Apollo Lake NUC Review (NUC6CAYH) 3/3: Linux, HTPC and Conclusions

Allright, in the last part of this article I’m going to try Ubuntu Linux on the NUC6CAYH and see how well it works as a HTPC before concluding the review. If you came here via a search engine or a direct link, don’t miss the earlier parts of the review.

Ubuntu Linux on NUC6CAYH

I downloaded Ubuntu Linux 16.04.1 Desktop and set to install it from a USB stick. It seems that the installer did not find the wifi adapter so I plugged in a cable to the Ethernet port. This way the installer can download updates already during the installation procedure. The system booted up just fine (see boot log here), but I noticed there were some distortions on the screen especially when scrolling text in a browser or terminal window. I also noticed the following error in the boot log:

[    1.923670] [drm] Refusing to load old DMC firmware v1.6, please upgrade to v1.7 or later [https://01.org/linuxgraphics/intel-linux-graphics-firmwares].
[    1.923679] i915_bpo 0000:00:02.0: Failed to load DMC firmware [https://01.org/linuxgraphics/intel-linux-graphics-firmwares], disabling runtime power management.

So I downloaded the DMC firmware 1.07 from the link given in the error message and installed it according to the instruction on that page (you need to get the Broxton firmware from that page).

tar xf bxtdmcver107.tar.bz2
cd bxt_dmc_ver1_07
sudo bash ./install.sh --install

Also performed “sudo apt update && sudo apt dist-upgrade” and finally rebooted the system. The distortions were gone after this.

I could not get the wifi adapter working though. It seems the kernel 4.4 in Ubuntu 16.04 does not include the driver for the Intel Wireless-AC 3168 adapter in the NUC. You’ll need to update the kernel to 4.6 or newer. In addition you’ll need to place the iwlwifi-3168-22.ucode in the /lib/firmware directory. One source to get the ucode file is here.

Other than those issues it seemed to work just fine. Even the Bluetooth adapter was working fine, even if the wifi did not. I think it’s safe to assume that both of these issues will be sorted out in the coming releases and it should work out-of-the-box.

NUC6CAYH as a HTPC

The Apollo Lake NUC should make a terrific HTPC due to a couple of reasons. Low cost, adequate performance, small size and quietness are just a few of them. In addition it has a HDMI 2.0 interface (needed for 4k at 60 Hz) and it features full hardware decoding of H.264 and HEVC video even at 4k resolutions @60 Hz refresh rate. Even 10-bit HEVC video decoding is supported by the hardware. VP9 hardware decoding is also included, but unlike the coming Kaby Lake chips the decoding is only supported up to 8 bits.

The Apollo Lake SoC does not support HDMI 2.0 natively, but instead Intel has added a LSPCon that will convert the DisplayPort signal to HDMI 2.0. According to the spec sheet for the MegaChips LSPCon that is used in this NUC the chip should also be able to support High Dynamic Range (HDR). Unfortunately I don’t have a 4k HDR television that I could use to test this.

Windows HTPC Credentials

The NUC6CAYH supports HEVC 10-bit decoding even at 4k resolutions. This is a big plus as 10-bit HEVC content seems to get more and more common. It’s worth noting that that is the format chosen for the 4k Bluray as well.

The previous Celeron NUCs had some issues with the HD audio pass-through in Windows (finally fixed!) even if it was just fine in Linux. In that sense this NUC should be a bit better. The driver provides a correct list of supported audio formats:

audio_formats

And when configuring MPC-HC (or Kodi) to pass through the audio stream to the AVR it correctly shows the format of the stream.

NUC6CAYH Bitsteaming DTS

However, with the current driver I only got DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 working! Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD streams did not work and my AVR told that the stream format was unknown. I’ve been discussing this with the Intel guys and it works just fine for one of their engineers (he even sent me a video showing me that 🙂 ). I’ll update the article as soon as the situation changes in any way.

The initial versions of the device are shipping with LSPCon firmware 1.56 that has a fault when it comes to passthrough of more advanced audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. These formats do not work if you have a HDMI 2.0 capable receiver. After upgrading the firmware to 1.66 these do work just fine. Download the update here, read the installation instruction carefully and run the LSPCon firmware update. The update tool works only in Windows though and you need to have a HDMI 2.0 capable amp or TV connected to your NUC while doing the update!

LibreELEC

I installed LibreELEC 7.90.009 Alpha version on the NUC and to my surprise most of the things were working straight away, including the wifi adapter. However, the latest stable Kodi version on Linux does not support 10-bit HEVC decoding yet, but the support exists in development versions already. However, the HD audio passthrough did not seem to work for anything fancier than Dolby Digital or DTS. It seems this is a known problem with the Intel GPU drivers. I would expect it to be solved in the nearby future as well.

So basically the audio bitstreaming failure is the only thing that is currently holding me back from turning this box into my perfect living room HTPC. Other points on my checklist pass with flying colours:

  • 23.976 Hz refresh rate is properly supported
  • It decodes H.264 and HEVC at high bit rates (even 4k@60Hz)
  • It can do motion-compensated deinterlacing for SD and HD resolutions

I’ll keep following the HD audio bug report and update this article as soon as the situation changes.

EDIT (25 September 2017): Intel has finally found the bug and the HD audio passthrough works in Linux with this NUC.

HDMI-CEC

This NUC features better HDMI-CEC support than any other NUC until this day. HDMI CEC stands for HDMI Consumer Electronics Control and is an HDMI feature many TVs and peripherals have. This feature makes your devices work better together. For example, it can automatically turn off your TV when you turn off your HDMI CEC-enabled DVD player.

NUC6CAYH BIOS  - HDMI CEC settings

In the BIOS you have the possibility to configure the behaviour when it comes to the HDMI CEC. Personally I was happy to see my TV switching on and selecting the correct HDMI input automatically when I powered on the NUC.

The mainboard of the NUC6CAYH features a HDMI-CEC connector to be used with an HDMI-CEC adapter (Pulse Eight for example).

The mainboard of the NUC6CAYH features a HDMI-CEC connector to be used with an HDMI-CEC adapter (Pulse Eight for example).

Next to the memory slot there’s a HDMI CEC header on the mainboard. This can be used if you need more evolved HDMI CEC support. With the Pulse Eight HDMI-CEC adapter inside your NUC you can use just your TV’s remote to control the NUC – no need for an additional remote on the sofa table.

Conclusion

Compared to the previous generation low-cost NUC Intel has managed to cram in more functionality again:

  • Significantly more powerful CPU and GPU
  • HDMI 2.0 port for 4k support
  • Improved fan handling
  • Integrated microphone
  • HDMI-CEC functionality and HDMI-CEC header

I was positively surprised when it came to the performance of the NUC, both in the benchmarks and in practical use. It was responsive and felt fast enought for basic desktop work in Windows 10. It’s also great to finally have full support for HEVC decoding. This makes the NUC a good HTPC candidate. However, in Linux the drivers are currently having issues with the passthrough of DTS-X and Dolby TrueHD audio formats.

If you’re interested in one, our resident guru, the NUC Guru can assist you in choosing the parts that will work nicely together and give you a shopping list with exact items to buy. There are also some suggested setups below.

Recommended Setup for Most Users

Product US UK DE FR
Intel NUC NUC6CAYH $129.99 £124.38 EUR 121,45 EUR 140,89
4 GB HyperX DDR3L-1866 Memory Module
(buy 2 for 8GB total and dual-channel mode)
$37.99 £32.05 EUR 39,19 EUR 34,99
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB SSD drive - Too low to display EUR 95,90 EUR 86,99
Check the total price of the whole setup on Amazon.com!

96 Responses

  1. How about an OpenELEC + Kodi benchmark against the worst use cases on the scene, MKV 10bit, HDR, x265, etc?

  2. Excellent review; thanks. I’m seriously considering this NUC as my front end TV box but will hold off until the HD Audio kinks are sorted out for Windows. I’ll be running Emby Theater in Windows; I have other reasons to prefer windows on my TV driver. Looking forward to an update with an all-clear for the HD audio!

  3. Bob says:

    Thanks a lot for your great review. If you need more UHD, HDR, BT2020 content, just follow the link: http://demo-uhd3d.com/categorie.php?tag=hdr

  4. e says:

    Thanks for the review. Any power consumption measurements?

  5. 601 says:

    Thank you for this and other excellent reviews and news. I’m hooked on building another NUC after my first build NUC5i5RYH still keeps going strong without a hitch for almost 2 years. Coming back here for sure!

  6. Apollo Lake says:

    http://nucblog.net/2015/08/braswell-nuc-nuc5ppyh-review/

    “Finally a test of HEVC encoded 4K video at 60 fps. This was too much for the N3050 powered model, but would the quad-core Pentium with 16 EUs survive it? It seems that the result is identical to the N3050. Judging with plain eye the video seems equally bad, even if there are 33% more EUs in the GPU. It could be that the driver or the HEVC support in MPC-HC is not yet fully up to the task, or it could be that neither of the CPUs will simply be able to handle 4K video decoding at 60 fps. I guess this is something we’ll see in future.”

    Does Apollo Lake support HEVC Main10 4K 60FPS hardware decoding?

  7. Dennis Madsen says:

    So even though it has built-in HDMI CEC, you can only use that, to turn on/off the tv?
    Not control the NUC/Kodi with TV remote, without still buying a pulse-eight adapter?

    Thanks for the review 🙂

    • mindreboot says:

      That’ right.
      The internal CEC-function is only for turning your TV on and off.
      If you want to use your TV-remote for controlling Kodi, you need to add an external HDMI-CEC-Adapter.

      • James says:

        Just checked- my Vizio TV has CEC! So if I got a Kaby Lake NUC and hooked it up through HDMI, would I be able to configure a script to turn my TV on and off when run? This would be very useful for home automation and save me from having to buy an IR blaster!

  8. mindreboot says:

    Is it possible that’s the Pulse-Eight CEC-Adapter (Skylake-Wiring) fits to the new Apollo- and Kaby-Lake NUC generation ?

  9. Tom says:

    A couple of follow-up questions:

    1. Does the CEC component respect the Windows Away-Mode?
    2. Can the CEC implementation automatically switch to the proper HDMI channel?
    3. What options are given for the Ring LED besides the shown “HDD activity” value?

    • Olli says:

      1. No idea really.
      2. Yes, seems to be the case. In BIOS you can select HDMI 1-4 to be chosen when powering on the TV.
      3. You can turn it off, have it as a HDD LED or software controlled – the behaviour of the ring LED can be controlled by software using an API of some sort (don’t have the details on that).

      • mindreboot says:

        Will the Pulse-Eight HDMI-CEC Adapter (Skylake-wiring) fits / work to the new Apollo-Lake NUC ?
        The header of the new Apollo Lake NUC looks similar to the Skylake-NUC.

        Can you be so kind and test this that, Olli ? 🙂

        • Olli says:

          I actually have the Pulse Eight adapter, but I’ve lost the wiring loom. (oops) I’m pretty sure that with a correct wiring loom it would work just fine. I don’t have the techincal product specifications at hand right now and am bit on a run now, but it’s easy to check from there if the USB headers are similar or not. Same thing for the CEC headers.

  10. do this nuc have a room for m.2 ssd or its just 1 m.2 port for the wireless.

  11. Olli says:

    If you want another opinion, former Intel-employee Jason Hoffman has been playing around with the NUC6CAYS and wrote his review: https://techsterweb.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/arches-canyon/

    • Techster says:

      Thanks Olli! I’d say you covered it pretty well. I’m somewhat limited on my audio hardware…as in I have none…so I tend to rely on your reviews for how well they do with that.

  12. Loïc says:

    Thanks for your review.
    The problem with HD sound is software or hardware? On other forums they all mentioned the same issue.

  13. Tom says:

    Forget to aks earlier: How does the dual-array mic work with Cortana? How is the performance with background noise or in a larger living room setup?

  14. boston371 says:

    Power consumption?
    Really nothing about it?

  15. Nav says:

    When can i buy one?

  16. Bala says:

    Could you pls test Plex Media Player for Embedded Plattformen as well.
    Especially the HD audio bitstream and boot time would be interesting.
    Thanks a lot.

  17. hello, anther question is it possible to in put video to the nuc?
    i want to use the nuc like the google tv was, the cable box would connect to the nuc and the nuc would connect to the tv so if i want to watch cable i need to use the nuc.
    i hope you understand.

    • nucblognet says:

      There’s no video input port on this thing… So that’s a no. Of course you could investigate options like converting the signal to IP or using the USB somehow, but that’s probably too far fetched.

  18. Callum says:

    I’m really tempted to buy one of these but unsure. At the minute I’ve got the nuc5i3ryk running Windows 10 I want to be able to play 4K movies smoothly into my hisense 4K my 2 options are buy get the club3d adaptor for my existing nuc or buy the apollo lake. What do you think my best option is?

  19. Bala says:

    Jason just uploaded a nice video of the new NUC and Plex Media Player embedded system. (Boot time)

    https://youtu.be/Kk0SwrbFhxs

    Thanks again.

    • Techster says:

      Thanks for the shout out. The video is of it booting the embedded media player from a Samsung Fit USB drive: https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Flash-Drive-MUF-32BB-AM/dp/B013CCTOC2

      A decent little (and I do mean little) flash drive, but there are faster ones out there. The boot time would lessen with a higher performing USB drive, even more with an SSD. I haven’t tested it from the eMMC (don’t want to wipe out Windows just yet), but I would guess it would fall somewhere between USB and SSD speeds.

  20. frankie says:

    wonder if photoshop can run on these cpu’s..

  21. Wesley says:

    just curious, when you tested it, did you test it with a samsung 4k TV? I can not get that to work with that TV at all.

    • Wesley says:

      after 1.5 hours with Samsung Tech support they agreed that their product does not support the NUC for some reason, you can hear it but not see it. but just the 2016 model.

  22. Tom says:

    Works perfectly fine with my Samsung 48JS9000 4K TV – 3840 x 2160 @ 59hz.

  23. peter says:

    Does the Toslink output DD or DTS 5.1 sound? My obsolete receiver amp got only Optical
    Thanks

  24. Bala says:

    BTW: is the bitstream audio bug already solved?

  25. Adnan says:

    Bala, for me I cant bitstream into dts or anything fancy. Looking into the i3. A

  26. Olli says:

    Anyone looking for RAM modules for this one, pay attention that you get one with correct density. Jason pointed out that Intel has even released an article on the correct type of memory for Apollo Lake NUC: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/boards-and-kits/intel-nuc-kits/000023485.html

    If you use the NUC Guru tool (see the top of this page) on this page, it’ll automatically suggest compatible memory for you.

  27. Mike says:

    Have you measured the power consumption of the nuc only? Would be very interesting to see it in idle and at 100% cpu usage.
    I can’t find it in the internet, even on reviews they doesn’t measured it. Thanks in advance!

  28. Glen Kemp says:

    Hi, I have the NUC6CAYS and having real difficulty with anything other than the embedded Windows. Booting from USB and SD is slow (and I mean, takes an hour) and is generally unresponsive. Even if I get Openelec installed, it won’t mount the system partition and boot. Have tried all the known work arounds, including a manual install (which took ages). I suspect that Linux support for the SD Card reader and embedded 32Gb card is the issue.
    Unbuntu live CD is also unusable. Windows looks great at 4k@60hz, but is just too slow compared to openelec. Anyone else had any joy?

  29. Bryan says:

    Just ordered the base kit from Colamco for $156 (free ship/no tax). Excited to install Embedded Plex Media Player and try out some 4k, Raspberry Pi 3 just wasn’t fast enough for me.

  30. Olli says:

    Amazon has also listed the NUC6CAYH finally: http://amzn.to/2k3FH7J

  31. Stan says:

    Hello,

    Is it possible to use some SSD M2 drive instead of preinstalled Wifi module ?

  32. Johnnie W says:

    What would you recommend for a HTPC. This, or the Skylake i3? Obviously, the i3 will perform better, but is the extra $ worth it just to run Kodi on Windows 10?

  33. Simon Eddeland says:

    I’ve ordered this NUC model with some additional RAM, but not an extra SSD yet. Is it easy to move/reinstall the pre-installed Windows version on the eMMC to a new SSD?

  34. Stan says:

    Hey !
    I am experiencing abig issue that 5.1 audio is just not working via HDMI ! I am connecting it to my ONKYO receiver and I am able only identify STEREO input.

    Anybody experiencing the same ? I am running Ubuntu 16.10 and 16.04

    • Toby says:

      Hey Stan,
      I’m experiencing similar problems simply on sound to my TV through HDMI, running 16.04. I’ve seen your posts elsewhere. I’ve seen a lot of posts asking similar questions which I’m guessing you’ve seen, tonight I’m going to try the sampling rate solution here:

      https://01.org/linuxgraphics/forum/graphics-installer-discussions/why-cant-i-get-sound-through-hdmi-intel-nuc-ubuntu-16.04-nor

      and here:

      https://bbs.archlinux.org/viewtopic.php?id=207085

      as this seems to be displaying similar behaviour as to what I’m seeing (ie sound activity evident by the level bars in pulseaudio and detecting the plugged in HDMI cable but no actual sound through the TV)

      I got sound once, after a sleep/wake cycle I tested the sound and everything worked fine, but after rebooting again, nothing!

    • Henke says:

      I’m having the same problem. Can’t get 5.1 to work in Ubuntu(16.04 and 16.10). I have the option to select 5.1 in the sound settings but when testing the speakers only two of them give sound. Works fine in Windows.

      Not sure if it’s related but Kodi and OpenPHT(Plex) doesn’t recognize HDMI as as a sound source and I don’t get the passthrough option in the settings. As above, this works on Windows.

      I tried changing the default sample rate as Toby suggested but that unfortunately didn’t help.

  35. Stan says:

    I am looking forward for your testing as I am not at home to do that too 🙂
    Hopefully this will solve our issues.

  36. Olli says:

    cvare (the same guy who helped out with the Bay Trail HD Audio issues) reported that Intel has figured out the problem behind the issues with the HD audio passthrough! It will take a week or two before they can release the firmware upgrade according to Intel. Keep reading this thread for updates: https://communities.intel.com/message/455702#455702

  37. Loïc says:

    Hello, does the nuc always have a message for unsupportet RAM if its smaller than 4B? Because for LibreELEC 2GB would be enough. But for it I have to quit all start the message for putting some çGB or more Module

  38. liedang says:

    Welp, I’ve been testing this NUC and found out that Netflix does work up to 4K without problem, but it seems that HDR is not enabled (possibly a firmware issue)

    Netflix doesn’t show any content as HDR and test files play fine on Kodi but the TV doesn’t enter in HDR mode

    • deliverydog says:

      Are you sure netflix 4k works with this nuc? If yes, what software did you use to do this, netflix app or edge browser? Thanks.

      Also, my nuc cannot seem to play 4K mkv file smoothly and cpu usage go to 100%. Running w10 creators update, 8gb dual channel memory, ssd. Any thoughts? Thanks.

  39. raulb says:

    I just got a nuc6cayh after some reading here and watching some reviews on youtube. I needed a multi purpose smallish device, a nas server, some VMs etc.

    I am disappointed to report the NUC has to be the most flaky devices I have used in some 20 years of computing and I am somewhat shocked these issues are not well known and that Intel can produce something so unreliable.

    First the nuc does not boot reliably, its temperamental and it boots maybe 7/10 times or less. Sometimes you get weird alarms and other errors and it just sits there. There are frequent ‘thermal trip errors’ that prevents boot and needs intervention via pressing the enter key. This is a known issue affecting tons of people on intel nuc forums in spite of replacing multiple nucs without any resolution and multiple bios updates have not solved it.

    The worst and this is probably my fault for not researching enough is the nuc cannot be operated as a headless server. Of course the previous 2 issues prevent that anyway but without an hdmi input it doesn’t boot and intel forums suggest to get a ‘fake hdmi device’ to fix it. This is completely crazy, one of the use cases of the NUC is using it as a headless server and if it cannot perform that role that reviewers and other should mention it prominently. I cannot believe an engineering powerhouse like Intel cannot fix these issues.

    I have had issues with PC but never flakiness. They are pretty robust once you know they work and errors are repeatable and one generally has a sense how to fix things. The NUC on the other hand is not reliable, at least for me.

  40. raulb says:

    Some workarounds for those with similar issues. Use a dummy hdmi or vga as Intel suggests, which is a shocking workaround by Intel. What I have found also works is to use a hdmi to dvi adapter cable without the monitor connected. For the weirdest of reasons this gets the nuc6cayh to boot headless.

    My overall perspective is the NUC and the bios is not engineered well. You can’t trust this to run truly headless and it needs to be babied, a lot. Its not a robust solution. Perhaps some of the other boxes by Gigabyte, MSI, Asus etc are better as these companies are more experienced when it comes to motherboards and end users.

    For desktop use it’s perhaps ok as the monitor will be connected. The difference between 4GB and 8GB is barely noticeable and any workload that uses 8GB is likely to run out of processor power and cause heat issues. The NUC runs hot, 48-50c idle and the slightest load takes it to 60c+. The idle remains at 48-50c even with a high power fan directed at the Nuc. I am not sure how it will handle serious server type loads and I think Intel chips need proper cooling to perform.

    The only bright spot is LibreElec works quite well including hevc. Builds for Apollo lake by Fritsch and Piotrasd are extremely efficient. Around 10-20% usage for 4k h265 content. But for HTPC and Kodi the Odroid C2 is a far cheaper and efficient solution and runs hevc and 4k h265 like a champ while sipping power.

  41. raulb says:

    An update for those facing similar problems. I have fixed this.

    The headless issue is due to uefi. At some point in the UEFI boot the absence of an hdmi connection fails the boot.

    Given this issue has plagued NUCs since 2014 on various models I am flabbergasted Intel has not fixed it yet and it took the better portion of 2 days to find a solution. Untill intel fixes the bios headless nuc6cayh and nuc6cays will not work without legacy mode. There is a new 040 bios just released today but I haven’t tested it yet.

    Some research revealed it could be grub at fault that may be getting stuck and to try reFind boot manager. I tried that and its the same. Without hdmi cable plugged to monitor boot seems to fail. So either this or the fit hdmi dummy plug untill Intel fixes this in the bios.

    Now the fix. I had a slight doubt that the whole headless thing is due to EFI so disabled UEFI in the NUC bios and redid the Windows and Linux installation in legacy mode. And lo and behold it finally worked!

    Now the NUC can operate truly headless without any hdmi connection or dummy plugs. I am still testing over multiple reboots it but it seems to work.

    PS: I made an error in my earlier post. With UEFI the monitor may be off but the hdmi cable must be connected to it. Without that boot will fail. That sounds strange but that’s the only way it works.

  42. Ken says:

    Was wondering does it have a TDP limit? in some Apollo Lake devices, DTP limit is disabled or can be disabled, which improves the performance a lot.

    Reference: https://techtablets.com/forum/topic/good-news-found-a-way-to-increase-tdp-limit-on-ezbook-3-pro-maybe-any-n3450/

  43. Tommi says:

    There is a very high chance, that next NUCs (Gemini Lake) are released with HD 6xx series, this is because:

    10-bit VP9 Codec (aka profile 2 + VP9 encoding, Gen9.5 bring support for both)
    eDP 1.4 (instead of current eDP 1.3, Gen9.5 HD 6xx bring support for eDP 1.4)

    There are other changes also, including DDR4 (instead of DDR3) + HDMI 2.0 (instead of HDMI 1.4) + Built-in WiFi + Bluetooth (no 3rd party needed), 4Mb L2 cache and 4-Wide pipeline (instant 10-15% boost to performance)

  1. March 6, 2017

    […] mouse/keyboard. I didn't tried the IR receiver as I mounted my unit on the wall behind the TV. A review for the Celeron version Reply With […]

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