Running Windows on the Braswell NUC
I started with an attempt to install Windows 7 on the NUC5CPYH. Intel provides drivers for Windows 7, so I assumed this should be a walk in the park. However, the Windows 7 Professional 64-bit installer crashed every time right in the beginning with a non-informative blue screen. Finally I got the installer running after I selected Windows 7 in the BIOS instead of the default (Windows 8). However, my USB keyboard and mouse did not work. The NUC only has USB 3.0 ports and Windows 7 installer does not have USB 3.0 drivers included – thus the mouse and the keyboard does not work! There’s no BIOS option (as of BIOS version 31) to disable USB 3.0. I had to modify the Windows 7 installation USB media to contain the USB 3.0 drivers that I downloaded from Intel’s website. Clear instructions on how to do this I found from the Code A BitWiser blog.
This got my keyboard and mouse working, but it wasn’t smooth sailing from that point on either. After choosing to start the installation, I got an error message saying “A required CD/DVD driver is missing” even if the thing does not have such a drive. From this point onwards I could not proceed. The installer gives a chance to install additional drivers, but regardless of what I tried to offer from Intel’s download center it did not agree to continue. At this point I gave up thinking – Ok, Windows 7 is 6 years old – I would not install a 6-year old Linux version either on a brand new computer.
UPDATE: I finally managed to install Windows 7 on the NUC. Read my guide on how to do it, if you’re stuck as well!
Installation of Windows 8.1 passed without any nasty surprises. I downloaded the complete driver bundle from Intel’s website and installed all of the drivers. It’s especially important to install the graphics drivers, as the performance is significantly better with the Intel’s recent drivers. So don’t be tempted to skip this step even if you reach the Windows desktop without the latest drivers.
The overall performance in Windows is surprisingly good. The system is responsive when doing basic things like web surfing or browsing through my image collection. Of course if you try to run several applications at the same time, it slows down. My setup does not have an SSD drive, but if you plan to use your NUC as a desktop PC, do yourself a favor and install an SSD drive instead of a conventional hard drive. In all honesty, I would not consider this NUC if I wanted to use it primarily as a desktop PC. The $40 more expensive NUC5PPYH (see review) is much better and of course the i3 or i5 models are even better.
EDIT: Windows 10 also works fine, drivers do exist for each of the components. There’s a separate post about the installation.
Intel HD Graphics driver for Braswell version 10.18.14.4234 was used for all of the following tests and screen resolution was set to 1920×1080.
In 3DMark the result for Cloud Gate is 1489 (Graphics 2088, Physics 744) and for Ice Storm it’s 17548 (Graphics 23522, Physics 9283). In Tech Radar’s test last year the preceeding model DN2820FYKH scored 1074 in Cloud Gate and 13313 in Ice Storm, so we’re seeing a 30-40% increase in performance here.
In Cinebench R15 the OpenGL test gives a result of 12.10 fps, which is more than double of what the previous generation NUC reached. The CPU score of 67 cb, and Single core CPU score of 36 cb on the other hand are almost exactly the same.
HEVC Video Decoding
On Windows 8.1 the HEVC video decoding on the hardware is supported by the driver. Software such as MPC-HC supports HEVC HW decoding, although it’s by default switched off as it’s still considered to be in its early stages. You can turn it on in the settings at Options – Internal Filters – Video Decoder – Codecs for HW Decoding. Tick the HEVC checkbox and check that UHD is ticked as well.
I downloaded a couple of versions of Big Buck Bunny that were HEVC encoded from libde265.org to test the HW decoding support.
Watching a full HD HEVC encoded video (1920×1080, 60 fps) was a piece of cake. During the playback of the video that had an average bitrate of 2248.5 kbps the CPU usage did not rise above 40% – it should not as the processing is handled by the GPU.
Then I tried a HEVC encoded 4K video (3840×2160, 30 fps, 80 Mbps), which of course needs to be scaled down to 1920×1080 on my screen (which increases the load even more), as I don’t have UHD display at my disposal. According to Intel 3840×2160 at 30 fps is also the maximum resolution and frame rate that the device can support. The low-end NUC manages this just fine – CPU load constantly under 40% and playback is smooth.
Finally a test of HEVC encoded 4K video at 60 fps. This seemed to be a bit too much for my test system. The speed of the playback was slowed down maybe 30% or so and the audio obviously was not in sync with the video. Maybe it’s a bit too much to ask. Anyway, even if you would have a 4K TV, there’s no way that you could get a 4K picture out at that resolution as the maximum that is supported by the HDMI 1.4b interface is 4K@30fps. The only situation where you would need this is if you have 4K video stream at 60 fps and you would like to watch it downscaled to full HD (1920x1080p). Movies these days are typically at 24 frames per second (so called 24p), so that’s not an issue for them.
All in all, impressive HEVC decoding results from a $129 mini PC. In the next part we will install OpenELEC on the Braswell NUC to find out if this is indeed the ultimate budget HTPC.
Performance in Windows is impressive for such a low-cost box. It’s clear that the GPU performance is significantly better than what last year’s model could offer. On the other hand, the raw computing power of the processor is almost equal. For light work on the desktop it would be enough, but if you want to do some more serious image or video editing, let alone gaming, it’s just not going to cut it. For word processing, internet browsing and emails it’s enough though. The HW decoding of the HEVC video is just great even if not many applications support it yet. Installation of Windows 7 is slightly complicated, but with Windows 8.1 there were no issues. I expect Windows 10 to run on the system as well, but that remains to be confirmed still. I’ll update the results as soon as I’ve tried it out on Windows 10 that’s going to be released next week.
If you’re interested in running Windows on this NUC I highly recommend an SSD drive and at least 4 gigabytes of memory – 8 would be even better. If you’re unsure which parts to get, you can try our NUC Guru – the NUC configuration tool that will printout you an exact shopping list of parts that will work together with your NUC. You should also consider the sister model, the NUC5PPYH (read our review) that sports a more powerful quad-core Pentium N3700 processor, but is otherwise identical to this. Price difference is only about $50 / €50.
Recommended Setup for Windows Users
Continue reading our NUC5CPYH review