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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  • BlueBlazer - Saturday, February 21, 2015 - link

    Heck no, used to have AMD E-350 and that sucked. Tried the older Atom 330 also but not well also. The problem was Hi10p which uses software decoding (not supported by hardware). Then switched to using my ancient LGA775 which was collecting dust. Was microATX casing thus certainly quite big but can always hide them in some corner. Only problem was dust accumulation due to the fans (have clean the machine once a while). That's the main problem with fans...

    Used an old Core 2 Duo E7600 and runs perfectly everything including those that do not use hardware acceleration. Have tried H.265 also (only supported by software decoding on my hardware) and managed to play them up 1080p 30fps with the Lentoid HEVC decoder (possibly the fastest decoder around but does have a compatibility issues with a few files, which I can fallback to VLC Player). Perhaps time for a change, and with H.265 looming around the corner, CPU power could be still relevant after all. If there is a new CPU can beat this old E7600 performance without using fans then I've found the replacement...
    Reply
  • BPB - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - link

    My experience is that AMD is better if you are using the HTPC for WMC as well as other things. When I switched from an AMD E450 setup to an i5 setup I lost the abilibity to watch stuff at 1.5 speed. My AMD setup fast-forwarded with sound much, much better than the Intel setup does. The Intel setup is better in every other way, but I really miss watching some games at 1.5X. I like to do that when I don't have the time to watch it at normal speed, or I already know the outcome. The AMD setup allowed me to watch hockey games at 1.5X with sound and no choppiness, the Intel setup is not smooth at all. Reply
  • valnar - Thursday, February 26, 2015 - link

    Depends on whether AMD can do perfect 23.976 fps for NTSC stuff. Intel graphics can. Generally, it is safer to use Intel for HTPC's (both Windows and Linux) than AMD. Reply
  • iFX.64 - Saturday, June 20, 2015 - link

    Sorry I know I'm a bit late here, but If you want to pass-through DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD Master Audio through HDMI to an amp/receiver ... then forget about AMD, I've yet to see anyone get it to work... Unfortunately it only seems to work on Intel :(

    Of course I only found this out after buying multiple AMD systems for this purpose... believing that they wouldn't say something IS supported in the marketing material when it ISN'T... but while standard 5.1 DTS or Dolby Digital works fine, DTS HD and TrueHD won't pass-through to the receiver.

    If anyone has found a way to get it to work, I'd LOVE to hear about it ;)
    Reply
  • Veritex - Friday, February 20, 2015 - link

    A good solution is arriving in around 90 days in the form of the AMD Carrizo and Carrizo-L (10w to 35w) APUs with upgraded Excavator cores, next gen full HSA GPU and hardware encode/decode of h.265 4k video. They will be available in everything from laptops to all-in-ones and in micro/pico/ITX systems.

    Anandtech had a preview at CES 2015:

    "One of the features of Carrizo is full support for H.265 decoding, and as an example of why this is needed they had an Intel system running next to the Carrizo system attempting to playback a 4K H.265 video. While the AMD system was easily able to handle the task without dropping any frames, the Intel system was decoding at what appeared to be single digit frame rates. The 4K content was essentially unwatchable on Intel."

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/8855/amd-demonstrate...
    Reply
  • BlueBlazer - Saturday, February 21, 2015 - link

    That Core i3 was of the older generation (not Broadwell), and of course would be less powerful to perform software decoding for 4K video. If they had used a Core i7 quad core then should be able to playback 4K video smoothly even through software decoding. Also does not mention if Carrizo can support VP8 or 10-bit H.265/HEVC either...

    Additionally Intel Broadwell and even Haswell already have a hybrid H.265/HEVC decoder (uses both CPU and GPU) in the latest drivers: http://techreport.com/news/27677/new-intel-igp-dri... Besides H.265/HEVC, it also supports VP9 codec (used by Google TV). Futhermore it can also support 10-bit H.265/HEVC format besides the normal 8-bit H.265/HEVC. Wished that it would also support the old 10-bit H.264 (also known as Hi10p) as well...
    Reply
  • BlueBlazer - Saturday, February 21, 2015 - link

    Errata: VP9 in the first paragraph and not VP8...

    "Also does not mention if Carrizo can support VP8 or 10-bit H.265/HEVC either..."
    Reply
  • Vinny DePaul - Saturday, February 21, 2015 - link

    Why do people rip blu ray to NAS? Is it legal? I don't understand why people store so many movies on their PC. Can you watch that much? Also, is it even legal? Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Saturday, February 21, 2015 - link

    Why do we rip movies? so that way if something happens to the disk, i still have my movie, and I dont need to find the dvd and put it into the player to watch a movie, i can just double click it.
    And of course it is legal. Im making a backup of my own copy, and im not sharing it.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Sunday, February 22, 2015 - link

    I rip movies (redbox rentals) so I can watch it at a convenient time, on whatever device I want. It's rare I watch anything more than once. Lately I've been renting more movies on demand, though, as long as the price is reasonable Reply

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