tuner? How about a card that offers four USB ports, two 2.0 and two 3.0? There are plenty of possibilities. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with next.
And in case you’re wondering, yes you can connect all the accessories at the same time. But it makes for a space issue, and good luck getting the lid back on:
This makes me wonder if there’s an expansion ring in Chaco Canyon’s future. After all, you wouldn’t need much height to give you room for a bunch of extra ports.
As usual GoRite impresses me with the build quality of their accessories. The included panels for each of these solutions are metal rather than plastic. All of their options install quickly and work right away. Pricing is fairly reasonable too, ranging from around $25 to just under $50, depending on the option you want.
These cards/cables are a great way to take advantage of the “Chaco Taco’s”expansion blank. They let you customize your NUC to your specific application, and I look forward to seeing what GoRite has to offer for Chaco in the future!