Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) compact platforms are a very interesting subject for research at least from a theoretical point of view. The systems of the NUC class personify what the PC industry can achieve in the medium term. However, talking about the NUC as a certain concept is not entirely true. Introduced by such systems in 2012, the form factor UCFF (ultra-compact form factor) was well received by both consumers and the whole industry. As a result, from a bold experiment, the Intel NUC platform was able to degenerate into something more. Due to the emergence of ultra-efficient Sandy Bridge processors, NUC compact computers continue to evolve to this day, moving first to the Ivy Bridge, Haswell and Bay Trail processors, and then to the latest Broadwell microarchitecture. In passing, the innovative form factor was able to attract supporters and other producers to the camp. NUC-like systems are today supplied not only by Intel, but also by companies such as GIGABYTE, Zotac and ECS, in the range of which there is a wide choice of UCFF-platforms with the names BRIX, nano XS and LIVA. In other words, the idea of NUC has come to the fertile soil, and to date, such compact computers have received a notable recognition from PC users.
The popularity of NUC is due to several fundamental processes occurring in the world of computer hardware. First, a significant improvement in the specific performance per watt of energy spent by modern processors has led to the fact that energy-efficient CPU models with a thermal package in the 15-20W range are able to meet the needs of most desktop users. Secondly, the size of the data storage system has greatly diminished: a terabyte SSD can be placed today even on a compact mSATA board. Third, local and global cloud services acquired popularity, which removed the need for the PC to store all user data within itself. Fourthly, external interfaces are close to unification and have reached good speeds: for example, USB 3.1 and a new type C connector through which you can not only exchange data but also connect monitors. To this list, you can add a surge of interest in casual and network games, which in fact do not require the use of high-performance and energy-intensive graphics cards. As a result, a compact system like NUC, housed in a case less than half a liter, can be a suitable personal computer for a fairly large group of users. And since in the last generations of processors Intel seriously took care of improving the performance of the built-in graphics core, this group becomes more and more.
The newest 14-nm processors Broadwell originally introduced under the name Core M at the end of last year, for the first time received a heat package at 4.5 watts, which allowed them to be used in fanless ultraportable mobile systems. Their implementation in the UCFF-system, we were waiting with great impatience: it seemed that Broadwell would be capable of a lot in the 15-Watt format adopted for the NUC. And then, finally, the agonizing wait was over: a sample of Intel Rock Canyon arrived at our laboratory – a NUC platform based exactly on such Broadwell-U processor Core i5. In fact, Intel introduced such computers at CES 2015, and they can even be bought on the world market, but the way of this system to our country was not easy, and we can get acquainted with detailed testing of this compact but promising platform only now.
And immediately – a small spoiler. The first NUC based on the Sandy Bridge processors, were interesting not only for their size. Along the way, they tried to launch and another trend in the desktop design, as they brought the support of the Thunderbolt interface to the non-block world. However, Intel subsequently deviated a little from the chosen innovative path and in NUC models based on Ivy Bridge and Haswell did not implement any original solutions other than the UCFF form factor, of course.
But the new NUC with Broadwell-U processor again brought noticeable changes to the established design of the miniature platform. First, Intel refused to support SSD in the form of mSATA-boards, and instead of it in NUC appeared slot for high-speed M.2 SSD. And secondly, the wireless adapter has become an integral part of this system – it now dissolves directly on the motherboard. So, the new NUC is not just an upgrade of similar systems of the past generation, and this is what makes the testing of the new NUC more interesting doubly.
But enough common words, we go on to the details. In our laboratory there was a modification of Intel NUC5i5RYH, with a detailed report about the test of which we are in a hurry to share.
At first glance at the new NUC, many will say that it is very similar to previous models that are based on Ivy Bridge or Haswell. And they, of course, will be absolutely right, because the fundamental differences in the external performance really did not appear. To maintain the usual size and location of the connectors and air intakes, the UCFF form factor itself is obliged: to fundamentally reshape something in the NUC, considering how many components are in this small box, it's not so simple.
We are already accustomed to the traditional NUC design: the device is a black-silver parallelepiped with rounded edges. Unassuming appearance of this computer, of course, will allow him to register both in the strict interior of the office, and in the home environment. However, frankly speaking, in the appearance of the innovative NUC I would like to see more life and emotions. And this can be arranged if desired: the top panel of the case is replaceable, and its model for the 3D printer is available for download. Hence, creatively tuned enthusiasts will be able to replace it with their own hands on an individual project.
The standard plastic cover has a completely boring black glossy surface. In the corner is a brilliant power button with a built-in blue LED, and next to it there is a second LED – yellow, indicating the activity of the drive. These controls in the new NUC are in fact separated from the cover, which further simplifies its replacement with alternative options. The lateral walls of the body are thick enough, made of aluminum alloy and serve as a strong and rigid framework for the entire structure.
A pair of USB 3.0 ports are located on the front edge of the new Intel miniature computer, one of which (with a yellow core) supports fast charging of smartphones and tablets. A single 3.5-mm audio jack for connecting speakers, headphones or a microphone, as well as an IR receiver, is located nearby.
The opposite side of the case carries a much larger number of connectors. First, the monitor outputs-mini-DisplayPort 1.2 and mini-HDMI 1.4a-are delivered to it. Both connectors allow you to connect screens with 4K-resolution, but when using HDMI, the maximum frame rate will be limited to 24 Hz. Secondly, there are two USB 3.0 ports, that is, the total number of external USB ports in the NUC configuration in question is four. Thirdly, there is also a connector for a wired Gigabit network, for which the Intel I218-V controller is responsible. Although compared to the very first version, the NUC of external connectors became significantly larger, for complete happiness, I would still like to add one or two USB and replace the mini-HDMI with a full port, which actually takes only a little more space.
Ventilation slots are located on the sides of the NUC. The previous versions of such systems had gratings in the bottom, but in the new NUC the bottom of the case became metallic and solid. Hot air is removed by the computer cooling system through the holes on its back face.
Power to the NUC is connected through a special socket, located among other connectors on the back of the case. The miniature nature of this computer is largely ensured by the fact that its power supply unit is taken out. And if earlier it was offered to use an external 19-volt laptop unit with the capacity of 65 W for such computers, then in the new model Intel decided to offer a universal power unit of similar capacity, combined immediately with a plug. This made it somewhat more convenient to use – it not only decreased in size, but is now equipped with a set of different plugs that allow it to be used in a variety of countries. Note that the shape of the block is such that it does not close the sockets nearby.
And naturally, despite the fact that NUC is tested in our laboratory for the first time, we again can not but admire its compactness. The specified dry dimensions do not convey the emotional charge that occurs when you take a live NUC into your hands. Thanks to the VESA attachment, the NUC can be hung behind the monitor, you can put it in the desk drawer, you can put it in one rack with your home theater, but you can come up with a lot of other suitable places where it can fit without any difficulty.
However, it should be mentioned that the NUC5i5RYH modification we got for tests is among the slightly more well-nourished varieties. Its height is 48.7 mm, while other models (without the letter H at the end of the article) have a height of 32.7 mm. This difference is due to the fact that our NUC version allows the installation of a 2.5-inch drive.
Traditionally, NUC is supplied as a skeletal system. In order to assemble a working computer from it, the existing platform will have to add memory, solid state drive and install the operating system. This means that the first step in using the NUC is always to disassemble it and fill it with the necessary components. However, this operation is unlikely to be a memorable stage: it is extremely simple and takes no more than five minutes. Access to the inside of the NUC is done from the bottom: the bottom of the case is supported by four screws, combined with the legs, and completely removed.
Seeing the insides of the NUC is not only interesting, but instructive. Intel engineers managed to implement a very dense layout and achieve placement on a board with the size of 10 × 10 cm of a full-fledged production computer. But from a purely utilitarian point of view, attention should be paid only to three available slots and three connectors.
Two SODIMM slots, compatible with DDR3L-modules with frequency up to 1600 MHz, are intended for memory installation in the NUC under consideration. The use of low voltage modules with a voltage of 1.35 V is a prerequisite, it is dictated by the features of the Broadwell-U processor's memory controller, in the design of which everything is aimed at saving power and reducing heat dissipation. However, the choice of necessary modules in stores is relatively large, so this can hardly be a serious problem.
Another slot is intended for M.2-drives. The NUC supports both SATA SSD and models with PCI Express 2.0 x2 / x4 interface, so in reality in this computer you can use almost any available SSD form factor M.2 2280, 2260 or 2242.
Previously, there was one more mini-PCIe slot in the NUC, in which it was proposed to install a Wi-Fi controller. But in the new, based on Broadwell-U, modifications of the miniature PC, the wireless adapter AC7265 is already decoupled, so the need for a mini-PCIe slot has disappeared. By the way, the standard NUC adapter is dual-band, it corresponds to the 802.11ac standard, it has a 2 × 2 configuration, providing a maximum bandwidth of up to 867 Mbps, and supports Wireless Display technology.
But on the board there were new connectors. The most notable of these is a full-fledged SATA 6 Gb / s port (complete with SATA power connector), which allows NUC to use 2.5-inch drives. The landing place under such HDD or SSD is provided under the cover of NUC5i5RYH. In addition, the board now has a new connector for connecting the NFC-module, which can be purchased separately. From previous versions of the NUC, the new models inherited the internal USB 2.0 connector, which has two additional ports.
Of course, it's not necessary to use all the listed slots and connectors, and in the base version after installing the NUC of the memory and the drive in the motherboard it remains only to collect everything back – and you can start installing the operating system.
However, for the sake of interest, we decided to go a little further and dismantle the system to the end to see what components are on the side of the board that is hidden from the eyes of the average user. First of all, a cooler made in the form of a turbine is visible, which covers almost the entire surface of the board, although in reality it removes heat only from the processor. According to the principle of operation, this cooler is similar to notebook cooling systems. The copper sole of the cooler attached to the chips of the processor assembly is filled with thin and low ribs through which the air flow is pumped through the fan.
The processor assembly of the Broadwell-U family, which technically consists of two crystals placed on one substrate, is hidden under the cooler's sole. One of them is a 32-nm chipset, through which USB, M.2, SATA and other interfaces work, the second is the actual 14-nm CPU.
The energy-efficient Core i5-5250U used in the NUC5i5RYH core is designed to operate within a 15-watt thermal package and has two cores with Hyper-Threading technology support and a 3-Megabyte L3 cache memory. The operating frequency of the computing cores ranges from 1.6 to 2.7 GHz, depending on the load. In addition, the processor contains a built-in graphic engine HD Graphics 6000 class GT3, which has 48 executive devices and operates at a frequency of up to 950 MHz.
For completeness, our informal description of the Intel NUC5i5RYH system should be supplemented with a list of specifications.
|Intel Core i5-5250U (two cores + HT, 1.6-2.7 GHz, 3 MB L3 cache)|
|Chipset||Intel QS77 Express|
|The memory of|| Two slots for dual-channel DDR3L-1600/1333 SDRAM in SO-DIMM modules
The maximum capacity is 16 GB
|Drawing|| Intel HD Graphics 6000 with a frequency of up to 950 MHz
It supports the connection of two independent monitors: via mini-HDMI 1.4a and via mini-DisplayPort 1.2
|Audio|| High Definition Audio via mini-HDMI 1.4a or mini-DP 1.2
Realtek HD Audio via 3.5mm stereo jack on the front panel
|The accumulators|| One SATA port 6 Gb / s for 2.5-inch drives
One M.2 slot (with M-key) for SSD with SATA or PCI Express 2.0 interface x2 / x4
|The periphery||Four USB 3.0 ports (two in front and two in back)|
|The network|| Built-in Gigabit Ethernet controller Intel I218-V
Built-in dual-band wireless adapter Intel 7265 (802.11ac, 2×2, Bluetooth 4.0)
|Additional opportunities for expansion|| Two internal USB 2.0 ports
One AUX_PWR connector
Connector for connecting the NFC module
|Monitoring|| Control of the fan speed of the CPU cooler
Temperature and stress monitoring
|Indicators and buttons|| HDD power and activity indicators
On / Off button
|Dimensions|| The case dimensions: 115 × 111 × 48.7 mm
The dimensions of the board: 101.6 × 101.6 mm
|The food||Continuous current, 19 V, maximum 65 W|
As well as a block diagram describing the details of the implementation of external and internal interfaces.
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