Introduction and Setup Impressions

The Intel NUC category has been an interesting product line to analyze, as it provides us with insights into where the traditional casual / home use desktop market might end up. UCFF (ultra-compact form factor) PCs have had an excellent reception in the market, both from home and business users. Intel kickstarted the market with the Sandy Bridge NUCs a couple of years back. Since then, we have had NUCs based on Ivy Bridge, Haswell and even Bay Trail. Other vendors such as GIGABYTE, Zotac and ECS have their own UCFF variants in the BRIX, nano xs and LIVA models respectively.

UCFF PCs have become popular due to a host of factors - performance per watt has improved to such an extent that much of the average consumer's traditional desktop work can be done with systems sporting a sub-20W TDP CPU. SSDs are becoming smaller and smaller, with even 1 TB mSATA units available in the market. High speed interfaces such as USB 3.0 have also become ubiquitous, removing the need for dedicating storage space inside the chassis for fast access to large amounts of data. The advent of mobile platforms have also made casual gaming quite popular - and power-hungry discrete GPUs are not needed for those. All these trends have enabled powerful palm-sized computers - the Next Unit of Computing. Intel has been pushing the performance per watt aspect and GPU performance heavily in the last few generations, making each successive NUC generation more attractive than the one before.

The 14nm Broadwell CPUs were introduced into the market with the Core M branding for fanless ultraportables. Essentially a rebranding of Y-series CPUs, its power efficiency got everyone excited about what a higher TDP version (U-series) could bring for the PC market. Even as ultrabooks based on Broadwell-U are getting ready for the market, Intel and its partners have started getting the UCFF units into the hands of consumers. Intel's Broadwell NUCs were introduced at CES 2015. We have already reviewed GIGABYTE's Core i7-5550U-based BRIX s unit, giving us some insight into how a 15 W TDP Broadwell-U might perform for common workloads. In the concluding section of that review, we had remarked that it would be interesting to see how Intel would differentiate its Broadwell NUC from its partners' UCFF PCs. This review of the NUC5i5RYK - Intel's Core i5 Broadwell-U-based NUC - provides some insights.

The first Sandy Bridge NUC was important for two main reasons - the obvious one being the kickstarting of the UCFF craze. The other one was the introduction of Intel's premium external I/O interface - Thunderbolt - in a reasonably priced system outside the Apple ecosystem. Unfortunately, with Ivy Bridge and Haswell, Intel took a step backwards. NUCs based on those didn't stand out much from what was brought out by vendors such as GIGABYTE and Zotac (in the non-vPro market). With the Broadwell-U NUCs, Intel is trying to regain the edge. These units are the first UCFF PCs that we have seen with support for M.2 PCIe SSDs.

Traditionally, the NUCs are barebones machines - the end-user could choose an appropriate mSATA SSD (or, for selected models, 2.5" drives), a mini-PCIe WLAN adapter, DDR3L SO-DIMMs and an operating system. Intel has two main changes in the barebones approach for the Broadwell-U NUCs: The WLAN adapter (Intel AC7265) now comes soldered to the motherboard. mSATA SSDs are no longer supported. In its place, we have support for either SATA or PCIe-based M.2 SSDs. Similar to the previous generation NUCs, a free SATA port is available on the board. It can be used to hook up 2.5" drives in certain models.

In order to bring out the capabilities of the NUC5i5RYK, we evaluated two configuration:

  • Mainstream (M.2 SATA SSD + DDR3L 1600 C9)
  • Enthusiast (M.2 PCIe 2.0 x4 SSD + DDR3L 1866 C10)

The specifications of both NUC5i5RYK review configurations are summarized in the table below.

Intel NUC5i5RYK Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-5250U
(2C/4T x 1.60 GHz, 14nm, 3MB L2, 15W TDP)
Memory 2x 4GB DDR3L 1600 C9 [ Mainstream ]
2x 4GB DDR3L 1866 C10 [ Enthusiast ]
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 6000 (Broadwell-U GT3)
Disk Drive(s) Intel SSD 530 Series 360 GB M.2 SATA SSD [ Mainstream ]
Samsung XP941 Series 256 GB M.2 PCIe 2.0 x4 SSD [ Enthusiast ]
Networking 1x Intel I218-V GbE, 2x2 Intel AC7265 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $662 [ Mainstream ]
$728 [ Enthusiast ]
$400 [ Barebones ]
Full Specifications Intel NUC5i5RYK Specifications

The Intel NUC5i5RYK kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but our pre-production engineering sample review unit came with a USB key containing the drivers. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 65 W (19V @ 3.43A) wall-wart (with detachable multi-country power plugs), a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), setup guides and a QVL (qualified vendors list) for the memory and storage subsystems. The gallery below takes us around the package contents and the external features of the unit.

The NUC5i5RYK officially supports DDR3L SO-DIMMs at 1600 MHz. The Kingston HyperX modules that we utilized for the mainstream build had no trouble whatsoever in operating at the rated speed and latencies. For the enthusiast build in which we went the M.2 PCIe SSD route, we initially tried to use the Corsair Vengeance 2133 MHz (C11) kit that worked well in the Broadwell BRIX s unit. Unfortunately, the NUC refused to boot with that kit. Given the pre-production nature of the kit and the absence of the Corsair Vengeance series in the QVL, it didn't come across as too much of a surprise.

In any case, we were able to utilize the 1866 MHz (C10) kit without any problems whatsoever. The BIOS (with memory auto-configuration by default) automatically configured the memory speeds to the maximum rated value. Intel's Visual BIOS is one of the few UEFI BIOSes that provide a good user experience. Plenty of configuration options are available for the end-user (including configurable maximum sustained as well as burst power consumption). The gallery below shows the various BIOS options available.

Certain default configurations (such as disabling of the WLAN subsystem) in the BIOS are questionable, but they should be hopefully fixed by the time the NUC5i5RYK officially starts shipping to end users.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel NUC5i5RYK (Enthusiast) against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Intel NUC5i5RYK (Enthusiast) when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC5i5RYK (Enthusiast)
CPU Intel Core i5-5250U Intel Core i5-5250U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 6000 (Broadwell-U GT3) Intel HD Graphics 6000 (Broadwell-U GT3)
RAM Corsair Vengeance CMSX8GX3M2B1866C10
10-10-10-32 @ 1866 MHz
2x4 GB
Corsair Vengeance CMSX8GX3M2B1866C10
10-10-10-32 @ 1866 MHz
2x4 GB
Storage Samsung XP941 Series MZHPU256HCGL
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 2.0 x4; 19nm; MLC)
Samsung XP941 Series MZHPU256HCGL
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 2.0 x4; 19nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $728 $728

 

Performance Metrics - I
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  • owan - Friday, February 20, 2015 - link

    I wouldn't. The GPU on the low end APU's isn't *that* much better than intel's IGP and the TDP's are too high, which is a big consideration IMO for a device that may spend quite a lot of its time running. I've found my Celeron G1820 system to be superior in every way than the A4 system it replaced, except in casual gaming where they both were basically useless. The CPU gap can absolutely be relevant when you start messing with different decoders as well. Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Friday, February 20, 2015 - link

    The laptop is a Lenovo Z50, with Kaveri's A10-7300. With default settings, I haven't found a game which is not playable yet. And it costed me nearly half the NUC in this article ($400).
    Regarding which HTPC to buy, I was looking into Zotac's: something to stash behind the TV, away from view.
    I agree with you that the savings on low-end AMD APU's are not worth it: the A10 is already dirt cheap.
    Reply
  • jimjamjamie - Monday, February 23, 2015 - link

    I just recently bought the Z50-75, lovely machine for the price. 19W CPU in a 15.6" chassis is great for low fan speed and cool operation, even when it's turbo'd up at 3.2GHz. I don't rate it much for games though as it is not powerful enough to drive 1080p without dialling back the quality settings. Reply
  • cjs150 - Friday, February 20, 2015 - link

    owan et al: I have owned AMD machines before, and will probably do so again in future. The problem is TDP, they run too hot. In my main HTPC I run an i7-3770T (45w TDP). More than sufficient power for transcoding. When I built that machine, AMD had nothing even close. The problem with going fanless is heat, and AMD are way behind on this.

    HTPC use is very personal. I do not want to go 3D and 4K is currently unnecessary. But it may be that h.265 codec is too CPU intensive for what I have. If so then I will build new machines - but as that will probably be several generations of CPU in future, it is not a problem (and when it is, it will be fun to build!)
    Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Friday, February 20, 2015 - link

    To each its own. It's good to have choices :) Reply
  • seanleeforever - Friday, February 20, 2015 - link

    cjs150: try amd 5350 APU. i run it without fan, it is a 25W TDP SOC (so all the IO memory controllers on build on the processor with Radeon HD 8400 ).

    i too find this review lacking to say the least. i build ultra small factor PCs for fun, and i have yet to find one that beats AMD's offering for general windows use in a ultra tiny factor.

    the only three issues with AMD solutions is
    1. driver under linux are not that great, but it is getting better.
    2. smallest form factor is ITX, which is still too big ESPECIALLY consider 5350 is a SOC.
    3. stock cooler sucks. it has the worst oem cooler i see in my entire life.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Saturday, February 21, 2015 - link

    hate to tell you, but the 5350 is NOT an SoC. It is just a low TDP CPU, because the memory is still external. the memory needs to be in the chip in order for it to be considered a SoC. an integrated memory controller has been standard from 7 years, that doesnt make the chip a SoC.
    And ITX isnt too big. you can build mac mini type systems in that size. anything small is proprietary, and OEM only. see the NUC above. you cant by a motherboard for that.
    Reply
  • seanleeforever - Monday, February 23, 2015 - link

    the name "SoC" means a number of things, i suppose you could say it is not SoC by your standards but many website (Anandtech, the one you are commenting on, says "...Athlon 5350, a quad core SoC"), similarly, if you define SoC as something that must have on board memory by design, then you can pretty much rule out all the snapdragon processors since they don't have on board memory. So i would like to believe your definition is flawed, as so will most people.

    secondary, you are dead wrong about it is just a low TDP CPU. go research the 5350 Spec, one thing it stands out is that not only does it have memory controller, but it also feature a video controller , TPM, PCIe lans, Sata port, VGA output, USB3 and USB2, and PS/2 all on the CPU. the thing about SoC is that it is a System on Chip (minus other stuff like storage, ram, power...etc). it has all the I/O (south bridge), and memory controller (North bridge) all build in one die. this is more similar to cell phone processor than traditional computers. this allows M/B to pretty much just bring out pinouts.

    i suggest you to know your subject before posting. this is anandtech and i do expect user to have some basic knowledge in the comment section.
    Reply
  • extide - Monday, February 23, 2015 - link

    TheinsanegamerN -- NO Processors have all the memory built in -- The most memory you can get is on Crystalwell, but thats still cache. In phones you get PoP which means Package on Package, meaning a SoC underneath and then a regular memory chip on top.

    A CPU is generally considered a SoC when it requires no north bridge or south bridge, ie it has memory controller, pcie controller, usb, sata, GPU, etc.
    Reply
  • BlueBlazer - Saturday, February 21, 2015 - link

    That AMD 5350 APU still has a weak CPU. Also its 25W thus it should not be run without fan. That's why the stock cooler has a fan. And due to that weak CPU, it has problems with higher resolution videos: http://www.guru3d.com/articles_pages/amd_athlon_53... quotes

    "We also tested Ultra HD video acceleration. Above the 4K resolution Elysium Trailer, here we have an MP4 H.264 file and you can see that the CPU load is 52% with one core topping out performance. Unfortunately Ultra HD videoplayback resulted into stuttering. For both content we have additional shaders enabled like image sharpening and darkened black levels.

    The reason why we noticed stuttering seems to be that the trailer is not DXVA encoded. meaning of you where to RAW decode video streams over the CPU, it would not be powerful enough. The GPU at DXVA will take care of you on that here though."
    Reply

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