Intel's low-power Tremont microarchitecture has powered a range of products - from the short-lived Lakefield, to Elkhart Lake in the embedded space, and finally, Jasper Lake in the client computing area. A steady stream of notebooks and motherboards / mini-PCs based on Jasper Lake have become available since the introduction of Jasper Lake in early 2021. Given their pricing, ultra-compact form-factor (UCFF) machines based on them offer attractive entry-level options in the NUC domain. With a range of SKUs specified for power consumption numbers ranging from 4.8W up to 25W, the product series lends itself to designs that can be either actively or passively cooled.

Intel's Jasper Lake SKUs are a follow-up to Gemini Lake. Back in 2018, we had reviewed two different Gemini Lake UCFF PCs - the actively cooled June Canyon NUC from Intel, and the passively cooled LIVA Z2 from ECS. For Jasper Lake, we have sourced four different UCFF PCs - two passively cooled systems using 6W TDP processors, and two actively cooled ones using 10W+ TDP processors. Our in-depth look into the two passively-cooled JSLK UCFF PCs - the ECS LIVA Z3 and the ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano, was published last week. To round out our Jasper Lake coverage, the review below takes a look at the performance and value proposition of the two actively cooled systems - the Intel NUC11ATKPE and GEEKOM's MiniAir 11.

Introduction and Product Impressions

Intel's Apollo Lake SoCs (Goldmont-based) introduced in 2016 were quickly followed by Gemini Lake (Goldmont Plus) in late 2017. However, the delays related to 10nm manufacturing resulted in a significant gap before the Tremont-based Jasper Lake products made an appearance in early 2021. Compared to Gemini Lake, the new Jasper Lake products have improved CPU performance (Intel claims a 33% uplift) with an updated microarchitecture and larger caches. The integrated GPU is also clocked higher with additional EUs on specific SKUs. On the system front, faster expansion options are available, with up to 8 Gen 3 lanes (compared 6 Gen 2 lanes in Gemini Lake), 14 USB ports (up to 10 Gbps) (compared to 8 ports up to 5 Gbps in Gemini Lake). Jasper Lake also integrates a Wireless-AX MAC, allowing for cost-effective systems with Wi-Fi 6 support. Manufacturers can adopt or take advantage of these features in a varied manner to bring differentiated products into the market.

Similar to our Apollo Lake (Intel Arches Canyon and ECS LIVA Z) and Gemini Lake (Intel June Canyon and ECS LIVA Z2) experiments, we got hold of multiple Jasper Lake UCFF PCs for evaluation. Today's review is focused on the two actively cooled systems - the Intel NUC11ATKPE and GEEKOM MiniAir 11.

A quick comparison of the Intel NUC11ATKPE and the GEEKOM MiniAir 11 reveal the following differentiation aspects:

  • Intel Celeron N5095 (TDP of 15W) in the MiniAir 11, compared to Intel Pentium Silver N6005 (TDP of 10W) in the NUC11ATKPE
  • Slightly smaller physical footprint for the MiniAir 11
  • Mixture of USB Type-C and Type-A ports in the MiniAir 11, compared to only Type-A ports in the NUC11ATKPE
  • Availability of SDXC UHS-I Card Reader in the MiniAir 11, not available in the NUC11ATKPE
  • Physical DisplayPort output is full-sized in the NUC11ATKPE, while it is mini-DP in the MiniAir 11
  • Combo audio jack in the MiniAir 11, while the NUC11ATKPE ships separate audio out and microphone jacks in the front panel
  • Intel Wireless-AC 9462 in the NUC11ATKPE, compared to Intel Wireless-AC 7265 in the MiniAir 11

The NUC11ATKPE is primarily priced as a barebones system, but availability of computing systems in general in the recent past has been spotty due to supply chain challenges. This has allowed B2B / B2C retailers like SimplyNUC to place significant premiums for ready-to-ship Atlas Canyon NUCs. Sample this - a barebones NUC11ATKPE has a recommended customer price of around $180 (street price, when available, is around $188). However, SimplyNUC's base price for the Atlas Canyon NUC is currently $449 and comes with 4GB of DDR4 SODIMM and a 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD. One can remove the DRAM and SSD from the configuration, but that doesn't affect the price. Contrast that with the GEEKOM MiniAir 11 - with current discounts, it is priced at $219 (inclusive of taxes) when ordered from their website and $245 (taxes extra) on Amazon. For that price, GEEKOM is bundling in a 256GB M.2 2280 SATA SSD and 1x 8GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM.

The use-cases for both systems are manifold. Intel markets the Atlas Canyon NUCs under the NUC Essentials branding - low-cost, yet effective enough for workloads that do not need extreme processing power. GEEKOM's push is also similar - taking efforts to convey that the system is for casual home and office use, and not for heavy gaming. The systems are also being pushed for applications in retail such as kiosks and digital signage.

While GEEKOM sampled us a retail version of their system package, Intel provided us with a pre-production engineering sample for evaluation. Both systems include a 65W power adapter (19V @ 3.42A) and screws for installing the internal M.2 SSD. The MiniAir 11 package also includes a VESA mount (and associated screws), a HDMI cable, a mini-DP to HDMI adapter cable, a storage bag, and an user guide.


The NUC11ATKPE sample was barebones - we used a SK hynix Gold P31 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD in the M.2 slot (though we could have got by with a PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe SSD such as the WD Blue SN500 also, given that the M.2 slot in the NUC is electrically PCIe 3.0 x2 only). The DRAM option was more tricky. The Jasper Lake platform officially supports DDR4-2933. Having a large number of DDR4-2933 / DDR4-3000 / DDR4-3200 SODIMMs collected (starting from the Skylake days), I was hopeful of getting one of those early high-frequency SODIMMs to operate at DDR-2933 speeds in the NUC11ATKPE. Unfortunately, they all defaulted to DDR4-2400 or DDR4-2666, and the BIOS was not too helpful in terms of allowing modification of DRAM timings. Only recent DDR4-2933+ SODIMMs were able to operate at DDR-2933 in the system - unfortunately, I only had 32GB SODIMMs in hand from the recent batches. In the end, the NUC11ATKPE was outfitted with 2x 32GB DDR4-3200 Kingston HyperX (now, FURY) SODIMMs for a total of 64GB of RAM - higher than the officially specified 32GB maximum memory capacity of the NUC11ATKPE. Fortunately, the system worked flawlessly through our benchmarking routines despite this out-of-spec configuration. The full specifications of the NUC11ATKPE sample as tested are provided in the table below.

Intel NUC11ATKPE (Atlas Canyon) Specifications
(as tested)
Processor Intel Pentium Silver N6005
Jasper Lake 4C/4T, 2.0 - 3.3 GHz
Intel 10nm, 4MB L3, 10W
PL1 : 15W / 28s ; PL2 : 25W / 2.44ms
Memory Kingston HyperX KHX3200C20S4/32GX DDR4-3200 SODIMM (operating at DDR4-2933)
19-21-21-39 @ 2933 MHz
2x32 GB
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics
(32EU @ 450 - 900 MHz)
Disk Drive(s) SK hynix Gold P31 SHGP31-1000GM-2
(1 TB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD, operating at x2)
(SK hynix 128L 4D TLC; SK hynix Cepheus ACNT038 Controller)
Networking 1x GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Intel Wireless AC-9462 (1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Audio Realtek ALC269 (3.5mm Audio Jacks in Front Panel)
Digital Audio and Bitstreaming Support over HDMI and DisplayPort Outputs
Video 1x HDMI 2.0b
1x DisplayPort 1.4
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (Front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (Rear)
2x USB 2.0 Type-A (Rear)
Operating System Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.778)
Pricing (Street Pricing on July 12th, 2022)
US $188 (barebones)
US $468 (as configured)
Full Specifications Intel NUC11ATKPE Specifications

The GEEKOM MiniAir 11 review sample came with only one of the memory slots occupied (1x 8GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM). A 256GB SXMicro NF830 M.2 SATA SSD is also included. The retail sample comes with Windows 11 Pro pre-installed, but as customary, we wiped out the drive and installed our own copy for evaluation purposes. The full specifications of the GEEKOM MiniAir 11 sample as tested are provided in the table below.

GEEKOM MiniAir 11 Specifications
(as tested)
Processor Intel Celeron N5095
Jasper Lake 4C/4T, 2.0 - 2.9 GHz
Intel 10nm, 4MB L3, 15W
PL1 : 10W / 28s ; PL2 : 20W / 2.44ms
Memory Shenzhen Wodposit Tech. WPBS26D408SWE-8G DDR4-2666 SODIMM
19-19-19-43 @ 2666 MHz
1x8 GB
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics
(16EU @ 450 - 750 MHz)
Disk Drive(s) SXMicro NF830
(256 GB; M.2 2280 SATA III;)
(Micron 64L 3D TLC; Silicon Motion SM2259XT Controller)
Networking 1x GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Intel Wireless AC-7265 (2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Audio Realtek ALC269 (3.5mm Combo Audio Jack in Front Panel)
Digital Audio and Bitstreaming Support over HDMI and DisplayPort Outputs
Video 1x HDMI 2.0b
1x mini-DisplayPort 1.4
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (Front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C (Front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (Rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Rear)
Operating System Ships with Windows 11 Pro, Tested with Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.739)
Pricing (Street Pricing on July 12th, 2022)
US $245 (as configured, with OS)
Full Specifications GEEKOM MiniAir 11 Specifications

The chassis of both systems is made of polycarbonate except for the metal plate held by four screws on the underside. The top of the MiniAir 11 is glossy and attracts smudges and fingerprints, while the NUC11ATKPE has a matte finish.

A closer look at the NUC11ATKPE case and internal pictures are available in the gallery below. The thickness of the system is such that a simple thermal pad affixed to the underside of the chassis is sufficient to cool down the installed SSD. Another interesting aspect of the NUC11ATKPE is the absence of any sort of LED indicator in the front panel, other than the power button itself. Instead, there is a front panel header (behind the flexible covering) that contains pins to drive LEDs for storage activity and other statuses.

The gallery above provides a look at the chassis design of the GEEKOM MiniAir 11. It also includes disassembly photos - disassembly is straightforward and required if there is ever a need to update the internal SSD or RAM. A thermal pad on top of a metal block on the underside of the chassis makes up the thermal protection for the installed SSD.

In the next section, we take a look at the system setup and follow it up with a detailed platform analysis.

Setup Notes and Platform Analysis
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  • flgt - Thursday, July 14, 2022 - link

    Nice article. I don’t like how so much performance is driven by relatively hidden PL1/PL2 settings. Have regular NUC12’s been released yet? Reply
  • AdrianBc - Friday, July 15, 2022 - link

    Intel has developed a "Wall Street Canyon" NUC with Alder Lake P, as a replacement for the NUC 11 Pro with Tiger Lake, and which has about the same interfaces but with a much faster CPU.

    Photos of working prototypes have been leaked, but the launch of the product has been delayed for unknown causes, maybe component shortages. Nevertheless, I do not believed that it will be canceled, but maybe it will be launched later this year.

    A very similar NUC-like barebone is already available from ASRock Industrial, as "NUC BOX-12xxP", e.g. "NUC BOX-1260xP", which, compared to Intel, has dual 2.5G Ethernet instead of single 2.5G Ethernet, and 3 DisplayPort (2 on TB) + 1 HDMI instead of 2 DisplayPort (both on TB) + 2 HDMI.
    Reply
  • AdrianBc - Friday, July 15, 2022 - link

    Sorry, I have pressed "Submit" without rereading and there are a couple of typos.

    The names for the ASRockInd alternatives are "NUC BOX-1260P", "NUC BOX-1240P", etc.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, July 15, 2022 - link

    OMG. I thought "Wall Street Canyon" NUC was a joke. Still funny, though. Reply
  • Sivar - Thursday, July 14, 2022 - link

    Some means to compare these values vs. a full desktop CPU would be helpful. In isolation, I can see that the Pentium Silver N6005 is much faster than the J5005, but I have no idea if it is 90% the performance of a desktop CPU, or 60%, or 4%, etc.
    Perhaps a link to a reasonably comparable desktop CPU review.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, July 15, 2022 - link

    > Some means to compare these values vs. a full desktop CPU would be helpful.

    100% agree. We do have a few data points, however. Using data from https://www.anandtech.com/show/17231/the-intel-cor... we can see:

    CineBench R23: Single-threaded
    -----------------
    NUC11ATKPE: 716
    Ryzen 3 5300G: 1338
    Ryzen 5 5600G: 1434
    i3-12300: 1705

    CineBench R23: Mulitthreaded
    -----------------
    NUC11ATKPE: 2521
    Ryzen 3 5300G: 6770
    Ryzen 5 5600G: 10601
    i3-12300: 8598

    Obviously, software rendering is not the kind of workload Tremont is optimized for.

    Next, there's Handbrake, but the i3-12300 article used version 1.3.2 and this uses 1.5.1. Without at least a benchmark of the same hardware on both versions, we can't know how much variation is introduced by the new software version.

    7-zip might have a similar version difference (earlier article references "1900", while this one uses 21.7), and it's not clear if the test cases are even the same.

    And that's basically all the overlap I found. That's less than I thought or hoped for. It's disappointing how much the software versions and format of the results changed, such that I can't even tell whether a given test is using the same workload between the articles.
    Reply
  • Hresna - Tuesday, July 19, 2022 - link

    Funny, I was just thinking this yesterday. It’s widely impractical I know but perhaps a single chart showing the numbers in context of “modern desktop computing” would add to the general consumption-ability for us casual readers.

    For so many reviews I end up side-channel trying to look up/remember “ok, what’s my firestrike number again?”.
    Reply
  • t.s - Thursday, July 14, 2022 - link

    "a 2022 consumer-focused NUC without a single Type-C port is strange to see" LOL. Hello. This is Intel we're talking about, bro. Reply
  • abufrejoval - Thursday, July 14, 2022 - link

    Well, you certainly did a much better job than I did with my Atlas Canyon NUC and caught me with quite a few mistakes, too. E.g. I had mis-identified the front panel header hidden under the rubber cap as a USB2 port.

    I also hadn’t really noticed that PL1/2 had gone to 15/25 in the max performance settings, I guess I was still relying far too much on my Gemini Lake observations.

    I’ve never actually observed 25 Watts with HWinfo, the iGPU never goes beyond 5 Watts and the CPU will stay shy of 15 resulting in a 20 Watt total.

    For the NUC’s WIFI the most important aspect is that it’s socketed, unlike e.g. on the Tiger Lake NUC11. I had bought a bunch of AX200 cards some time back, because at just €20 they were twice the price of shipping and I replaced the WIFI before I even booted the system.

    I got a whole box of below-acceptable WIFI cards, that’s just electronic waste from the factory, because quite a few high-range notebooks also come with such crippling kit.

    Likewise, I have another box of RealTek based USB3 2.5 Gbit/s Ethernet adapters, to bring a bit of balance to these systems, which I tend to use with GlusterFS.

    I also didn’t have DDR4-2933 SO-DIMMs lying around and was ever so glad the 2x 32GB DDR4-3200 I borrowed from my Tiger Lake NUC11 worked, even if they took quite a bit of time at the initial boot to be configured properly.

    DDR4-2400 SO-DIMMS will work just as well and honestly there is very little real difference in performance. The memory bandwidth on Geekbench 4 will change from 16.9/GBs to 17.3GB/s for single core and from 22.2GB/s to 25.6GB/s on multi core. The same DDR4-3200 SO-DIMMs deliver 35.6GB/s single core memory bandwidth with the Tiger Lake’s i7-1165G7 and 39.7GB/s on the multi-core variant, which would almost seem to indicate, that the latest Atom continues to be a single-channel design, like the J5005, N3700 and J1900 predecessors, where the 2nd module never delivered more than a 10% bandwidth increase.

    Jasper lake drops to 12.8GB/s with a single module on both the single and the multi core variants of the Geekbench 4 memory bandwidth benchmark and I’m sure the impact on the iGPU would be rather significant, even if I didn’t measure to confirm.

    Next I dropped PL1/PL2 to 10/12 Watts (the BIOS won’t allow 10/10) and TAU to 1 second, just to see differentiate properly between the generational improvements of Jasper Lake vs. Goldmont Plus and the additional TDP budget: it barely made a difference on Geekbench 5, whilst HWinfo did confirm that the lower TDP limits were indeed observed.

    It takes Prime95 to confirm, that the TDP budget difference has an impact on the clocks, Geekbench is just too light a workload. And in combination with Furmark, you can also nicely observe that the iGPU TDP share is fixed at 5 Watts, while the CPU core have to manage with what’s left at 25 or 15 Watts after TAU.

    I do believe the Atlas Canyon NUC11 is a rather good deal for the €200 price, if you can get one. I’ve found a niche dealer here in Germany (minipc.de), that still has dozens in stock but that seems a rare exception. There are still some N6005 based firewall appliances available from China, even fully passive but at closer to €500 before taxes.

    Ian started to ruminate on how he’d be able to measure the generational improvements of Grace Mont over Jasper Lake by using Lasso to control CPU core assignments on an Alder Lake base. Too bad he then never got around testing that, because it could have helped to gauge a hypothetical all-E-core chip.

    Jasper Lake does rather well against say a Broadwell based Xeon D-1541 at 2.7GHz so it’s easy to see why they are not to keen on seeing these low-end devices compete in the mini-server market. Elkhart Lake Atoms variants which support inline ECC would certainly create an issue, if they sold for a similar price than Jasper Lake (I heavily suspect they are the same silicon). But a SuperMicro mainboard with zero other distinguishing features (e.g. only Gbit Ethernet) is listed at €800, way beyond what I’d want to pay for ECC alone.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, July 15, 2022 - link

    > DDR4-2400 SO-DIMMS will work just as well and honestly there is very little real difference in
    > performance. The memory bandwidth on Geekbench 4 will change from 16.9/GBs to 17.3GB/s
    > for single core and from 22.2GB/s to 25.6GB/s on multi core.

    > ... the latest Atom continues to be a single-channel design

    > Jasper lake drops to 12.8GB/s with a single module on both the single and the multi core

    That's a 35% benefit for single-core and a 100% boost for multi-core. Whatever is going on there, I think it's simplistic to say the SoC is simply designed for single-channel.

    It's weird that they hampered it, because they're just leaving performance on the table. I wonder if maybe the memory controller is more optimized for LPDDR4 and the regular DDR4 performance is more of an afterthought.

    BTW, thanks for your TDP testing, also.
    Reply

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