The i3 Kaby Lake NUC Review (NUC7i3BNH) – Linux, HTPC, Conclusions (3/3)

In the concluding part of the Kaby Lake NUC review we install Ubuntu Linux on it and try how it works as a HTPC. If you came here via a search engine, be sure to visit the other parts of this review as well.

Ubuntu Linux on Kaby Lake NUC

I downloaded Ubuntu Linux 16.10 Desktop (Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS does not have a new enough kernel for supporting the WiFi adapter) and set to install it from a USB stick for quick test how does it work with the NUC. The installation was uneventful and the system booted up just fine.

The WiFi and Bluetooth adapters were working fine, there were no issues with the GPU and in general things seemed to be fully functional. If you’re interested, the kernel log from a boot can be found here. Ubuntu 16.10 has kernel 4.8, which is quite fresh. I would not suggest anything much older than that as the Kaby Lake GPU and the WiFi adapter are not properly supported in older kernels…

HTPC Credentials

The Kaby Lake NUC should make a nice HTPC due to a couple of reasons. Lively 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 with both 8 and 10-bit content support.

The Kaby 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 now..

Windows HTPC Applications

The NUC7i3BNH 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. Kodi 17 and MPC-HC were able to play 10-bit HEVC videos at ease. The CPU usage stayed at very low levels as the video gets decoded by the GPU.

The previous NUC that I reviewed (NUC6CAYH) had some issues with the HD audio pass-through. I was keen to see whether or nor this NUC would pass through Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio to my amplifier. Unfortunately it seems this NUC is plagued by the same issues. I’m presuming that this is due to the same DisplayPort-to-HDMI2 LSPCon chip being used internally. I do expect Intel to fix this issue, but as of today, my Marantz SR6010 is not able to detect the signal when I try to pass through Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD streams. Dolby Digital and plain old DTS are just fine.

If you are running HDMI firmware earlier than 1.66 you will have problems with the audio passthrough to an AV receiver that is HDMI 2.0 capable. After the update, which can be downloaded on the Intel Download Center, all audio formats should work fine.

LibreELEC

I installed LibreELEC 8 Beta version on the NUC and to my surprise most of the things were working straight away, including the WiFi adapter. However, the HD audio passthrough did not seem to work for anything fancier than Dolby Digital or DTS on LE either. 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.

It’s worth noting that support for the 10-bit HEVC decoding on the Kaby Lake GPU is not part of the LibreELEC 8.0 code. Experimental builds do exist that handle the decoding in hardware.

HDMI-CEC

Just like the NUC6CAYH that was released a month earlier, this NUC features improved HDMI-CEC support. 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.

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.

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 Core i3 NUC (NUC6i3SYH) the most significant changes are:

  • Slightly more powerful CPU and GPU
  • HDMI 2.0 port for 4k support
  • 10-bit HEVC and VP9 HW decoding
  • Improved fan handling
  • Integrated microphone
  • Basic HDMI-CEC functionality
  • USB Type-C port

The performance of the NUC, both in the benchmarks and in practical use, was rather good. It was responsive and felt fast enough for basic desktop work in Windows 10. There are no significant performance improvements when looking back at last year’s Skylake NUC however. I doubt many Skylake NUC owners will see enough reasons to upgrade. For the people who plan to build a HTPC out of the NUC it’s great to finally have full support for HEVC decoding, however I’m hesitant to recommend the Kaby Lake NUC before the audio passthrough is fully supported in Linux. Of course if you plan to use only Windows or don’t have an external amplifier or no more than 5 channels that might not be a show-stopper for you.

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 NUC7i3BNH $299.00 £280.00 EUR 320,00 EUR 309,00
2×4 GB HyperX DDR4L-2133 Memory Module $73.79 £69.99 EUR 82,89 EUR 85,89
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB SSD drive $109.99 £87.41 EUR 97,57 EUR 102,66
Check the total price of the whole setup on Amazon.com!

57 Responses

  1. Gas says:

    Hi Olli,
    Thank you for your review 🙂
    I am so glad to see that we can completely turn off the fan in Bios !
    I can’t wait for mine but it’s not available in France for the moment 🙁
    I see that you are in legacy. Why not uefi ? Because I don’t do my choice between Mbr and gpt. What do you think about this ?
    Have a good day

  2. h0schi says:

    Thx for the review.

    By the way:
    The Pulse-Eight CEC-Adapter (Skylake-wiring) work and fits without any problems in the new KabyLake NUCs 🙂

    Pictures:
    https://abload.de/img/img_1378-kq0un3.jpg
    https://abload.de/img/img_1375-k7vuby.jpg

    Greets

    • Olli says:

      Hi h0schi,

      Thanks. That’s good info!

      • h0schi says:

        You’re welcome 🙂

        The only problem i’ve got is that i need to re-choose the HDMI-port on my TV to waking / booting up the NUC.

        I think and hope that’s a new firmware-update will fix this problem.
        On my CEC-adapter is v7 installed (2016-4-13).

  3. Techster says:

    Excellent, thorough review, as always. Great work! The LED ring is fun to play with. There are quite a few combinations of colors and functions.

  4. Marty says:

    Hi, small question, is the displayport output, by using a DP->VGA converter, can output a 1152*864 resolution at 75hz ? is it possible or not ? Thanks !

  5. Timo says:

    Thanks for the review. But since I’m an audiophile, so waiting for the Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD audio support to be resolved before buying. This is dealbreaker to me.

    Do you have any visibility if something is happening to the ticket https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=98797 ?

  6. guest says:

    Can you please clarify that you were connecting to your receiver for 4k60hz using the native HDMI port on the NUC (and not via displayport + adapter)? I’m assuming that the LPSCon switch you’re referring to is embedded behind the HDMI port on the NUC such that it’s delivering true HDMI 2.0 off the bat on the port (just that the LPSCon sits inbetween the HDMI port and the GPU).

    Also, regarding the pass-through issues… how long has this been a problem and is there an outstanding Intel form / post you can refer me to? I really want this NUC and have a great 4k receiver intending to do lots of HD-MA and 10-bit files.

  7. dino says:

    can you test the noise with a tool as http://promobiledj.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Decibel-dB-Meter.jpg (or some Android app) please? in this way, we can compare on values and not on sensations.
    Thanks

    • Olli says:

      Yeah, I should get a watt meter and a decibel meter to add some more measurements. In any case, you could only compare the measurements that I’ve taken as the measurement conditions for dB measurements are notoriously difficult to normalize (I don’t have an anechoic chamber at home). Of course, they can give some indication, but for example in my place the ventilation is probably making more noise than the NUC at idle when measured from 1 meter distance…

      But in any case, I’ll put those two things on the shopping list and will try to get you some values in the future reviews.

      • Tomi says:

        Thanks Olli for superb review again!

        Simple power meter costs less than ten euros @ some local netstore (Tuote 34697) and as suggested above some old tablet lying around can do the noise measurement quite well with “no cost”.

        With some imagination a small PC like NUC can be sealed into a miniature acoustic chamber. This kind of set-up is not going to give you world class results, but would give you an indication of power consumption & noise levels.

        FYI: First glimpse of higher i5 version (with holder for 2.5″ SATA) is available at Youtube. The ventilation holes of the i5 model and i7 models are different. (see i7 pic on product page found from Intel web site). Hopefully this time Intel got 28W cooling improved so that the noise will stay down. This would be good opportunity to test your brand new noise & power measurement set-up – but don’t delay your coming reviews because of above. 🙂

        • bossanova808 says:

          No no – get a proper DB meter – also not expensive – and wildly more accurate than phones and tablets, especially at lower volumes which is what you’ll be measuring. And if you measure at the ventilation points, you should get a pretty good idea of how the units compare at least, and will mostly avoid issues measuring your noise floor. As you say though, at 1m, with the lower heat versions, I doubt you’ll be measuring anything other than the noise floor.

  8. This NUC don’t have toslink/spdif on the back… How could I use optical? I read about an adaptor…on the front?? Thanks for the review.

  9. Guest says:

    Would you be able to report out temps?

    I’m specifically interested in knowing whether the tall “H” unit if no drive is inserted runs cooler (due to the extra space inside) versus the compact “K” version.

    I don’t really care to use a 2.5″ drive on account of the nvram m.2 ssds now being comparably priced and much faster, but I’d the tall units run cooler because if the extra space and engage the fans less, I’d be more inclined to get the tall “H” variant.

  10. Tigerman82 says:

    Do the i3 NUCs usually have less fan noise than the i5 NUCs? Just wondering about this vs. the i5 model if I don’t necessarily need the extra power (would be running Win10+Kodi).

  11. nucs_are_a_meme says:

    Not a single word about temperatures with or without turbo boost enabled. All this fanboyism around the NUCs while they still suffer the major design flaw that their cooling is awful. If you are going to write a review post something useful and not some generic graphics benchmark which won’t really help determine if these things are not going to blow up in your face or not …

    • Olli says:

      Well thank you for your feedback. The 15W TDP CPU definitely is not going to blow up on your face. In my use the temps have never reached more than ~75 degrees (room temperature 25 degrees) and the fan never sped up to level that would have annoyed me (my HP Elitebook 9480m is much louder). Tjunction for the processor is 100 degrees Celsius.

      Could you care to elaborate a bit more how and why the cooling of the i3 model should be improved?

    • Pawel says:

      Office with big windows, south side
      5 nucs total, 3 x 5i7, around 40 degrees C, last summer
      No one got burned…

      Nuc is still a system. Other 3rd parties can play like Akasa with their Plato X.
      Cooling is awful – it’s true b/c it is hearable, in case i7/Skull let’s say loud. Even if you want it to be 24/7 under load you can still buy Akasa.

      Real performance – buy SM950/951 and fly with these.

      Blow up in your face – I have 5i5 in Plato X and its not even warm so pbms.

  12. Krautmaster says:

    Switch HDMI to primary video device in BIOS and you will have your passthrough on HDMI 😉

  13. Gustavo Oliveira says:

    Hi Olli,
    Does this new i3 NUC justify costing twice the price of a NUC6CAYH, strictly for HTPC use (with libreELEC)?
    Thank you for the reviews!

  14. Adam M says:

    Can this NUC run older games ( let’s say up to 2006) at 1080p?

    • Olli says:

      The gaming performance of this NUC will only be slightly better than the performance of the NUC6i3SYH and that NUC can already run some games at 1080p. See my last year’s review of that one for some games that I tried: http://nucblog.net/2016/01/skylake-nuc-review-nuc6i3syh-benchmarks/

      I think if gaming is at all important for you, you should spend an extra one hundred for the NUC7i5BNH that has significantly more powerful GPU (and a bit more powerful CPU). I’ll plan to write something about gaming with the i5 model as soon as I get it…

  15. Valinor says:

    Need some advice 🙂 Basically I have the option of going for the nuc7i3BNH or the nuc6i5syh. Which one should I go for?
    Gonna use it on 1080p as a pc so no need for the 4k.
    I will do some video/photo editing on it.
    Thanks 🙂

  16. Sumba says:

    Are you shure that the darker frame is now only plastic?
    It looks just like a darker eloxication of the aluminium to me.

  17. Vlado says:

    On Intel site it is written:

    Enclosure – “Aluminum and plastic with replaceable lid”

    http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-kit-nuc7i3bnh.html

  18. Gas says:

    I think that is plastic because when I do toc-toc on with my finger it sound like plastic ; ) I just have mine today and it funny 🙂 but when I put my ear on I listen a little noise when the Nuc is power off like a coil whine ! Is it normal ?

  19. Darius says:

    Does anyone have tried connecting it to 4K HDR capable TV and running a HDR video (HEVC 10bit)?
    Is it HDMI 2.0a capable?

  20. Julien Benay says:

    Bonjour,

    Alors pour ma part, je suis informaticien mais je débute avec les NUCs.

    Je cherche a acheter le NUC7i3BN(x), mais je voudrais savoir plusieurs choses et si l’un d’entres vous pourrais me répondre,j’apprécierais grandement .

    Je cherche en effet à installer OpenElec et Kodi sur ce NUC.

    mais

    1=> je voudrais utiliser du 4k natif @60hz (je penses que je dois passer par le display-port mais je souaite également..
    2=> utiliser le hdmi CEC pour piloter Kodi depuis la télécommande de mon téléviseur Samsung.

    Quel adaptateur dois je prendre ???? si je prend l’adaptateur display-port via hdmi , il faudrait que je puisse injecter le signal cec…. je suis perdu…

    Merci de l’aide.

  21. Julien Benay says:

    Hello,

    So for my part, I am a computer scientist but I start with the NUCs.

    I am looking to buy the NUC7i3BN (x), but I would like to know several things and if one of you could answer me, I would greatly appreciate it.

    I’m looking to install OpenElec and Kodi on this NUC.

    but

    1 => I would like to use 4k native @ 60hz (I think I have to go through the display-port but I also want to ..
    2 => use the CEC hdmi to drive Kodi from the remote control of my Samsung TV.

    Which adapter should I take ???? If I take the display-port adapter via hdmi, I would have to be able to inject the signal cec …. I’m lost…

    Thanks for the help.

  22. Dvir says:

    Hi,

    Any reason for the recommendation to pair SSD instead of M.2 card except price?

  23. Julien Benay says:

    Hello,

    I think there is a price reason indeed. But there is not only that, in this type of NUC there is the version with the port M2, and the version with the port M2 + SATA 2 1/2, so there is the question of the footprint.

    • Dvir says:

      I was referring to the recommendation for the H model above.
      My idea was small M.2 for OS with future addition of 2.5 for additional storage as prices will drop.
      So I wanted to understand the reason for the 2.5 recommendation…
      Is it just price or overheating issues, etc…

      • Julien Benay says:

        I could not answer. Why not use:
        1 – M2 for OS
        2 – SATA for dual boot or backup
        3- NAS storage for the rest

        This is the future configuration for me …..
        I am currently working on this NUC to make a KODI mediacenter coupled with a lightberry to make the ambilight from the KODI source (movies-TV) plus the playstation 4 …
        But c is complicated because I must respect the 2160p with all adapters then reinjected the HDMI CEC ….. hard ……….: D

  24. tearman says:

    Are any of you getting awful screen tearing when playing content on a fresh 16.10 install?

  25. Matt Rowe says:

    Any idea when we might see the i5 or i7 variants of this on your site, or anywhere for that matter!?

    Also interested to see the gaming review when you do that. Think you might be able include an eGPU portion too?

  26. Johannes says:

    I have a question to all here, I happen to have the recommended setup, meaning the NUC with the 2×4 GB HyperX DDR4L-2133 Memory Modules (HX421S13IBK2/8) which are CL13, so really low latency.

    Now here my Geekbench 4.1 results for Linux and Windows 10:
    https://browser.geekbench.com/v4/cpu/compare/2455073?baseline=2457960

    shows a really bad latency score in the Linux run, and still a quite bad latency for windows compared to my desktop system with Skylake and CL15 memory:

    https://browser.geekbench.com/v4/cpu/compare/2331140?baseline=2455073

    so even the better Windows 10 latency on the NUC with CL13 memory is much worse than my CL15 memory on the linux workstation. Anyone knows why? Or can compare their NUC’s with my Geekbench results and see if it’s similar?

  27. Johannes Wagner says:

    I have a question to all here, I happen to have the recommended setup, meaning the NUC with the 2×4 GB HyperX DDR4L-2133 Memory Modules (HX421S13IBK2/8) which are CL13, so really low latency.

    Now here my Geekbench 4.1 results for Linux and Windows 10:
    https://browser.geekbench.com/v4/cpu/compare/2455073?baseline=2457960

    shows a really bad latency score in the Linux run, and still a quite bad latency for windows compared to my desktop system with Skylake and CL15 memory:

    https://browser.geekbench.com/v4/cpu/compare/2331140?baseline=2455073

    so even the better Windows 10 latency on the NUC with CL13 memory is much worse than my CL15 memory on the linux workstation. Anyone knows why? Or can compare their NUC’s with my Geekbench results and see if it’s similar?

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