Introduction and Setup Impressions

Over the last couple of years, mini-PCs in the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) have emerged as one of the bright spots in the troubled PC market. Intel's NUC systems are one of the most popular in this category. The lack of graphic prowess in the NUCs allowed for machines such as BRIX Pro (based on the Haswell Iris Pro CPU) to enter the market. With Broadwell, Intel is bringing out an Iris NUC on its own.

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 and Intel's own Core i5-5250U-based NUC5i5RYK units, giving us some insight into how a 15 W TDP Broadwell-U might perform for common workloads. With Intel's partners launching UCFF PCs based on the U-series CPUs, it was always going to be interesting to see how they could differentiate their Broadwell NUCs. This review of the NUC5i7RYH - Intel's Core i7 Broadwell-U-based NUC with Iris Graphics 6100 - provides some insights.

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. The Iris NUC is sized to accommodate a 2.5' drive also. The SATA data and power cables are already routed and the appropriate chassis slots are in place to make adding a 2.5" drive very easy (as can be seen in the photograph below).

Intel also supplied us with a sample of Samsung's SM951 M.2 NVMe drive for use as the primary storage medium. The specifications of our Intel NUC5i7RYH review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel NUC5i7RYH Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-5557U
(2C/4T x 3.1 GHz, 14nm, 4MB L2, 28W TDP)
Memory 2x 8GB DDR3L-1866 C13
Graphics Intel Iris Graphics 6100
Disk Drive(s) Samsung SM951 Series MZVPV256 256 GB M.2 NVMe SSD
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) $878
Full Specifications Intel NUC5i7RYH Specifications

The Intel NUC5i7RYH 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 chassis. The Wi-Fi module is underneath the M.2 SSD and not visible in the gallery photo.

The Iris NUC officially supports DDR3L SO-DIMMs at 1600 MHz. However, the BIOS automatically configures the memory for the highest possible speed. Our Crucial DIMM kits support running at up to 1866 MHz and they were automatically configured to run at that frequency with timings of 13-13-13-32 - this is much worse than the usual 1866 MHz kits that we have access to. However, given that memory overclocking is automatically configured, we evaluated the system with those timings.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel NUC5i7RYH 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 NUC5i7RYH when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC5i7RYH
CPU Intel Core i7-5557U Intel Core i7-5557U
GPU Intel Iris Graphics 6100 (Broadwell-H GT3) Intel Iris Graphics 6100 (Broadwell-H GT3)
RAM Crucial CT102464BF186D.M16
13-13-13-32 @ 1866 MHz
2x8 GB
Crucial CT102464BF186D.M16
13-13-13-32 @ 1866 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Samsung SM951 Series MZVPV256
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 19nm; MLC)
Samsung SM951 Series MZVPV256
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 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) $878 $878
Performance Metrics - I
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  • damianrobertjones - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    I have the i5 version along with an 850 evo drive and, seeing as it's there, a Plextor M6e M.2 PCIe drive. The Nuc is quite fast but when it comes to using the Plextor PCIe SSD, while running VMs etc, the performance is really quite poor. We're talking the same speed or less than the 850 drive. (Stats obtained from the Samsung Magician software)

    Heck using video from within a VMWare OS, along with Corel Videostudio, creates stuttering etc. Previously I did the same task with a Surface Pro 3 (i7,8GB) with no such issues.

    Is the M.2. spec simply not ready?
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    That depends a lot on your software and hardware support. For example, before I was running win10 bare metal on my desktop I was running it in VM, and on my nice big Sandy Bridge i7 desktop it could not play back simple h.264 1080p video smoothly... but trying the same thing on my newer but much more gutless i7 dual core laptop a few months later had pretty much 0 issues. It all depends on the VM platform, the OSs in use, the GPU, the drivers, etc. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    I hear you. I just expected more from the PCIe M.2. drive. It simply 'feels' slow and the speed test returns figures that are nowhere near the performance that it should hit Reply
  • Flunk - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    It might have to do with the controller. Reply
  • extide - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    You'r VMDK's are probably not properly 4K aligned. Reply
  • extide - Thursday, April 23, 2015 - link

    Your* Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    I've moved to an MSI machine with 2x 850 evos. Problem solved and all working fine again. Reply
  • smegma11 - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    I read somewhere to expect great things from the Skylake. The newest chip will open up all 3 data lines to the M.2 where the previous versions don't. I imagine this will help speeds quite a bit. Reply
  • nutternatter34 - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    I have to agree. I tried to use an M.2 as a boot drive and for my software. Where I might not be able to compare many SSDs in general usage, the M.2 directly hampered multi-tasking and had notable visible performance issues. Maybe I expected too much from it but in future I would be very cautious choosing an M.2 drive over something in the 2.5" form factor. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - link

    THANK YOU! Glad that someone's got the same issue.

    From the Samsung Magician software

    Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5"
    SR: 547 SW: 504
    RR: 71807 RW: 64081

    Plextor PX-G128M6e
    SR: 743 SW: 332
    RR: 64558 RW: 47909

    The whole reason for getting one was to have improved performance for my VMs! What's going on? (Not tried to update the Plextor firmware just yet)
    Reply

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