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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Comments (33)

33 responses to “Intel NUC: A Little Forward Momentum”

  1. michael_jones

    Glad to hear the monitor is working out for you too. Been really happy with it. I use a Y cable for the audio out of the monitor, so have one that goes to the speaker and one to the headphones myself, but other than that only thing that would have made it better is a built in Windows Hello compatible web camera.

  2. wright_is

    We used to hang the NUCs under the desk in a cage next to the wiring tunnel, the NUC would then be activated by pressing a key on the (cabled) keyboard for most of our users. We did then have a USB-A male to USB-A female extension cable run from under the desk for the one or two users that needed USB sticks, otherwise they used the monitor USB ports.

    That kept any fan noise to a minimum, although the older NUCs weren't loud anyway.

    It is interesting, over here you can hardly find a monitor without speakers there days.

  3. g_howell

    If it hasn’t been mentioned, Dell’s Business Monitors are quite good, and some models use a heavy-gauge USB-C cable (which comes with the monitor) for DisplayPort video, audio, and USB 3.1 high speed data to a hub inside the monitor.


    You can also daisy chain a second monitor with the dedicated USB-C output which is built into some Dell Business monitors. Just shop carefully to pick the right monitor.


    To be clear, that's two monitors and two USB hubs driven off a single cable from the NUC. This is USB-C multimode, not Thunderbolt.


    Depending on the model you bought, the NUC is capable of driving three monitors, and you can mix and match DisplayPort, HDMI, and/or Thunderbolt (via an adapter).


    I have a setup like this now, being used by a non-technical person who rings my phone the moment something goes haywire. It's been nearly trouble-free for a year.


    I can't say enough good things about the NUC. I'd caution everyone to look carefully at specs, to get the NUC which fits your use case.


    My first experiment with a NUC was a little i3 on which I ran a Minecraft server for my kids and I. It worked amazingly well. That was a first gen NUC, and I've been sold ever since.


    • mattbg

      In reply to g_howell:

      Agree - I have a Dell 38" ultrawide with a built-in KVM that supports USB-C. It is great to be able to connect a device to the monitor for KVM purposes with just a single cable - especially when that device is a notebook that is frequently connected and disconnected.

  4. mattbg

    Not the most elegant solution, but if you need USB ports front and center and it's otherwise unworkable, you can always add a USB extension cable and just plug your USB keys into the end of the extension cable. That way, it can be pretty much anywhere you want. I prefer this in some ways because you just grab the cable and insert the key rather than having to align everything to a box on or under your desk that may not be heavy enough to push against :)

  5. justme

    Thank you for the continued NUC discussion. I am curious - one of your early posts, you replaced the lid of the NUC to add a couple more USB ports, I believe...? Did you give up on that, or was that simply an evaluation? Or did you talk about it and I just missed it? Registry editing sounds decidedly...painful, though effective. One of my potential desktop replacement options in the future is a NUC with a Thunderbolt 3 dock of some sort and an eGPU - which is why I am hoping you are still planning your eGPU trial at some point. The answers I got from the community when I originally posed the question a few weeks back were fantastic. I have from time to time even entertained the idea of a Mac mini running Windows with an eGPU. It is nice to hear you havent broken the bank on it. Looking forward to your further NUC tales of test, trial, and tribulation.


    I am also curious about your noise tolerance. You've mentioned your adversity towards fan noise a few times in regards to the NUC. Is this just a "Paul-ism"? Myself, I grew up (and continue to be) in the proximity of an airport(s) and jets of all variety, so most computer/fan noise is just...in the noise for me.


  6. hrlngrv

    Re 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., export registry trees to text files with .REG extensions, use a decent editor to clear out everything except .cx and .cy values, change them as needed, then merge the .REG file.

  7. tsurma

    I am having a similar issue with resizing windows (on a dual screen system) after reboot and hadn't heard of the registry .cx .cy solution. Any pointers that can be shared. I have tried everything I had known in my many years but that is a new one for me to try. thanks!

  8. bshaw

    This brings back memories of Jerry Pournelle, a writer for Byte magazine (okay, this is going waaay back...) He would write about his latest computer setups at Chaos Manor, and overcoming problems and complexities as they cropped up. His was always the first read when that magazine (almost a book!) came every month.

  9. truerock2

    To me the NUC is a solution looking for a problem to solve.


    I better idea would be to use industry standard notebook PC technology and just leave off the keyboard and display.

    That way you have a small PC and you don't need to re-invent the wheel.

  10. vernonlvincent

    What I really want to see is how much using an eGPU with the NUC transforms it into a gaming device. I really don't want to have multiple machines, so I'm hoping that the NUC works well as a standalone device when I need something reasonably quiet - and works well as a gaming machine when I use an eGPU.


    I've been hoping against hope that the next Surface tablet would support Thunderbolt, but Paul and Brad and Mary Jo have pretty much shot that hope down.

  11. DaveHelps

    I also use the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop set. I have one at work and one at home. The keyboards are great, but I’ve found the mouse to be less reliable. The thumb button dies within a few months, and the left click lasts about 2 years.


    I’ve had them replaced under warranty once, and bought a replacement myself, but all 4 mice showed the same behaviour.


    It’s getting close to replacement time again, so I’m wondering:


    Can anyone who has used both recommend the similar Surface keyboard over this set?


    Does anyone know if a Bluetooth-ready replacement is in the pipeline?


    Thanks everyone!

  12. jlmerrill

    I wish I could justify a NUC. But I need to have have a tower that has PCI slots for legacy RS232 ports.

  13. robinwilson16

    I'd be interested to know more about the fix to stop all the windows resizing.

    I use a Surface Pro 4 connected to its dock which is then connected to two 24" displays and every time the screens switch off, when I come back I must manually put windows back where they were.

    This has happened across multiple re-installs and versions of Windows 10 for years so just thought it was one of those bugs that couldn't be fixed.

    Also since notepad went UWP this now unhelpfully always decides to move itself off-screen so I must hover over the thumbnail preview and maximize each one to get them to re-appear on the screen. Other UAP apps like OneNote often just close themselves too.

  14. RobertJasiek

    The small size alone is not responsible for a fan but the combination of small size, heat management and chip heat is. i7 can easily require heat management that does not fit easily into small size without fan at an acceptable price. For i3, such is possible (but not available in Intel's barebones). For i5, probably (would need to look up). Your problem is your desire for i7 and preference for NUC, although it is nice that you can live with the remaining fan noise now.

  15. chrishilton1

    I have the smaller i5 unit, doesn't make any noise at all. I also use an old 2009 27" iMac as a display, great use of old kit with a good resolution. I'd reccomend caution with bios updates, one earlier this year bricked the device. It is possible to undo, but required me to reinstall windows. New versions are available now which don't have the issue, but it took Intel some time.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to chrishilton1:

      As I read this, I can hear a very low whine coming out of the NUC. It's not the full-blown fan noise that can happen, but just kind of a low background sound.

      • Ajay213

        In reply to paul-thurrott:


        Can you measure it with an SPL meter (or SPL Meter app), or are you just very sensitive to the noise/tone? I have 3 NUC's at home, and I can't hear any of them. I run 5 or 6 of them at work, and I can't say I hear any of those either, and they cover the full gamut of generations and specs (I've been a NUC fan for years now). However, I'm not noise sensitive until the volume goes up a bit higher. I just wonder if you have one that is broken/defective in some way?


        There are a few companies that sell fanless NUC cases, I believe somebody had mentioned it in another comment/different article. I believe you can get them down to around/just under $100. Obviously it adds more $$$ to the red zone, but if you desire absolute silence, it may be well spent.

  16. curtisspendlove

    I'm very curious how that dock works out. I've considered trying one to get my new desktop happy with my existing laptops. As is, my monitor sports two HDMI ports, so I have the primary plugged into my desktop and the secondary has a cable hanging off it to plug in a laptop when I want. (At the moment all my laptops have HDMI, so I don't have to fuss with dongles. I'm sure that will change if I ever upgrade any of the laptops.)


    But I was considering a dock; and wondering if it would work well at all as a pass-through solution for everything. Then I can just plug any laptop into that and still have the desktop plugged in too. Not sure if it's feasible. :

  17. brettscoast

    Excellent result Paul. Thanks for sharing your experience with the intel nuc. You found a way through to make it work and that is a big positive.

  18. infloop

    Nice that everything is working as it should. You definitely deserved a break from technology-related problems for a while.


    I have been pretty happy with a similar setup of the 8th generation NUC and HP Zxn G2 display so far.

  19. frank_costanza

    I was on the fence for a long time when replacing my surface pro 3 with a desktop.


    Ultimately, I went w/a refurb Mac Mini. No fan noise (nice!), upgradable RAM and lots of ports.


    As a bonus, I was able to convert a bunch of old MiniDV tapes I'd been meaning to for years. Just used iMovie and an insanely expensive adapter. To be fair, the same process on a NUC or custom build would have been expensive, frustrating, or both.


    The only real problem I've had is with my existing display---an ultrawide Dell 3415W. There are no drivers for the Mac so the built-in monitor speakers don't work.


    As a replacement monitor, I'd love to try the z27's big brother, the z32.


    What do I miss from Windows 10? Certain apps, especially dedicated YouTube (I think MyTube is what I was using) and Netflix.


    But as a front-end developer, everything I need is on MacOS---VSCode, bash, Node, etc.



    • wright_is

      In reply to frank_costanza:

      Interesting. The speakers are driven through DisplayPort or HDMI, so sound should be automatic through the HDMI or DP driver, it is in the specification for both standards, how the sound is to be transferred, so you would think no extra driver would be necessary - I haven't had a Mac for several years, only Windows and Linux and both use HDMI/DP sound automatically, it really surprises me that MacOS doesn't do that.

  20. alan_on_cape_cod

    I looked closely and really liked the HP Z27n G2, especially with all the ports that make this a great dock. I wanted to use it for a desktop setup with my laptop, but wanted to connect with ONLY a USB-C cable, making it simple to move to/from laptop and desktop modes. However, its Type-C power delivery was limited to 15 W. I ended up buying the Dell U2719DC, with a very similar array of ports but its USB-C provides up to 65 W of power, needed to power and charge my laptop.

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