Intel NUC: Next Steps

Posted on August 27, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 41 Comments

When I finally decided to move past my unreliable AIO PC and use an Intel NUC, I had hoped to do so with no additional costs or effort. So much for that theory.

As I noted previously, I had already moved RAM and M.2 SSD modules from an older (2017-era) NUC into the Intel NUC (NUC8i7BEH) Mini-PC Kit I got last November. This setup worked/works fine, aside from the fan noise, and I had hoped to use the display from the AIO, thanks to its HDMI-in port, along with the keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals I use each day.

(Note: That’s an affiliate link, as are many of the links in this post. Seemed obvious to do so after writing it. —Paul)

This plan backfired pretty immediately: the AIO display was just as unreliable as the AIO itself, albeit for what I think are different reasons, and the only extra and reasonably-good display I have on hand is too small, at 24-inches, and runs at only 1080p. It’s OK for the short term, but I knew I’d need a bigger (preferably 27-inch) display that ran at 1440p or 4K/UHD. So there’s another $300 to $400 out the door.

Following the rule that if something can go wrong it will, my Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard inexplicably coughed up its “i” key while I was typing my previous NUC article, and a quick check with Amazon.com showed that I couldn’t get a new one for several days. So I ended up driving over to the local-ish Best Buy and bought the last Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard and Mouse combo in stock. Another $100 for that.

But the biggest obvious issue for me using the new NUC is the fan noise: It was something I noticed immediately when I first started testing it last fall, and it’s something I’ve noticed all too regularly since I started using it again over the weekend. I’ve heard from several people now that this is only a problem with the Core i7 versions of the product, and that the Core i5 versions are much quieter. I can’t speak to that; all I can say is that it bothers me. I’ve always been sensitive to noise.

Readers had some interesting suggestions for fixing the problem, which I appreciate.

One suggested lowering the maximum processor speed to 75 percent in Advanced Power Options (which is really hidden, you navigate to Settings > System > Power & sleep > “Additional power settings” to launch the old Power Options control panel, and then you change the plan settings for the selected power plan (Balanced, in my case) and then select “Change advanced power settings” to launch the Power Options properties sheet, and then navigate to Processor power management > Maximum power state and change Setting to 75%. Ah boy.)

I did this but didn’t notice any change in the fan noise. Another reader recommended going into the firmware and changing the BIOS cooling options. So I did that (by booting into the Windows 10 recovery environment, by navigating to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Advanced startup > “Restart now” and the navigating to Troubleshoot > Advanced options > UEFI Firmware Settings in the recovery environment).

I was a bit surprised by the firmware interface, called Intel Visual BIOS, which is very graphical, and unusual looking. I’m not sure I’d ever seen it before.

In any event, under Cooling, there is a CPU Fan Header section where you can configure the Fan Control Mode. It was set to Balanced, I think, but there were choices for Fixed, Custom, Quiet, and Fanless, too. So I chose Quiet.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to have made much of a difference either. I may need to resort of moving the NUC from under the display to behind and below the desk; there is a metal cable runner suspended under there that would hold the NUC securely and could help with the perceived noise. I’ll wait a day or two before deciding on that.

To solve the display issue, I had purchased a Samsung UE590 display while I was at Best Buy picking up the keyboard/mouse set. This set me back about $280, so below the low end of what I expected to pay, and it was a 28-inch 4K/UHD display that seemed to have good reviews. But when I got home with it, I researched it a bit further and discovered that it will only output 4K at 60 Hz if you use its DisplayPort (DP) port. If you use HDMI, you can only get 4K at 30 Hz.

That’s unacceptable, and since the NUC only has a single HDMI port, I’d have to improvise. Two options were obvious: I could replace the display—I was smart enough to not open the box—-or I could use an HP Thunderbolt Dock that I also have on hand; it connects to the NUC (or any other PC) over USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, which the NUC does have, and it can output to DP (there are two such ports!), VGA, or USB-C.

The Thunderbolt dock may still be required—see below—but the thing that really bothered me here was the 60 Hz/30 Hz issue. I didn’t want to be limited by that in the future. The Xbox One X, for example, outputs over HDMI, and you can’t play games at 30 Hz. (You can’t even use a computer at 30 Hz, not unless you hate yourself.)

Here, again, a reader recommended an interesting solution: You can get an inexpensive HDMI-to-DP cable that will go directly from the NUC to the Samsung display and (allegedly) achieve that 60 Hz refresh rate. This was interesting enough that I ordered one. It should arrive today.

But I eventually decided to return that Samsung display regardless. After consulting with several reader recommendations—thanks again for that—and with the Wirecutter, I decided to get a 27-inch HP Z27n G2 display from Amazon at a cost of $340. This was the Wirecutter’s top recommendation and also a favorite of at least one reader. It’s 1440p, which is just fine, and that will help alleviate any 60 Hz issues, as any cable can handle 1440p at 60 Hz. It arrives tomorrow (Wednesday).

But one of the things I like about the HP, at least on paper, is its ports selection: It provides DP 1.2 in and out ports, and HDMI 1.4 port, a USB-C port, and DVI-in for video. There are also two full-sized USB 3.0 ports, if I decide to forego further expansion—either via that HP dock or some other USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 dock—which is interesting to me.

The thing is, I will need some form of ports expansion. The NUC provides just two USB 3.1 ports on the rear, and those are taken up by the Focusrite Scarlett Solo audio interface that connects to my podcast microphone and the (now long-in-the-tooth) Logitech C920 webcam. On the front, the NUC provides two USB 2.0 ports, and one is used by the Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard/Mouse dongle, leaving only one port open. I prefer to keep a USB-C phone cable plugged into a front-accessible port, so if I need to ever plug in something else, I’ll need to juggle wires.

Ideally, the dongle could be plugged in somewhere in the rear, freeing up a front port. That’s a small job for the HP Thunderbolt Dock, but since the HP display comes with USB ports, I could use one of those instead. It’s an idea.

There is one more thing. Since my previous setup was an AIO PC, there were, of course, speakers built-in to the unit; in this case, they were in the base. Those speakers are not available when you use the AIO as a display, not that it matters, since it doesn’t work anyway. And since most displays don’t come with speakers, I’d need speakers too. More $$.

Again, I checked with the Wirecutter and was amused to discover that their highest-recommended pair of computer speakers is the Mackie CR4BT set, which cost $170 at Amazon. I was amused to discover this because I owned a pair—Amazon says I bought them in September 2015—and I just threw them out before our home swap because they had suddenly stopped working. They were great speakers, but I didn’t want to spend $170.

Mackie sells a smaller CR3 set that costs just $99, which was closer to what I was thinking. But based on my experience with the Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers that we use with Chromecast in the sunroom, I opted for its smaller sibling, the Edifier R1010BT Studio Monitors, which cost just $80. Those also arrive today.

So, here’s where I’m at.

The NUC fan noise is still present. Maybe it’s not as frequent as before, it’s a bit too early to say. In the course of writing this article, I didn’t pipe up much or at all, but I’m not sure that’s a good measure. I will keep an eye—an ear, really—on it.

The switch to the NUC has cost me an additional $530 or so—$100 for the keyboard/mouse, $340 for the display, $80 for the speakers, and $11 for a cable that might now be superfluous—some expected, some unexpected. I will probably still want some kind of simpler USB-C/Thunderbolt dock or USB-C hub, or whatever, but we’ll see what the display situation looks like. I assume such a thing will be relatively cheap if I need it.

Until all the equipment arrives, I’m using that smaller (but decent quality) HP 24-inch display, and it certainly gets the job done. Not ideal, but not completely terrible.

Overall, this was an unnecessary reminder that things rarely work when it comes to technologies. PCs are still very complex machines, and they can be expensive. Spending money always feels like the wrong way to solve a problem to me. But it’s interesting, maybe depressing, how often that’s how it works out.

Tagged with , ,

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (41)

41 responses to “Intel NUC: Next Steps”

  1. Avatar

    wp7mango

    My desktop PC also had a loud fan. My solution was to replace the old heat sink compound with fresh stuff. Now I have a lovely quiet desktop PC which I use as my DAW. Problem solved!


    Not sure this applies to your NUC but I thought I'd share my experience with you.

  2. Avatar

    roc459868

    I use the i 3 version (NUC8i3BEH).16Gigs of ram, and 256 NVME along with a 500 SD. For a monitor i use a Vizio V436G1 TV. The NUC can drive at 4K HDR. Plays 4K HDR youtube videos on edge or firefox great, chrome is a no. For sound I use a Shiit Fulla 2, which is a DAC/Headphone/AMP for around 100.00. I do have specific needs for this setup as I have OMD, a form of muscular Dis trophy, which effects my eyes. The Vizio TV as a monitor works great. There is no color changing or bleeding on text. Now granted the TV does not have display port, but the NUC uses HDMI 2.a, which is great for integrated graphics. I don't game, so that is not any consideration. For productivity office , etc. , the set up works fine. Even the Netflix app looks great, and the Tv tells me its 4K HDR. I hope this helps.

  3. Avatar

    zself

    This is a great article in a most helpful series. Thank you. I've been wondering about a NUC. You helped me answer some questions.

  4. Avatar

    fulicolor

    and I thought the days of 'Plug 'n Pray' were over!

  5. Avatar

    bigfire

    Regarding the noise, I've rolled out a number of NUCs and find that fan noise is generally related to having dust in the heat sink. It causes the fan to run much higher, and can ultimately lead to a shutdown. I just fixed a friend's unit (who lives in a very clean place where you'd never suspect dust) and the fan is once again near silent. Just a thought.

  6. Avatar

    NWEnthusiast

    I have a couple of Intel Broadwell generation NUCs. One is an i5 and one is an i7. I use the NUC5i7RYH as my daily driver. There is some fan noise occasionally, but the i7 is usually fairly quiet. The i5 model is usually silent, but it does take longer to install Windows 10 feature updates.


    I've updated the firmware, BIOS / UEFI, several times. Mainly in the hopes that Intel is addressing Spectre, Meltdown and other hardware-related flaws, with processor microcode updates.


    Sometimes, Intel NUC BIOS / UEFI updates help with reducing fan noise. I found that to be the case when I updated from the original version to the next version. I haven't noticed a difference with the updates after that.


    The NUC firmware BIOS / UEFI updates are available on Intel's web site. Use the NUC model number to help find the BIOS / UEFI update for your model of NUC. You have to look carefully to find the instructions to perform the update. If you're not into hardware or don't have some experience as a PC Technician, the instructions may seem completely foreign to you. The latest method to do the update does work. I usually try to comy the firmware to a USB thumb drive to make it easier to find. But it also works from looking in folders on an NTFS partition.


    I have a couple of 8th generation i7 NUC Kits, but I haven't had a chance to put them together.


    There are also Thunderbolt 3 to DisplayPort cables. I haven't tried it on the new NUC that has a Thunderbolt 3 port. I got a couple of them from BHPhotoVideo.com, where I purchased the new NUCs. My older Viewsonic touchscreen monitor has HDMI and DisplayPort. Usually, you'll want to match the DisplayPort specs between the NUC, cable (if specified), and monitor.

  7. Avatar

    captvideo

    I have the 8i7BEH and have had monitor issues from day 1. I called to make sure it would run 2) 4K monitors, I was told by Intel it would. They do work, but It has been a nightmare.


    When I set the unit to put the monitors to sleep if it is more than 12 or so hours the second monitor will not wake. It's bizarre. I have 3 different 4k monitors and have switched monitors, inputs, cables, settings for monitor 1 or 2, different sleep times etc. no luck.


    Intel swapped my unit with a new one ($25), same problem. I've done countless bios and driver updates, no fix. A restart won't fix it, the second monitor doesn't wake. Only a complete shutdown with a fresh start will get both monitors back on.


    The solution is to set the monitors to never sleep and turn them off. It's annoying but it's the only way. The Intel forums have many others that have the same issue. Interesting that it's all Intel (including graphics chip) and they can't fix it.


    Gary


  8. Avatar

    brettscoast

    Thanks again Paul for the further write-up on intel nuc I am seriously looking at this form factor as my next desktop daily use pc. The portability of this hardware is a big factor. Your journey through this sometimes painful process is much appreciated by all the readers I am sure.

  9. Avatar

    WarWizard

    Hey Paul,

    I know this will be a bit of upfront cost, but have you considered the Lenovo Tiny-In-One series?

    They have a 27" monitor for it, with a NUC like device that can be upgraded with newer models (extending the life of the screen).

    We bought a few of these (the 24" versions) for work, and they are really good.

    They take the Lenovo M720 Tiny series computers.

    Worth a look if you like the AIO style design, while still giving you flexibility to upgrade/tweak things.

  10. Avatar

    infloop

    I have a few of the NUC i5 models (NUC8i5BEH).


    I did read some user reviews stating that the i7 models are louder due to the stronger processor, but that seems to have always been the case over the past few NUC generations. The i5 models also have fan noise but it's not too bad, kind of like laptop fans, but it is drowned out once I turn on my custom-built desktops with 120mm fans and discrete GPUs. It's mostly because of the size: they are small, so I'd rather have them properly cooled than completely silent.


    I bought the NUCs mostly for the small form factor as well as lower power usage. That the processor in the NUC comes with the same core and thread count as my desktop's i7 3770K (4/8) is like the cherry on top.

  11. Avatar

    blmuzzy

    I saw quite a number of posts about noisy NUC fans and several pointed to dust being the culprit. Here's a video of one on youtube (won't post with the full URL) . It doesn't seem like you'd had yours long enough for this to be causal but it's worth a check. I'm in the market to retire my 7 year old desktop and was considering a NUC but a loud fan would be a deal breaker.

  12. Avatar

    rohtasmasti

    Very nice website and very nice information about technology. I appreciate your hard work.keep it up.

  13. Avatar

    BeckoningEagle

    "On the front, the NUC provides two USB 2.0 ports, and one is used by the Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard/Mouse dongle, leaving only one port open."


    The two front ports are USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) as are the ones on the back. The USB 2.0 ports are in an internal header. The orange port in the front provides 1.5 Amps.

  14. Avatar

    mattbg

    The HDMI 30/60Hz issue is likely due to a lack of support for HDMI 2.0+ on one or both ends, which does support 4K at 60Hz. HDMI 1.4 only supports 4K at 30Hz.


    I've run into that issue a couple of times, where one end of the relationship doesn't support the newer version. Luckily, the last time I had the issue both ends supported USB-C which was even better as the monitor also had a built-in KVM and took care of display/mouse/keyboard transfer in one cable.

  15. Avatar

    rahzin

    For the record, your 30hz problem has to do with your monitor not supporting HDMI 2.0. I use my i5 NUC8 with my samsung 4K TV over HDMI at 60hz. The NUC is not the issue.

  16. Avatar

    faustxd9

    Have you thought about cracking the case on the AIO to see if it is maybe just the caps that have gone bad? I know a few friends who have fixed TVs by replacing those. Also apparently you can find some of the daughterboards that go bad via Chinese websites relatively inexpensively.

  17. Avatar

    csalese

    I think a custom water block for some liquid cooling is in order! You can mount the radiator and pump to the underside of your desk. :)

  18. Avatar

    chrisrut

    I opened this post hoping upon hope that you were going to report a new i7 NUC that added silence to the feature list - heck, even my i5 makes too much racket. But alas...


    Moving yours as you describe will make a big difference; mine can't be easily relocated... Maybe the whole thing should be immersed in a non-electrically-conductive coolant bath...

  19. Avatar

    lvthunder

    Did you double check that the monitor doesn't have speakers? I know some of them do and it's not entirely obvious.

  20. Avatar

    Jamie DeGrazio

    I purchased an i3 version this year. It's essentially a Macbook Air processor. Fans do ramp at time and I did notice tweaking the bios settings did nothing. However for $440 I can't really complain. Outputs to 4K and runs much better than my old Mac Mini.

  21. Avatar

    elscorcho

    Good to know about the fan noise on the new NUCs. I was considering an upgrade to my 6th gen NUCi5, which is tiny and fanless. Now I think I'll hold off. It flawlessly drives two Dell 25in 1440p displays and runs Fedora Linux perfectly.

  22. Avatar

    gregsedwards

    Paul, pardon me if this is obvious, but don’t you have a Surface Book 2? Why not just use that with a Surface Dock?

  23. Avatar

    sfintel

    It's worth checking to see if there's some program or process running on the NUC that's preventing the processor from going idle. That could also be the source of your fan noise. I always have Task Manager running minimized with the hide when minimized option checked so I can watch the bar graph in the tray.

  24. Avatar

    bob_shutts

    Paul, do you have the time to build a PC?

  25. Avatar

    RobertJasiek

    During my early PC experience, I made some right and some wrong purchases. I have learnt my lesson: much preparation time for studying specification data etc. is essential. Nowadays, every hardware purchase makes good sense for me because I invest enough preparation time.

    Individual needs and usage differ so there is no general recommendation of specific models that would work for everybody.

    Silent computers are essential for me. Since about 2000, they have become possible. Getting them becomes increasingly easier. Especially with low watt external power adapters.

    There are different levels of silence: 1) you hear nothing (like an iPad), 2) little coil-whining, 3) greater coil-whining, 4) 0.1 sone fan, 5) no silence because fans are louder. Human ears differ: some consider almost (4) good enough, some do not hear the high frequencies of coil-whining, others with too good ears suffer from it. Mine are too good, sigh.

    Silence must be planned before purchasing the hardware. Period.

    It is possible to get a silent gaming monster with liquid cooling. Expensive and short-living because borderline heat management is bad for ICs.

    Non-gaming power horses (i7 desktops with occasional heavy tasks) can be silent by well-constructed heatpipes and heatspreaders. Expect to pay €1000 extra from a specialised manufacturer (e.g. some PCs from Ichbinleise) for "fanless" tower desktop PCs if you do not know precisely how to build such a PC yourself and bend the heatpipes. In 2000, such was my solution for a 65W CPU then). Later, I learnt from that PC and rebuilt it with new motherboard, i3, reused cooling aids. Such a PC is called fanless because it is often not silent having coil-whining. Nowadays, i7 is possible because CPUs use less watts.

    Nowdays, i5 and especially i3 allow purchase in a passive barebone if you accept its preinstalled CPU fitting the now tiny heapipes and box. All you need to do is get RAM and SSD. Very easy! A passively cooled barebone for i3-7100U is €260 (MSI). For i5-xxxxU, expect to pay €500-900 (e.g. Deltatronics, IIRC). For i3 we get level (2) silence, for i5 expect level (3) silence.

    Core i combined with level (1) silence is the holy grail. It sometimes seems to be possible but more often because a reviewer's ears do not hear the coils. Core Y, yes. But for Core i it is also luck. Manufacturers do not promise absence of coil-whining. It is a hard computer science problem so to say. Maybe you find some manufacturer offering it for another €500. Tiny coils seem mandatory on the entire mainboard. Like in a smartphone, you know. For a 3.5W CPU, maybe. For i5, unlikely.

    Speed / heat compete with silence. This is the simple truth.

    For i7, accept coil-whining and pay much for fanless.

  26. Avatar

    mjgraves

    As someone who works at media production, I value a quiet PC. Further, I treasure a silent one. When the high-performance NUCs were starting to show up, I switched to an Airtop-PC from Compulab in Israel. It's a fanless, industrial workstation with a proper i7 and nVidia GTX card. Not cheap, but massively connectible and expandable. Highly recommended.

  27. Avatar

    infloop

    Re monitors: That's interesting. When my old Dell UltraSharp monitors started to die in the past couple of years, I looked around at various monitors, including getting another Dell, but the reviews I read kept me from pulling the trigger. I then looked at HP and decided to get the Z24n.


    Then when my second monitor went out, I looked to buy another Z24n, and found Amazon had moved on to selling the G2 models. There are some differences. The original has a small curve D-shape aesthetic whereas the G2 is flat. The original has a luminance control, whereas the G2 goes by brightness and contrast. The colors on the original appear to have more of a red emphasis, but they are pretty similar otherwise. I think the G2 came with a factory calibration report printout as well, if that is worth something. The original uses touch buttons on the front bottom-right corner of the bezel, whereas the G2 uses physical buttons on the underside of the bezel, also in the bottom-right corner. The ports are mostly the same: the original has Mini-DP and a USB 3.0 Upstream port with a hub cable, while the G2 removes those and has USB Type-C on both the rear and the side.


    These are mostly minor differences that don't really bother me too much when using both generations. The only thing that does bother me is that the G2 is really slow to power on, as well as to change inputs.


    One of the main reasons I got the HP Z24n (and G2) is the 16:10 resolution at 1920x1200. I prefer the taller vertical space that I get over 16:9.


    Oh, and no, the monitors don't come with any speakers, though they do have an analog audio out port.

  28. Avatar

    grappalover

    Regarding heat and noise -- I wrestled with both on two different Skull Canyon NUCs (and found a lot of internet chatter on the topic). I decided to replace the fan in mine and in the process found the culprit. Dust had clogged up the exhaust port behind the fan. This is easily remedied with a blast of pressurized air. Be prepared for a cloud of dust to explode from the unit. Mine is now quiet as a mouse and CPU temp is reduced to normal levels. I now blow it out monthly....


    I am using an external NVidia GTX 1080 connected via the thunderbolt port which works fine but clutters the setup and defeats the tiny footprint.

  29. Avatar

    remc86007

    I would never recommend lowering the maximum CPU speed on a desktop. In some cases even a 1% drop can cause the CPU firmware to refuse to enter boost clocks. If the 8559U sticks to base clocks, you are cheating yourself out of a substantial amount of performance.


    I'd recommend you build yourself a silent PC. They are very affordable to build. I built one for my parents four years ago and it has been maintenance free ever since.

  30. Avatar

    fadsarmy

    You could have used a USB C to DisplayPort cable to get 60Mhz. It wasn't your displays fault but the limitation of HDMI on your NUC.

Leave a Reply