Intel has updated its range of small form-factor PCs that it calls NUCs. We’ve generally liked the systems in the past; with a footprint of about 4 inches by 4 inches, they’re pretty compact, and their feature set makes them versatile for home theaters, digital signs or other embedded industrial uses, workplace productivity, and in some cases, even gaming.
First up is a quintet of NUC kits named Bean Canyon, built around Coffee Lake-U processors. These range from a $ 299 i3-8109U at the low end (two-core, four-thread, 3.0-3.6GHz) to a $ 499 i7-8559U at the high end (four-core, eight-thread, 2.7-4.5GHz). All the chips are 28W processors, and all have Iris Plus graphics—128MB of eDRAM memory on the processor itself. The eDRAM is primarily there to boost graphics performance, but it can also help a lot in non-graphical workloads, too, as it acts as an enormous cache.
These five systems are all kits, meaning they don’t include memory (two slots) or storage. Aside from the processor, the other specs are all quite uniform: Thunderbolt 3, integrated gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, six USB ports (two front, two back, two internal) with some supporting USB 3.1 generation 2, a microSDXC card reader, and an HDMI 2.0 port (with DisplayPort available over the USB Type-C ports). The only other difference is the supported storage; there are two different heights for the chassis, with the tall one including space for both a 2.5-inch drive and M.2, the short one only supporting M.2.
Next is a pair of NUC Mini PCs named Crimson Canyon. Unlike the kits, these are complete systems: processor, memory, storage, and an operating system (Windows 10 Home). They also have very unusual internals: they use Intel’s weird 10nm Cannon Lake i3-8121U (two-core, four-thread, 2.2-3.2GHz), previously only available in a single Lenovo laptop. Intel’s 10nm process is fraught with difficulties—the company isn’t expecting volume 10nm production until the second half of next year. That Intel is using this chip in new systems suggests that its yields may slowly be improving and that it has more of the processors available than it once did.
One of the things that makes the 8121U unusual (aside from it being the sole 10nm Intel chip) is that it doesn’t have a GPU, with suspicions that the 10nm yields are so low that Intel can’t get the GPU to work reliably. To handle this deficit, Intel is pairing the processor with a discrete Radeon 540 GPU with its own 2GB of GDDR5.
The two models are otherwise very similar; they don’t have Thunderbolt 3 (which means they’re also limited to USB 3.1 generation 1—the Bean Canyon systems use their Thunderbolt 3 chip to provide their generation 2 support) but have four Type-A ports, gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, and two HDMI 2.0a ports. Using the taller form factor, they also support a 2.5-inch drive along with M.2 storage. The only difference between the two versions is the amount of RAM: one has 4GB, the other 8GB.
Thanks to the discrete graphics, Intel says that the units will be able to play popular competitive games such as League of Legends, TF2, and CS:GO at 1080p. No pricing is yet available for the systems, but all the new NUCs should be available in September.
Listing image by Intel