Best Mini PC Developer Kit: Intel NUC Frost Canyon i7
In the Mini-PC market, systems based on Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) form factor are the measure of all things – and have been for years.
In many offices you can find the small computers that have recently become darker and darker instead of the classic silver aluminium design.
What remains, however, are fingerprint attracting covers and a variety of connections.
The main changes are in the 10th generation inside. Techtestreport takes a detailed look at the flagship NUC 10 Performance Kit NUC10i7FNH and also looks at the other (slower) models.
The NUC portfolio has grown enormously
Behind Frost Canyon is not just one model, but several.
At first glance, there are actually quite a few – Intel lists 20 products in the support area.
The reason: in addition to the obligatory processor gradations in the form of a Core i7, Core i5 or Core i3, Intel is now offering the Mini-PCs as fully equipped versions ex works, in some cases even including Windows 10.
Fully equipped means that RAM and mass storage are built into the NUC and nothing stands in the way of starting up immediately after unpacking.
However, all NUCs are still based on two chassis and three processors – the rest is a question of equipment with RAM and SSD/HDD plus operating system.
The two chassis do not differ in their footprint but in their overall height: 117 × 112 × 38 mm to 117 × 112 × 51 mm.
In addition to an M.2 SSD, the latter model can also accommodate a 7 mm high, classic 2.5-inch hard disk or SSD connected via SATA.
Exactly this variety is gladly bought, Intel explained, the test model is today accordingly such a variant.
Intel Comet Lake-U in NUC
With Frost Canyon, the mainstream series has six cores to offer for the first time.
The development has made great leaps here in recent years, as it follows the U series:
For years, dual-core processors were the measure of all things there, only the refresh of Kaby Lake-U brought four cores into the TDP class of 15 watts in 2017.
Two years later, Comet Lake-U is the first six cores to follow.
Still manufactured in 14 nm and not 10 nm, the Comet Lake-U are once again a further development of the Skylake architecture.
Identical at heart, the basic variant, which was presented in 2015, has been refined so much in recent years that it should still be competitive in 2020.
So far this has been successful, because competitor AMD had initially focused on desktop and server, but only now the manufacturer is devoting itself to the NUC segment.
However, weeks and months will pass before the duel between AMD Renoir and Intel Comet Lake-U, especially in the retail trade, will take place – and that only refers to the notebook.
In the Mini-PC sector, Intel is almost the sole supplier anyway – individual exceptions confirm the rule.
Six cores as figurehead
Comet Lake is therefore the keyword for Frost Canyon, because all NUC of the 10 series rely on a corresponding processor from the “10th Gen Core”.
However, Comet Lake is always meant by this and never Ice Lake, which is also called Core i-1000.
Intel had denied Intel to use Techtestreport for a NUC deployment, where they are waiting directly for Tiger Lake.
Of the four possible core models of the Comet Lake U portfolio, the NUC is focusing on three: one with six, one with four and one with two cores.
Merely the Core i7 with four cores isn’t used because it primarily only offers more clock rate than the Core i5.
Intel Comet Lake-U (15 Watt, UHD-Graphics)
Base / Turbo
|L3 Cache||Graphics||GPU clock||Max. Storage||TDP||Config TDP|
|Core i7-10710U||6/12||1.1 / 4.7 GHz||12 MB||UHD 620||300 / 1,150 MHz||LPDDR4-2933 /|
|15 W.||25 W.||$443|
|Core i7-10510U||4/8||1.8 / 4.9 GHz||8 MB||UHD 620||300 / 1,150 MHz||LPDDR4-2933 /|
|15 W.||25 W.||$409|
|Core i5-10210U||4/8||1.6 / 4.2 GHz||6 MB||UHD 620||300 / 1,100 MHz||LPDDR4-2933 /|
|15 W.||25 W.||$297|
|Core i3-10110U||2/4||2.1 / 4.1 GHz||4 MB||UHD 620||300 / 1,000 MHz||LPDDR4-2933 /|
|15 W.||25 W.||$281|
NUC always needs at least 25 watts
Intel’s U processors always offer a configurable TDP, often upwards, but sometimes downwards.
Intel in the NUC takes advantage of this: All CPUs here are not operated with 15 but 25 watts – on paper.
But in real everyday life there are even more.
This has an effect on the clock, because at Intel this is defined by the TDP.
The latter is the guarantor only for the basic clock rate, which is very low especially with the six-core processor.
Techtestreport will determine the effect of this in a test.
Further equipment of the Mini-PCs
The switch to the new SoCs also marks a small change to more and faster memory, as Frost Canyon for the first time supports up to 64 GB RAM DDR4-2,666 in the usual two SO-DIMM slots.
Up to now, DDR4-2400 and a maximum of 32 GByte were the rule, the increased capacity was recently released additionally for older models through updated specifications.
One Thunderbolt 3 over Titan Ridge
In the small PC systems, a WLAN-ax module (Intel AX200) for Wi-Fi 6 networks (WLAN 802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0 is used for the first time.
In addition, there is a Thunderbolt 3 connection (USB type C) via the Titan Ridge controller and thus including DisplayPort 1.4 as well as USB 3.2 Gen 2 a.k.a. USB 3.1 Gen 2 with 10 Gbit/s.
The further equipment includes the connections usual for the NUC series three additional USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports with 10 Gbit/s (3 × USB type A, 1 × USB type C incl. DisplayPort 1.4) and once HDMI 2.0b.
In addition, there is a mandatory Gigabit LAN port (Intel i219-V), an SDXC card reader and an infrared sensor.
For storage media, Frost Canyon offers an M.2 slot with maximum connectivity (PCIe 3.0 x4 with NVMe and SATA), which accepts SSDs up to 80 mm long (M.2 2280).
When looking at everyday life, Techtestreport draws the greatest parallels to current notebooks.
Basically, the NUC is a notebook without a screen.
In offices it can be hung behind a monitor – thanks to the optional VESA mount, this is no problem at all.
In comparison to other mobile CPUs for notebooks, the performance can be classified best in the end, because there are many current values from notebooks, including Ice Lake and AMD Ryzen.
The NUC flagship NUC10i7FNHAA including 16 GByte RAM, 256-GByte-SSD and 1-TByte-HDD costs an impressive 935 US dollars (RRP).
This PC should convince as a complete package and wants to impress primarily with its processor performance.
The official 25 watt TDP sounds like extremely much, but even current notebooks often deviate from the 15 watt TDP under continuous load that was still strictly set a few years ago in the U series.
The most expensive model in the NUC10 fleet is equipped with a 256 GByte M.2 solution from Kingston, which is only addressed with two PCIe lanes.
The hard disk with a capacity of 1 TByte works with 5.400 rpm and comes from Seagate.
The generous 16 GByte RAM is again from Kingston as one of the largest OEM/ODM suppliers, it works with DDR4-2666 at timings of CL19-19-19-43-2T in dual channel mode.
Intel’s pre-installed driver tool takes care of the update in the form of new drivers in Windows 10 and catches almost all elements.
Only “almost”, because of all things the BIOS update with the latest microcode patches for the CPU including the closing of the last security holes is not installed automatically.
But this can also be done without any problems, an executable *.exe file starts the process under Windows 10 and then continues it directly in the boot environment after a restart.
Techtestreport has tested the system with all available updates.
HDD and fans are loud weak points
In everyday use, the system makes a very balanced impression, although the form factor has its disadvantages.
However, it’s very pleasing that the fan almost completely shuts off in idle under Windows 10 with a power consumption of less than 6 watts and is therefore inaudible.
What is still disturbing in the concrete case of the test pattern is a relic from the past: the HDD.
This quickly drowns out the fan when there are slight queries to the PC and marks the weakest element in the PC elsewhere.
Of course, the HDD is still the cheapest data grab, but a customer who buys the basic version as a barebone can possibly invest more sensibly with a price difference of around 400 Dollar only for RAM, SSD and HDD including Windows 10.
A fast, 1 TByte M.2 SSD is available for 170 Dollar, 16 GByte SO-DIMM hardly cost 70 Dollar – there is still enough money left over to adapt the permanently quieter basic model as desired.
The performance of the drives
At this point Techtestreport takes a look at the two mass storage devices installed in the most expensive NUC.
Although the 256 Gbyte SSD can theoretically be accessed by the NUC via four PCIe lanes, Intel has opted for an inexpensive Kingston model that uses only two lanes.
The results are accordingly: the SSD can provide 1,600 MB/s in reading and 900 MB/s in writing.
The Seagate SATA hard drive with 5,400 rpm in the 2.5-inch format is no racehorse.
It is intended as a data grave, nothing more can be expected here.
The results meet the expectations of a hard disk for a purchase price of 40 to 50 Dollar.
The same price also applies to the SSD, a large selection of 256 GByte solutions in M.2 format even with four lanes is available for under 50 Dollar.
Under full load it gets fast, hot and loud
If the small PC is really challenged, it becomes audible – now mainly through the fan.
Depending on the position of the Mini PC on the desk, it can be a pain in the neck.
It is recommended to position it slightly offset or to use a VESA mount behind the display.
Modern applications that require many cores and threads are automatically controlled by Intel’s CPU at the appropriate clock rate:
Turbo mode is used as specified by Intel.
This means that it may exceed the TDP for a few seconds, but then goes back to near the initial value.
For example, the peak power of the CPU at the start of an application is 62 watts in the first few seconds from the maximum 64 watts set by the BIOS, but after a short time the system is slowed down to 30 watts.
This is still more than the official TDP upper limit (configUP TDP at 25 watts), but not too much for the compact system.
Instead of 96 degrees within the first few seconds, the cores become less warm with a constant 80 degrees under full load, the fan also works a little bit slower – and quieter.
Many fan profiles – but only in BIOS
The fan control in the BIOS (F2 at startup) lets the user choose from different profiles.
It even includes a fanless version, i.e. operation completely without active cooling.
However, this should only be considered if the mainboard is used in an alternative housing and a correspondingly voluminous passive cooling solution is available.
Unfortunately, the fan control cannot be adapted under Windows, there is no software from Intel for this purpose.
A wasted opportunity.
|Scenario||Windows idle||Partial load (1 core)||Full load (all cores)|
|Volume||<30 dB||39 dB||42 -> 39 dB|
|Power consumption (socket)||6.5 Watt||39 Watt||102 -> 60 Watt|
The overall system may draw more than 100 watts from the wall, while the rule under full load is 40 to 60 watts.
But this explains the large power supply, which can provide 19 volts at 6.32 amps and thus ultimately a total of up to 120 watts.
Benchmarks in applications and games
A six-core NUC is more than a small Netflix streaming platform.
Of course, Comet Lake can also do this without any problems with the integrated UHD-630 graphics unit, as the check with Amazon Prime Video shows:
Five to six percent utilization of the CPU and 14 watts of power consumption for the entire NUC provide for a relatively quiet, but not silent 1080p playback.
With six cores, the largest variant can also handle larger tasks, although it is difficult to compare.
In addition to the CPU itself, in the “mobile” segment or CPU classes with less than 65 watts TDP, the maximum power dissipation released by Intel or the OEM is usually the decisive factor.
The Core i7-10710U offers a TDP of 15 watts ex factory, officially it’s allowed to be a maximum of 25 watts – Intel uses even 30 watts in the NUC10, probably because you have the system completely under your own control.
Comparisons to notebook CPUs in the same and similar TDP class
The following table provides information about the maximum short- and long-term power dissipation with which the CPUs were tested in the following tables and diagrams.
None of the opponents has 30 watts, which the CPU in the NUC10 offers.
|CPU||Mode||short term powerused||long term power used|
|Intel NUC10i7FNH||i7-10710U||default||65 watts||30 watts|
|Yoga C940||i7-1065G7||power||35 watts||25 watts|
|Yoga C940||i7-1065G7||Quiet||25 watts||9 watts|
|Yoga C640||i7-10510U||power||35 watts||20 watts|
|Yoga C640||i7-10510U||Quiet||25 watts||15 watts|
Right at the beginning, however, it can be positively noted that the cooling was designed sufficiently strong to provide the same clock rate at 30 watts:
Only the first run in Cinebench R15 is faster than the rest, because 65 watts are still present there at the beginning, after that the power always remains the same.
A look at the clock rates under continuous load in Blender benchmark shows that they are even higher than in the other recently tested mobile CPUs from Intel and AMD thanks to 30 watts, even though the processor has two cores more to offer.
In applications, the NUC shows a strong picture on this basis.
The high TDP rating and advances in 14nm manufacturing even make sure that even a Core i7-8750H with a TDP of 35 watts (in the Razer Blade 15 from 2018) and also six cores is beaten, sometimes significantly.
As usual, the integrated Intel graphics is nothing to play with, as the small test via 3DMark already shows.
UHD 630 is sufficient for Windows and Co, but it’s not even usable for casual games, as the current benchmarks with Fortnite and benchmarks with Apex Legends as well as Rainbow Six: Victories show.
Comparison to desktop processor
With six cores and twelve threads at a constant 30 watts, the Mini-PC is a clear alternative to conventional desktop solutions.
A comparison of the performance with a classic desktop processor is therefore also given at this point.
The results are completely taken from the CPU test park, as used since summer 2019 and on which the CPU ranking is based.
The single-thread performance of the Intel Core i7-10710U corresponds to the fast Intel Core i7-9700 in the NUC, multi-threaded the model comes up to the level of a Core i5-9400, respectively the old flagship Core i7-7700K.
For a Mini-PC in the TDP class, this is more than decent performance.
Alternative operating system easily possible
As with every generation NUC, it can be used in a productive environment without Windows without any problems.
Linux distributions know and support even the latest hardware months in advance.
Since the Skylake architecture has been identical in its base for many years, every hardware feature, including decoding of H.265 media and VP9, is fully supported by the integrated graphics.
Verdict: Best Mini PC Developer Kit: Intel NUC Frost Canyon i7
The NUC10 “Frost Canyon” in the version with a six-core processor is a real step forward and offers significantly more performance than the previous generation.
Very high clock rates of 4.7 GHz are available for load scenarios on a core, so Windows feels very lively.
When it comes to a task that benefits from more cores and more threads, the six-core processor with twelve threads shows its full potential and impresses with very high performance at the level of a Core i7-7700K.
Here the CPU benefits from the TDP which has been raised to a permanent 30 watts – twice as much as defined as standard and even 5 watts above the official upper limit (configTDP up).
The NUC’s equipment is also convincing, although the differences in the range compared to previous models are very small.
Twice the number of USB type C ports, one of them according to the Thunderbolt 3 standard, plus a card reader and HDMI as well as WLAN according to the new ax standard (Wi-Fi 6) more than cover the basic needs.
Internally there is room for a fast M.2-SSD (NVMe), a 2.5-inch SSD or HDD and up to 64 GByte RAM.
Which NUC10 to buy?
The NUC10 is basically available in six variants:
With Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 and each in a taller version with room for a 2.5 inch drive and a thinner one with an M.2 slot only.
These barebones without RAM and SSD/HDD as well as operating system (“NUC Kit”) are also available from German online retailers.
On this basis Intel has launched 20 completely configured systems with RAM, SSD/HDD and Windows 10.
For laypersons, this is hardly manageable.
The most important question is first: Are two, four or six cores needed?
Because the point has a significant impact on the price. The NUC with Core i3 costs 316 US dollars, with Core i5 100 US dollars more and with Core i7 another 170 US dollars extra and thus in the end already almost 590 US dollars in the basic version.
As in the years before, the i5 variant should offer the best price-performance ratio in terms of CPU computing power including reserves.
Which other equipment is required depends on the area of application.
RAM, Optane Memory, just an SSD or even an HDD – Intel offers all these options directly from the factory.
The decision should go to the barebone
For hobbyists, the underlying barebone version is always recommended, where these components must be purchased by the user.
The price saving compared to the pre-configured system is very large, in addition, for example, an HDD can then be dispensed with and completely replaced by modern and larger SSDs.
That’s because SSDs are now so inexpensive that they can also be used as a data grave – in addition, there is no longer a slow noise source in the system that is susceptible to interference.