It’s been a while since we had a lower end Intel NUC model under review. The Braswell NUC came in two variants and was released during summer 2015. Apollo Lake is Intel’s latest system on a chip architecture with 14 nm manufacturing process. It is positioned under the Core architecture chips that are called Kaby Lake. The Apollo Lake NUC (NUC6CAYH) is a mini PC kit with a rather agressive price point of around $150. Let’s see in this Apollo Lake NUC review how does the new NUC look like and how does it perform.
Quite interestingly Intel has decided to power the Apollo Lake NUC with a higher TDP processor than the previous-generation Braswell NUCs were powered. Instead of using a 6-watt CPU Intel has decided to use the 10-watt J3455. I see this as a positive thing as it improves the performance of the NUC and anyway the 6-watt Braswell NUCs were not fanless despite the lower TDP.
The Apollo Lake NUC comes in two variations. NUC6CAYS is a plug and play device that comes with hardware components and Windows 10 Home preinstalled. NUC6CAYH is the kit version that I’m looking at. You’ll need to add your own RAM modules and a 2.5″ SSD/HDD drive.
- CPU: Intel Celeron J3455 CPU, quad-core, 1.5 GHz (2.3 GHz burst), 10W TDP
- GPU: Intel HD Graphics 500, 12 EUs, 250 MHz base frequency, up to 750 MHz
- Memory: 2 slots, up to 8 gigabytes of DDR3L-1600/1866, 1.35 V, dual-channel
- USB: 2 front USB 3.0 ports (one with fast charging), 2 rear USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 headers on mainboard
- 2.5″ SATA slot: Single slot for a 2.5″ SATA SSD or HDD drive, max. height 9.5 mm
- Display connectivity: Full-size HDMI 2.0 port, VGA port
- Audio connectivity: 7.1 channel digital audio over HDMI, 3.5 mm headphone jack in front panel, 3.5 mm speaker/TOSLink connector in the rear panel
- Networking: Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek), 802.11ac m.2 2230-size WiFi card preinstalled, Bluetooth 4.2
- HDMI CEC: CEC header on the mainboard, TV on/off functionality supported without a separate CEC adapter
- Infrared: Infrared receiver in the front panel
What’s in the Box
The product arrives in the typical blue box like many of the previous NUCs have been delivered in. Included in the box besides the main unit is a power adapter that can be used pretty much anywhere in the world thanks to multiple plugs. Also VESA mounting hardware (you can mount the NUC behind your monitor or TV with these), a quick start guide/poster and some warranty papers are included.
Design and Assembly
Let’s start by having a look at the box. This time Intel chose to have the sides of the chassis (yes, they’re plastic also this time) in a dark grey color. It looks quite nice actually. There’s not so big contrast between the black, glossy plastic top and the rest of the chassis anymore.
On the front you will find two USB 3.0 ports (one of them can be used for charging other devices even when the NUC is off), line out/headphone jack and the power button. There’s also an infrared receiver if you want to use a remote controller to operate your NUC. The two small holes are for the digital microphone array. The ports and the power button are surrounded by a ring LED that can be configured to light up in various different colours.
On the left side there’s an SDXC card reader and the Kensington security slot.
Finally the rear side has a power connector, two more USB 3.0 ports, 3.5 mm audio out/Toslink combo connector, full size HDMI 2.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet RJ-45 port and a bit surprisingly a traditional 15-pin VGA connector.
The innards of the NUC can be accessed by loosening the four screws on the bottom cover of the NUC. Removing the cover exposes all the slots you need to access. There are two DDR3L memory slots and the bay for the 2.5″ SATA drive. This time the 2.5″ bay is not integrated to the bottom cover, but there’s a separate piece of metal between the cover and the mainboard that houses the drive.
It’s worth noticing that there’s a HDMI CEC header above the RAM slots. Previously the Celeron NUCs have not had a HDMI CEC header and the Core NUCs have had it on the other side of the mainboard where it was slightly difficult to access.
Building the NUC
The Apollo Lake NUC (NUC6CAYH) is delivered without memory or storage media included. For memory you should choose either a 2, 4 or 8 gigabyte memory modules that are operating either at 1600 MHz or 1866 MHz. Not all 2-gig modules will be compatible, so be careful. Note that the maximum amount of memory in total is 8 GB. The memory module must be a 1.35 volt DDR3L module, and if this one is anything like its predecessors it can be a bit picky regarding the compatible memory modules. Intel recommends populating the RAM slots with two 4GB modules for optimal performance. They maintain a list of compatible RAM on their website, but in my opinion it does not include too many ideal options (4GB 1866 MHz modules). My old favorite Kingston KVR16LS11/4 (1600 MHz) worked just fine, but I got a bit more performance out with the HyperX HX318LS11IB/4 (1866 MHz). If you want to be sure that you get the right kind of memory module go see the NUC Guru – our resident guru who can suggest you hardware that definitely works together.
For storage you have 2 options: an SDXC card or a 2.5″ SATA drive. The SATA drive could be either a conventional hard drive or an SSD drive. For this preview I used the following setup:
- Intel NUC6CAYH
- 2×2 GB DDR3L-1600 memory modules (SK Hynix)
- 120 GB Kingston SSDNow UV400 2.5″ SSD
For most people an SSD drive instead of a conventional hard drive is certainly a good idea. Especially as the prices of the SSD drives are so low these days.
As usual, Intel uses its Visual BIOS in the NUC6CAYH as well. It has evolved quite nicely over the years and is rather convenient to use. BIOS version 0027 was used for this review.
I did not notice any glitches during my testing, so in that sense I feel that this NUC is a bit more mature than some of the other models in the past have been… Some changes compared to the previous models here:
- HDMI CEC settings, you can make your TV switch on or off automatically when you power the NUC
- The fan control options now feature an option to completely turn off the fan below certain CPU temperature levels
- You can configure the behaviour of the power button LED and the ring LED in a rather flexible way
- The maximum power can be limited