Alright, it’s finally here – The Intel Kaby Lake NUC. As usual, around New Year (this time around Chinese New Year it seems) Intel releases a new product in their mini PC lineup with the current Core architecture CPUs. At the time of writing only the Core i3 model is out but the Core i5 model should be hitting the shelves within a couple of weeks. A few more weeks from that you can also expect the Core i7 model finally to be available as well.
Most of my readers already know exactly what is an Intel NUC, but for those who don’t: It is a tiny barebone PC size of a few CD cases piled on top of each other. As it’s a barebone kit, you’ll need to bring your own memory and storage modules and install them to the chassis. If this sounds complicated I can assure you that it really is not (see my Build a NUC tool, if you are having a hard time choosing the components). Despite the small size it delivers pretty respectable performance and unless you’re a die hard gamer or a video editor you could even replace your desktop compute with one. Or make a HTPC out of it. Or build a digital signage solution with it. I’ve even seen some self-service ordering booths in McDonald’s powered by a NUC.
I’ll be taking a look at NUC7i3BNH which is the Core i3 model with a 2.5″ slot for a SATA drive. If you don’t need a 2.5″ drive you could opt for the NUC7i3BNK model which is otherwise exactly same, but it has even smaller case that does not have room for a 2.5″ drive.
- Intel Core i3-7100U Processor, 2.4GHz, dual-core, 15W TDP
- 2 slots for DDR4-2133 SO-DIMM memory, 1.2V, max. 32GB
- Normal, full-size HDMI 2.0 port
- USB Type-C Port with DisplayPort 1.2
- Intel HD Graphics 620 GPU, 24 EUs (GT2)
- Four USB 3.0 ports (2 on the front, 2 on the rear)
- Intel Gigabit Ethernet LAN adapter
- Intel Wireless-AC 8265 WiFi adapter (802.11ac, dual-band, max. 867 Mbps, Bluetooth 4.2)
- Support for M.2 SSD card (sizes 22×42 and 22×80)
- Slot for a single 2.5″ drive (SSD or HDD, max. 9.5mm thickness)
- Micro SD card reader (support SDXC cards and UHS-I)
- Dual-array microphones on the front panel
- Infrared sensor and 3.5mm audio jack
- Dimensions 115 mm x 111 mm x 51 mm (4.5″ x 4.4″ x 2.0″)
Full technical product specification from Intel are available here.
We’ve already seen pictures of this NUC earlier, but let’s have a look around the unit now. Instead of the light grey aluminum sides this years’ NUCs sport a much darker outfit. Instead of aluminum the sides are made of plastic. The top retains the glossy plastic finish that does get scratched very easily. Keep the protective cover on as long as you can, especially while installing the components into the NUC.
On the front panel there are 2 USB 3.0 ports, one of them fast charging capable. You’ve got a headphone/line out jack. The power button is now located on the front panel. Finally, there’s also something called a ring LED. This large size LED you can configure to work as a power LED, HDD LED or opt to control it by software. You can even choose the colour out of 7 different options! The two small holes on the left and right are for the stereo microphone.
On the left side of the unit there’s a micro SDXC card reader (UHS-1 capable) and a Kensington security slot.
The rear panel houses a power connector, a full size HDMI 2.0 connector, Gigabit Ethernet port, two more USB 3.0 ports and a single USB Type-C port that offers USB 3.1 gen2 and DisplayPort 1.2 functionality. It’s worth nothing that the i3 model does not support ThunderBolt over the Type-C connector, unlike the more expensive models in the lineup.
Under the Hood
The Kaby Lake NUC is delivered without memory and storage media included. For memory you should choose either 4, 8 or 16 gigabyte memory modules. There are two slots available and even if you can populate only one of them, you should definitely consider installing two similar memory modules for optimal performance. The memory module must be a 1.2 volt DDR4 SO-DIMM module, and if this one is anything like its predecessors it can be a bit picky regarding the compatible memory modules.
After removing the four screws that secure the bottom cover to the chassis you can access the main board. The same NUC7i3BNB main board is used for both NUC7i3BNH and NUC7i3BNK models. The difference is that NUC7i3BNH has a slot for a 2.5″ drive in the bottom cover and the SATA cables that connect to the mainboard. NUC7i3BNK has the SATA connectors on the main board, but does not come with any of the cabling supplied and the case just does not have room enough for a 2.5″ drive.
It’s really quite impressive how much Intel has managed to pack on this tiny motherboard. You’ve got two DDR4 memory slots dominating the left side of the above picture of the main board.
On the right hand side you can see the M.2 slot. It supports PCI Express 3.0 specification and up to x4 bandwidth to fully support NVMe SSD drives. I did manage to exceed 3 GB/sec sequential read rates. You can also use a cheaper, standard M.2 SATA SSD drive in which case the maximum bandwidth is about 540 MB/s. The M.2 card used should be either 22×42 or 22×80 in size. 22×60 cards are not supported. As you can see, a 22×80 card will be physically above the SD card reader and the WiFi adapter – there’s no space for a mounting screw for 22×60 cards. Possibly you could use a 22×60 card with a 3rd party adapter. The 802.11ac WiFi adapter is soldered to the mainboard and not replaceable.
For this review I installed the Kingston HyperX HX421S13IBK2/8 RAM which is a 2-module kit with total capacity of 8 GB. If you want to be sure that you get the right kind of memory module go see the NUC Guru – our NUC configuration tool that can suggest you hardware that definitely works together and give you an easy shopping list of parts needed. As I had a 250GB Samsung 960 EVO SSD lying around, I decided to install that into the M.2 slot. The 2.5″ slot I left empty this time.
As usual, Intel uses its Visual BIOS in the NUC7i3BNH as well. It has evolved quite nicely over the years and is rather convenient to use. BIOS version 0036 was used for this review.
Some changes compared to the previous models are:
- 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
- Part 1: Hardware Overview
- Part 2: Performance and Benchmark Results
- Part 3: Kaby Lake NUC as a HTPC and Conclusions