Back to the Intel NUC

Posted on August 25, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 63 Comments

Last November, I began using the Intel NUC (NUC8i7BEH) Mini-PC Kit, to which I added the RAM and M.2 SSD card I had previously used with an older NUC. As I noted at the time, the newer NUC was a big step up from its predecessor, thanks to its quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Iris Plus Graphics 655 integrated graphics, Wireless-AC 9560 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 expansion capabilities.

I had big plans for the new NUC. But what I discovered, and pretty quickly, was that some combination of its 28-watt processor, small enclosure, and cooling system resulted in a lot of fan noise. So, while I continued using the NUC over the intervening several months—most of the screenshots in the Windows 10 Field Guide were taken on that NUC—it was more of a secondary thing, and not my daily-use PC.

But that just changed.

Thanks to ongoing and increasingly maddening reliability issues with the HP EliteOne 1000 All-In-One (AIO) PC I had been using, I started looking around for a replacement. Not being rich, I looked at what I already had in my own house, and what I’ve arrived at is perhaps overdue: I will use the NUC, and in doing so perform some of the many tests—around Thunderbolt 3-based docking and external GPU/gaming.

First, of course, I had to get up and running. Long story short, my original plan, which was to use the EliteOne 1000 as a very expensive 4K/UHD display thanks to its DisplayPort-in capabilities, started off well but then fell to reliability issues. I’m not sure if they’re related to what had happened previously with the PC itself, but the display would go to sleep after very short time intervals, regardless of how I configured the power management settings and, even worse, regardless of whether I actively using the computer. So that wasn’t going to work.

I only had one other semi-reasonable display in-house; it’s an older HP business display that is crystal clear but is only 24-inches (the AIO display was 27) and is only 1920 x 1080. I’ve been using it all weekend, and it’s OK. But I would like to switch to a display that is at least 27-inches and at least 1440p.

Speaking of needing to spend money, as I was typing this article this morning, the “i” key suddenly failed. I was typing “around Thunderbolt 3-based docking” and that last word came out as “dockng.” I’m kind of a gorilla-like typist, so the spelling mistake didn’t surprise me, but as I went back and tried to fix it, the letter “i” would never appear. I looked down at the key and saw that it was slightly askew. And that it was no longer connected. And that it would no longer connect as it was physically broken.


For the love of …

I would need to wait two days for Amazon, so I checked Best Buy and the (not so local) closest physical store had one unit of my preferred keyboard and mouse combo—the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop USB Port Keyboard and Mouse—left. So I paid for it online and ran off to Best Buy to pick it up. Since I was heading to the store, I figured I’d look at displays, and after some quick research, ended up with a Samsung UE590. This is a 28-inch UHD/4K display, and it advertised 60 Hz refresh rates and seemed to have good reviews. $300 later—$400 if you add in the keyboard/mouse—I was back home.

And… I won’t be keeping this display. Wisely not opening it, I looked more closely at the reviews online and discovered that 60 Hz is only possible over DisplayPort. And the NUC only has HDMI, which will provide an unacceptable 30 Hz at 4K. The one out here is that I could use an HP docking station to connect via DisplayPort, thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 connectivity on the NUC. But I don’t want to rely on that. So I will keep looking.

In any event, my experience using the NUC over the weekend has been very positive for the most part. The fan noise I’m so sensitive to is present, but not omnipresent, and I’m thinking that if it’s unworkable over time, I can just mount the NUC behind the display or under the desk; basically, just get it out of direct ear-shot.

Performance has been great: The 16 GB of RAM and M2. SSD I bought almost three years ago are not in any modern, or as fast as the components that the new NUC will accept. But they work fine and are adequate for my needs. Which is mostly productivity work, of course. The addition 8 GB of RAM will help with the virtual machines and for the software development tools (Visual Studio, mostly) that I use for the Programming Windows series.

Which, of course, reminds me of the recent discussions around sub-$500 laptops and how there is, in my experience and opinion, no such thing as a good PC in that price range. I was curious how the NUC fell into this discussion, if at all.

To be fair, it really doesn’t: The NUC kit I have requires one to buy RAM and storage and to have or buy a keyboard, mouse, and display. I already had all of those items, so there was no initial additional cost.

Having just spent an additional $400, however, I realize that that is pretty unusual. Many people who choose a NUC may have a few components to reuse, but few will have RAM and storage, for sure. I looked up the prices I paid on Amazon in February 2016: $73 for the RAM and $90 for the SSD, plus $386 for my original NUC kit; a total of about $580. The newer NUC kit, the one I’m using now, is/was more expensive: It’s about $500 now on Amazon. So about $665 with the (older) RAM and storage.

Granted, a Core i7 and 16 GB of RAM is overkill for most users. And while it’s hard to differentiate between the generations of processors available in various NUCs, it looks like a NUC kit with a Core i5 can be had for $300 to $450, depending on model/supplier.

Basically, when you add in monitor and peripherals, you’re looking at anywhere from $700 to $1000 for a full-featured NUC-based mini-PC with reasonable performance. That’s closer to my ideal for portable PCs, but I’m not as familiar with the cost of desktop PCs. I assume they are similarly or lower priced. Either way, the NUC isn’t a particular bargain. Which is almost certainly not how Intel sells this product anyway.

Ah well.

Regardless, I’ll forge ahead with the new NUC and will try to figure out a better display this week.

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Comments (63)

63 responses to “Back to the Intel NUC”

  1. kjb434

    The monitor just turning itself off or going dark after some use seems like a problem I had on another LED panel.

    I have two identical Acer monitors. One started this behavior of just turning itself off. I noticed the screen was quite warm compared to the monitor that still worked fine. The only thing I can think of is the monitor's circuitry was overheating and this behavior was to protect itself.

    I have no means to fix and the monitor is over 6 years old, so I just let it go and trashed it.

    It sucks that may be happening on the nice HP panel on the AIO.

  2. vernonlvincent

    Very happy you are revisiting the NUC, for a number of reasons.

    In addition to technology, I also do voice-over work as a hobby/future second profession, and I'm really looking for a quiet machine that I can use to do recording. But I'd like the machine to be able to serve other purposes as well - like graphics and maybe game play, which is why I really want Thunderbolt 3 support. That would let me me use the NUC as a standalone device for recording, as well as a more powerful machine for graphics/games when I hook it up to an eGPU.

  3. csalese

    Pull the back cover off the AIO and vacuum all of the dust bunnies out it to solve potential overheating problems.

  4. Tony Tsobanis

    Might be worth moving the internals of the NUC into this fanless case:

  5. brettscoast

    Thanks for revisiting the intel NUC. I can see the benefits and possible drawbacks to mini-pc and the smaller footprint is quite appealing in situations where you are perhaps limited by space constrictions. Regarding the keyboard have you ever considered using a mechanical keyboard i have actually found this is more productive despite having used many different makes of keyboard over the years. The back-lighting is generally very good if typing at night or low light the sound of hitting the keys might be a off putting to some folks given the amount of typing you do in your every day job.

  6. justme

    To echo brettscoast, I also appreciate you revisiting the NUC. The keyboard deciding it was time to give up the ghost had to be frustrating. When you originally wrote about the fan noise that bothers you, I did wonder if there was a replacement case that was either fanless or perhaps just more efficient at getting rid of the heat generated. Perhaps even a BIOS setting(s) you could tweak, as others have mentioned already. Not sure if they make alternative fans for a machine this small unless its part of a different case.

    Regardless, I am looking forward to reading about how this plays out for you and the testing you intend to do. A NUC is one of those things that is "on the list" for me, should I find myself able to shake loose the cash and get the OK nod from "Senior Management" at the same time.

  7. willhughes

    Hey Paul

    My 3rd gen i7 desktop kicked the bucket Saturday, so I switched over to the spare 7th gen NUC and was a bit frustrated with the HDMI/1080p only thing since I have it connected to a 1440p Dell monitor (U2711)

    Under Ubuntu though it shows up as a Display port connector, so on a hunch I swapped over to a HDMI to DVI cable and like magic it worked - 1440p at 60hz.

    You might want to give it another go.

  8. jwpear

    I have the i5 version of this NUC connected to a Dell P2715Q via HDMI and get 60 Hz. I use the DP ports to connect my Surface dock and MacBook Pro. The P2715Q has been discontinued, but I have the replacement Dell U2718Q at the office and it works well. Amazon link for the U2718Q:

    Text is just so beautifully clear on a 4K. There's no way I'm going back to anything lower for my primary display.

    FWIW, the i5 version is mostly silent outside of the occasional spin up when under heavy load. I use it for development and hear the fan about 25 percent of the time I'm using it. Like you, I've considered mounting under my desk, but haven't pulled the trigger because the fan isn't constant.

  9. sabarrett

    I'm interested in what you do with your NUC, as I have the same unit. I have the version with both the spinning drive and the M.2 drive. I have 16g in mine, along with a 256gb M.2 and a 1TB hitachi. They are connected to a wired keyboard and a wireless mouse and a 2k 27 inch monitor by USB3 to Displayport. It works pretty great, but I'm always interested in if I have everything working properly.

  10. hrlngrv

    That's one weird keyboard picture: the 7/& key looks more than twice as wide as the 8/* key.

    Who'd buy a NUC as their 1st PC? I figure most NUC buyers would have lots of peripheral lying around.

    FWLIW, I've been using mini PCs at home for the last 7+ years. However, mine are the size of boxes of 6 granola bars rather than 3 packs of cigarettes. Still small enough to mount behind monitors if one doesn't need access to the USB ports for removable drives. If one doesn't need floppy drive, optical drive, or spinning harddisks, one doesn't really need a huge case except, perhaps, for cooling.

  11. Patrick3D

    From what I understand HP was supposed to release a BIOS update to fix the DisplayPort-In issue but I don't see it mentioned in the notes for any of their current BIOS versions. If the input is working over a USB connection internally make sure to disable power management on the USB Root Hub that it works through. I just disable it on all the root hubs but you can usually narrow down the exact one by looking through the properties of the driver that handles the problem device.

  12. rbagany

    After looking at your choices here - HP EliteOne 1000 AIO, a noisy Intel NUC, external video cards, etc. You already spent a boatload of money on hardware that can barely be upgraded. What you need is an old fashioned desktop computer... my 2 cents.

  13. nfeed2000t

    Two years ago I bought the latest i5 NUC (2 core, 4 thread). Although I love the size, I didn't care for the performance of the NUC. The next year I bought a i7 tower with discreet graphics and I am much happier. My NUC has been relegated for testing.

  14. wil

    Hey Paul,

    You can easily solve the noise situation with a fanless case for the intel i7 nuc. A fanless case is not the expensive but if you are sensitive to noise it could be the best solution for you. Though I'm not sure if it would void your warranty. For example, an Akasa Turing case would be ideal for you.

  15. bleeman

    I used to use my various Surface Pro's with the Surface Dock and LG 34" ultra-wide monitor during my working years. However, I finally retired last December after 40+ years in IT and passed my last Surface Pro on to my wife. I now use a Surface Studio 2 for my desktop AIO and occasional gaming machine and a Surface Go for those times if I go out, or just want to get comfy in my recliner. Yes, the Studio 2 wasn't cheap, and it's overkill as an AIO (I'm no artist/designer type unless you're into stick figure people ?) but I wouldn't trade it for the world. It does exactly what I need and I love pushing it down to what I call "newspaper reading mode" and scrolling through the news and web articles like I'm flipping pages of the newspaper. Generally speaking it's pretty quiet (I have the i7 1TB 32GB model) but the fan will get noisy when I'm playing Forza 4 or similar on it. During normal web surfing, e-mail, document creation, etc. it's quiet.

  16. RobertJasiek

    If i3, 8GB and a 19" monitor are enough, a passively cooled PC for €400 (incl. VAT, barebone such as MSI, RAM, SSD) + monitor €150 + Windows license is possible (sum €550 + license). With modest usage needs (small SSD, cheapest monitor), €500 can be achieved. €600 is more realistic to meet some extra feature. Add peripherals. Good enough for me.

    You have higher needs for CPU, RAM and monitor size so naturally your total is larger.

    Strictly below €500 means light PC use with little storage need but for such usage is possible. The expense becomes time to inform oneself which earlier generation CPU is good enough for one's usage etc.

  17. throktar

    You might try the 32" LG UHD 4K (32UK50T) 2 HDMI ports and 1 Display port.

  18. aubreycttx

    A $20 dongle from Amazon could have saved that 4K monitor. Look up the Cable Matters USB-C to DisplayPort Adapter. I have this exact model of NUC and I have used this adapter to get 4K60 on a 4K monitor via Display Port.

  19. harrymyhre

    I don't see why you would want a "desktop" PC when laptops are so much more flexible.

    I thought about it and can see one reason a "desktop" PC can be better.

    With a desktop PC, one can connect almost any keyboard that is sold and get a person's favorite layout.

    With a laptop, we are stuck with whatever the mfgr gives us.

    But the desktop computer is pretty much chained to one spot. Huge drawback now that WiFi is pretty much as good as ethernet for most folks.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      That's a long conversation, but I don't like the interaction between a laptop and a dock and going back and forth between a single screen and dual-screen setup. The resolution/scaling changes make apps jump all over the place and resize. I just happen to prefer using a desktop at a desk and a laptop otherwise.

    • evox81

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      Or any of the other good reasons to use a desktop, like: power/performance, price, upgradability, repairability, etc, etc, etc.

      Edit #1 - Or: reuse of peripherals/less e-waste, greater component selection/flexibility

      Edit #2 - Or: More ports, no dongles.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Harrymyhre: "With a laptop, we are stuck with whatever the mfgr gives us." No you aren't. You can hook whatever keyboard, mouse and monitor you want to a laptop. Many of today's docking solutions do that with one connection, providing power to the laptop as well. I think Apple does a better job of supporting this than MS, but it has been an available option for a long time. I get that Paul doesn't like it, but I certainly wouldn't ever buy another desktop. (not a gamer BTW)

    • jchampeau

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      For me, I use the NUC and 34" monitor that are "chained" to my desk as opposed to a docked laptop because it's worth the relatively low cost of the NUC itself to not have to track down the laptop itself (is it in the car? On the dining room table? Leaning up against the bookshelf in the office?), dock/undock it all the time, wait for the laptop to boot, wait for it to shut down when I need to go somewhere, etc., etc. It's just so much faster to sit down, hit the space bar, and start working. And when I need to go meet with a client, I stand up, grab my bag, and go without giving the desktop a second thought. Put another way, I use the desktop for work at my desk and the laptop for work on the go, and if I were to use the same machine for both, it would take time to transition between the modes. And I feel like that time is wasted, so I use two machines instead.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      I have AC wi-fi in the house and I get around 56mbps out of it in my office or upstairs. Cable on the other hand is giving me the full gigabit.

      I did use a laptop for a while, docked and with external keyboard, mouse and display. But the limited performance, compared to a desktop made me swap back to a "real" PC. At work I have a ThinkPad and it is fast enough for most tasks, at home the extra power of a desktop Ryzen 7 plus multiple SSDs makes image editing fun, as opposed to a struggle - the RAWs from my camera load in under a second on the Ryzen 7, whilst they can take up to 5 seconds to load on my laptop.

  20. jchampeau

    With respect to the fan noise you mention (and despise), there's a chance that you are your own worst enemy here. I have a similar NUC but mine is the smaller version (model# BOXNUC7I5BNK) without space for a 2.5" drive and with a Core i5-7260U processor vs. your Core i7. I bought it in May 2017 along with 16 GB RAM and a WD Blue m.2 SSD, and I've been using it regularly since then. The only time I ever hear the fan spin up is when Windows updates are loading. I suspect your i7 generates more heat and than my i5, so that extra horsepower you don't really need for Word and web and Skype is costing you dearly in the form of increased fan noise. I don't think I'm as sensitive to the noise as you are, but I definitely notice it because the thing is right in front of me.

    Here's my setup.

  21. howtheothergeeklives

    I have a Pixio PX329. It is a 32" 1440p 165htz VA display. It has both display port and hdmi. It usually runs $350 on amazon.

  22. RobertJasiek

    @Harrymyhre, there are other reasons why a desktop rather than a notebook / 2-in-1 / tablet is needed:
    • gaming with more heat than a notebook can handle,
    • a matte monitor in portrait position with small display ratio,
    • a display ratio unavailable for notebooks: 5:4, 1:1, 21:9,...,
    • a large display size while working with only one display,
    • more ports than any notebook offers and would be reliable in docks and hubs,
    • several storage devices,
    • compliance or device management rules,
    • longevity and cost per year,...
  23. datameister

    We have an 8th gen i5 NUC with 16GB Ram and a Samsung SSD on a 1920x1080 monitor. It works great.

    The Cinebench test scored surprisingly close to my i7-4790 desktop from 4 years prior (not counting the discrete GPU of course). Intel really bumped up the performance in these 8th generation NUC chips.

  24. michael_jones

    I bought the QHD 27" display HP recommended by WireCutter from Amazon.

    Super happy with it right out of the box.

    HDMI, Display Port, and USB-C. If you want one that will actually charge your laptop, you'll have to get the 4k one, but for our home uses this thing rocks.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Michael_Jones:

      was literally looking at exactly that

      • michael_jones

        In reply to paul-thurrott:
        I'm super happy with it. I'd buy more of them for other computers if I had the money. LOL
        It comes with cables (the USB one is a A to C for legacy computers). It was SUPER bright out of the box, so had to turn that down but I've had none of the ghosting, smearing, etc. issues that WireCutter noted, so maybe those were fixed in firmware.
        My only real complaint is you really need to get the instructions from the web as the USB ports aren't well labeled and the little utility they make (HP Display Assistant) is pretty useful as well, but there is no mention of it in the box. It lets you mess with all the screen controls from the PC instead of using the monitor buttons and then save them as profiles you can toggle between, say if you want to switch color gamuts for some work over others, etc.
        I'd only buy the 4k one if you needed the extra USB power, but Windows 10 seems to handle 1440 on this monitor with no issues. I couldn't justify the price difference for the 3 YO Dell Alienware Alpha we are using. But the older discreet Nvidia GeForce chip is having no issues pushing [email protected], even doing light gaming duty.
        It's come down in price about $20 since I bought it back in May.

  25. Paul Thurrott

    Thanks for the display suggestions. Was considering this...

    • krisarthur

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Would love to see what you home office setup is along with Brad's. I know you travel and have "What I use" but what about things like monitors, office chairs, desks, lighting, etc.? I'm setting up my own home office now and would love to hear about that stuff from both of you!

      • Paul Thurrott

        In reply to krisarthur:

        I feel like I have written something like that. It doesn't really change all that much. Will look...

      • wright_is

        In reply to krisarthur:

        Personally, I use a Dell Ultrasharp 34" curved display. 21:9 display with 3840x1440 pixel resolution. I don't need the extra vertical height that 4K would give me, 1440 is enough, the ultra-wide part is basically 2 displays next to each other, but without the vertical break of monitor bezels getting in the way.

        The extra vertical resolution over a 24" FullHD "TV" means that you can get enough information vertically on the page, whilst the width means you can line up several windows next to each other.

        Obviously it all depends on how you work, as to whether it will suit your needs.

        The chair is probably the most important part of your office and you shouldn't cut corners on it. I have a high quality office chair at home (it is actually better than the one I have a work). I decided, because I spend hours at a time in my home office to get a pro chair. It is German made and has adjustable height, tile, seat length, armrest height and width adjustment and a seat that "rolls" slightly around the centerpoint to keep you from sitting perfectly still for hours on end - not as much movement as an exercise ball, but better than a solid chair (I did use a ball for a while, but it didn't help the fused vertebrae in my back). It cost a fair amount of money (somewhere around $700-$800), but my health is not worth skimping, by buying one of the cheap "fashionable" chairs for under $200.

        I'll also be interested to see what Paul uses in his office.

        • faustxd9

          In reply to wright_is:

          I would be interested in what chair you chose? Keep doing research on chairs and never make a decision on what to get.


          • wright_is

            In reply to FaustXD9:

            I tried out over 50 different chairs at about 4 different furniture stores. In the end I went with a Topstar Lady Sitness Deluxe. I tried it out for around 30 minutes, it was only after I found that it was perfect for me what it was called; but I didn't let the name put me off. At the end of the day, an office chair is a very personal thing and you shouldn't skimp on the time or money in finding the right one for you.

            Interestingly, it is much cheaper on now than when I bought it 2 years ago.

        • justme

          In reply to wright_is:

          +1 on the chair. We all work/game a bit differently, but if you are going to spend any time at all at a computer desk, a chair is one of the best uses of cash there is to enhance your suite. Recently spent in the area of 650GBP on a chair for my home office/gaming use. My back has thanked me profusely and I consider it money well spent.