Intel NUC: A Little Forward Momentum

Posted on September 2, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 33 Comments

I’ve approached the new NUC a bit gingerly, given my early reliability problems. But now that I’ve solved the display issue, all is well.

As you may recall, I moved my primary desktop PC from an HP AIO to the Intel NUC (NUC8i7BEH) about 10 days ago. This isn’t normally the type of transition I’d document publicly; after all, I switch between different portable PCs regularly and it’s always pretty seamless thanks to OneDrive-based document synchronization. But my AIO experiences were increasingly negative, especially toward the end when it became clear that I was never going to solve the problem. And the new, NUC, well. That wasn’t ideal either.

I had originally planned to transition to the NUC when I got it late last year. But it’s louder than expected fan noise killed that idea—I’m sensitive to noise—and I ended up using it since as a secondary PC for my work on the Windows 10 Field Guide. So switching to it shouldn’t have been all that difficult assuming I could live with the fan noise: I had been keeping it up-to-date with Windows 10 version 1903 already anyway.

I kept running into problems. In addition to the fan noise, I had continued reliability issues with the AIO, which I had originally hoped to use as a display for my NUC. And then my Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard coughed up its “i” key. So not only was I being forced to switch computers, but I would end up having to spend hundreds of dollars more on a new display, speakers (unless I got a display with built-in audio), and a keyboard/mouse set. Plus a Thunderbolt 3 dock of some kind, given the NUC’s limited expansion. And possibly a video cable of some kind.

The good news? I did pretty much solve all the problems. Even the fan noise is a bit better. Not … fixed. But better.

That particular fix was the result, I believe, of the firmware configuration changes I previously documented. Given the NUC’s small form factor, some fan noise is inevitable, and I’m OK with that, of course. I only hear it when the PC wakes or boots up, or during acceptable moments of duress (application installs, etc.). It’s acceptable.

I solved my display issue by purchasing a 27-inch 1440p HP Z27n G2 display from Amazon.com for $340. It works fantastically well, and it has a good range of modern ports, plus the height and angle adjustments I had wanted on that previous AIO (which needed to be placed on a stand to achieve the correct height).

Just adding the HP display didn’t actually solve any problems, nor did install HP’s Support Assistant software, which the firm uses to check for new drivers and the like. Each day, when I woke up the PC, all of the currently open windows would be resized to ridiculously small sizes. This type of problem seemed familiar, if old-fashioned, and after doing a bit of research, I finally discovered that cycling through a series of different displays—the original Samsung 1080p I had been using with the NUC for the book, the AIO’s display, an HP business-class 24-inch 1080p display, and then the new HP Z27n G2 display–I had basically screwed up all of the display profiles in the Registry.

The solution? Use RegEdit to edit each key with “.cx” or “.cy” to have the correct values (usually “2560” for cx and “1440” for cy). That was as mind-numbing as it sounds, as there were many of them. But it worked: I haven’t had a single wake/display issue since.

(The other solution that would certainly have worked: Just reinstall Windows 10.)

Because the HP has different video-in ports and a couple of USB ports, there is a chance I can get away without needing an external dock, which would be nice. My goal is to have at least one open full-sized USB port on the front of the NUC so that I can attach devices temporarily as needed.

There are different configurations that can achieve this. For now, I’m using an inexpensive USB-C-to-DisplayPort cable that a reader recommended for video-out. I had been using the NUC’s USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port to connect a Pixel USB-C cable for phones, but since the display has USB ports, I switched to one of those.

Soon, I will begin testing an incredible 14-port Thunderbolt 3 Dock that OWC sent for review. This is probably overkill for my current configuration. But it looks like a great option for the more typical use case, where you have a portable PC instead of a NUC. I’ll test it that way, too, of course, and even with the NUC, it could prove useful as I could hide the NUC under the desk and just interface with the Dock instead. It’s a neat one-cable expansion solution.

As for audio, as noted, I purchased a pair of Edifier R1010BT Studio Monitors for $80 at Amazon. It’s weird having speakers take up space on the desk again, but the sound quality is good, and I’ll attach a Chromecast Audio to their second inputs so that they can take part in whole-house audio when needed. My bigger immediate concern, however, was how the speakers would interact with the headphones I need to wear when recording podcasts.

After a bit of experimentation, I can see that this will work as before: The speakers are connected to the audio-out on the display, so the default sound device is set to the display. When I plug in the headphones, it switches to those. This works generally, and in Skype specifically, so all is well.

And … that’s where I’m at. Everything seems to be working properly and has been doing so for several days. And I can’t think of the last time I’ve been able to say that.

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