Kaby Lake i7 NUC Review 4/4: Fan, Power, Linux, Conclusions (NUC7i7BNH)

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Fan Noise

Keeping a hot Core i7 CPU cool in a tiny enclosure is a difficult task and Intel has not always seen stellar success in that. Some might remember that the fan behaviour of the NUC5i7RYH back in 2015 was quite interesting. The fan went from idle to full speed in a second as soon as all cores were being utilized. It did sound like a jet engine too soon and at least for me was the most significant turn off with that model. The Skull Canyon NUC in 2016 was quite a bit better in that case. However, you wouldn’t classify that one as a quiet PC either.

What about the NUC in question here, the NUC7i7BNH? Well, I’d say it’s on par with the Skull Canyon. The 28W Core i7 CPU has been crammed in almost the same enclosure that works wonders with the 15W Core i3 and i5 models. As a result the small fan does spin up more often and you can hear it. I’m pretty allergic to fan noise and really would not like to put one on my desktop where it’s clearly audible. Your mileage may vary though. Maybe attached behind a monitor it’d be more quiet?

Due to popular request I’ve actually bought a cheapo UNI-T UT353 sound meter to get you some actual figures. All my testing is done at my home with ventilation turned off. I’m pretty sure that my completely unscientific approach is quite laughable for the people who actually do this kind of thing for living. I’m also pretty sure that the numbers produced are not comparable with numbers produced by someone else in their tests. I’ve measured from the front of the NUC with the microphone of the meter 50 cm away from the front panel. I’ll try to do so with my future NUCs so hopefully the numbers can be compared between my measurements.

Task Power
Power off (noise floor) 33.3 dB
Windows 10, idle on desktop 35.6 dB
Prime95 running stress test on all cores
(CPU temperature 86 degrees C)
39.1 dB
3DMark Time Spy Demo
(CPU temperature reaches 100 degrees C occasionally)
37.0-44.1 dB, mainly around 37-38.5 dB,
but occasional peaks at 44.1 dB

It’s worth noting that 39 decibels is really quite much more than 33 decibels even if the numbers do not seem so much different. When the power of a sound source is doubled the sound level increases by 3 dB.

Power Consumption

I’ve also bought a watt meter to provide you some power consumption figures! The following figures were measured using a Brennenstuhl EM240 watt meter.

Task Power
Windows 10, idle on desktop 13.7 W
Prime95 running stress test on all cores 48.6 W
3DMark Time Spy Demo 58.5 W
MPC-HC playing 10-bit 120Mbps HEVC at 4k 33.5W

I never saw the NUC break the 60-watt mark and that makes sense as the power supply is rated up to 65 watts. Stressing both the CPU and the GPU simultaneously seems to be the way to reach peak consumption.

Linux

Due to the latest Intel GPU and the WiFi chip you’ll need a fairly recent kernel. I’m mainly a Ubuntu-man so I did install the Ubuntu 16.10 on the NUC. The kernel on the long-term supported 16.04 version does not fully support Kaby Lake.

Anyhow, the installation was fine. GPU, WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet adapter were all working fine. Bitstreaming of HD audio formats to an amplifier does not work on any Apollo Lake or Kaby Lake NUCs (problem exist on ASrock/MSI and other products with similar components as well) when connecting via the HDMI 2.0 port. There’s a long-running bug report here.

For those who are interested, the complete boot log is here.

Conclusion

The Kaby Lake i7 NUC is the fastest NUC available in the traditional 4×4 form factor. It’s also the NUC with the fastest single-core CPU performance. However, it only has two cores (with hyperthreading) so it cannot match the performance of the quad-core Skull Canyon NUC in multi-core tasks.

Allright, but what do I think about the Kaby Lake i7 NUC? I say it’s sandwiched into a difficult position. On the other hand the 15W Kaby Lake i5 will most likely provide only slightly worse performance with much less fan noise. Then again, the Skull Canyon NUC provides significantly better performance for only a small increase in price. Pretty much the only thing the Skull Canyon NUC does not do vs. this one is the 10-bit HEVC video hardware decoding.

Pros

  • Fastest NUC available in this form factor
  • Thunderbolt port provides flexibility

Cons

  • The fan is still rather noisy under heavier CPU loads
  • Not that much more performance when compared to Skylake i5 NUC (and most likely the Kaby Lake i5)
  • Micro SD card reader not as useful as SD card reader on the previous gen

Recommended Setup

This time the recommended setup has 16 gigabytes of DDR4-2133 RAM that is known to work well in this NUC and an ultra-fast 250-gigabyte Samsung NVME SSD drive. It leaves you the 2.5″ slot empty for another drive. If you would like to equip your NUC in a different way, have a look at our build-a-NUC tool: the NUC Guru.

Product US UK DE FR
Intel Kaby Lake i7 NUC NUC7i7BNH $479.95 - EUR 470,90 EUR 500,23
Kingston HyperX 2x8GB DDR4-2133 RAM (16GB) - £142.03 EUR 142,95 EUR 175,17
Samsung 960 EVO M.2 250GB NVME SSD drive $117.60 £119.40 EUR 124,04 EUR 132,95
Check out the total price of the whole setup on Amazon.com!

Read the Other Parts of the Review

52 Responses

  1. Jason says:

    The fan noise is disappointing to hear about, I was hoping this generation i7 model would finally be way more quiet. I’m going to cancel my Amazon preorder and just get the i5 model. It is only going to be used for basic web browsing and productivity software like office so the i5 model should be fine. Thanks for review, just saved me the hassle of having to return i7 model.

    • Olli says:

      Thanks for the feedback Jason! I’d probably select the i5 as well if I was in your shoes. Even the i3 might be enough, but sometimes it good to have some extra power reserve.

    • kix says:

      you can actually select lower power limit in the bios(at least that was the case with previous generations) to limit the heat generation back to i5 levels, or even lower.
      fan profile is ajustable too.

      • Wojtas says:

        Yes, but there is no way to limit idle power consumption (14W). That is why the fan will be loud even in idle.
        Better buy is last year i5SY .. There idle power is only 9W. The fan can be limited to 2500 rpm, which makes it almost inaudible.

  2. Bulent Yusuf says:

    Great review. Guess I’ll just hang on to my Skylake i5 for another generation!

    • Olli says:

      Thanks for your comment Bulent! In general there typically is not enough changes between two consecutive NUC generations to warrant an upgrade. I’m sure your Skylake i5 will keep on rocking easily for another year.

      My Kaby Lake i5 should arrive tomorrow, so I can tell you the difference between the generations quite soon. 🙂

      • Jon says:

        Could you test if the i5 NUC can display 4K at 50/60hz trouble-free? It seems to be a recurring theme over at the NUC forum that people have trouble getting stable displays at 4K resolution. I am hesitant to get a NUC for my 4K TV because of this.

  3. Matt says:

    Thanks for putting up another great review. And the additional items regarding noise and power will be welcomed by many, I’m sure.
    It’d be most interesting to see performance compared to the most comparable product – the NUC5i7, in my opinion. Any chance those will be added as a comparison in the benchmarks?

    I’m disappointed that the i7 15w CPUs are still dual core. Looks as though we’re likely a couple more generations away before that becomes a reality. Hopefully AMDs recent attack on the number of cores will trickle down over the near future. 10nm will be the key.

    Seems the i5 will still be the best option for price/performance. Useful comparable benchmarks would be the NUC7i3, NUC7i7 and NUC6i5.

    I’d be interested to see details regarding external GPU performance, just out of curiosity really. Most recent reviews of GPU and CPUs I’ve seen have show more often than not the GPU is a much larger bottleneck than the CPU, so NUCs could be conveniently small and sufficiently powered to game on with an eGPU.

    • Olli says:

      Thanks for the feedback Matt! Sorry for omitting NUC5i7RYH from the comparison. I did run some of the same benchmarks back in the day on that NUC. Read here the details: http://nucblog.net/2015/11/intel-core-i7-nuc-review-nuc5i7ryh-benchmarks/

      The Cinebench R15 results indicate that the CPU (multicore 355/singlecore 139) itself is not much slower than the Kaby Lake i7, but the OpenGL result of 38.82 fps is significantly worse indicating greater improvements in the GPU.

      Yes, I agree the eGPU is more of a curiosity at this point. I’m hoping that in the nearby future there will be generic Chinese eGPU cases available for fraction of the price Razer is asking.

  4. zag says:

    I would love to see an “average” percentage of how much faster this model is from the previous generation i7.

  5. Soikebike says:

    Sad that the iris GPU didn’t improve at all this generation. Was hoping for more than 80% of the 580.

    • Michael Chou says:

      Iris Pro Graphics 580 is GT4e with 72 EUs and 128MB eDRAM
      Iris Plus Graphics 650 is GT3e with 48 EUs and 64MB eDRAM
      So you should compare 650 to 550 not 580

      • Soikebike says:

        Yeah, I get that, but intel made some pretty impressive claims for the kaby lake iris vs skylake. The 580 wasn’t much faster than the 550 in the benchmarks I saw (15-20%). so hoping that the 650 was about even with the 580 sounded reasonable. Sounds like the skylake -> kabylake iris performance is approximately equal.

  6. Olli says:

    Well, there was no comparable previous generation i7 NUC. Skylake i7 NUC was the Skull Canyon and that’s actually faster than this NUC. No wonder as the Skull has a 45W quad-core CPU and this one only a 28-watt dual-core CPU. I’ve provided comparison to the Skull Canyon NUC on the performance page.

    If you want to compare to the Broadwell i7 NUC (NUC5i7RYH), then we can look at the Cinebench results for example:

    Single core CPU: 139 vs. 159, Kaby Lake faster by 14.3%
    Multi core CPU: 355 vs. 432, Kaby Lake faster by 21.6%
    GPU/OpenGL: 38.82 vs. 77.02, Kaby Lake faster by 98.4%

    And in 3DMark Sky Diver for example: 4215 vs. 6890, Kaby Lake faster by 63.5%

    It’s impossible to give an average. It depends hugely on what you are doing. The raw CPU power is up by 15-20%, but the GPU is much more powerful in KL.

  7. yt75 says:

    Thanks a lot for this review (merci beaucoup, Français non ? 🙂 )
    Anyway, I will probably buy one, and hesitating betwenn the i7 and i5, this to do 3D design (rhino3D) and a bit of video editing, besides office, web, etc, no gaming at all.
    I really don’t like fan noise either and so I’m leaning on the i5, should be ok for this usage right ?
    Might also go with the akasa case coming :
    http://www.akasa.com.tw/update.php?tpl=product/product.detail.tpl&no=181&type=Fanless%20Chassis&type_sub=Fanless%20NUC&model=A-NUC35-A1B
    (not valid for th i7 apparently).
    Or are there any fanless kabylake mini pc with some serrious(ok) graphic part existing yet ?

    • Zane Stout says:

      I have the 7i5bnk, and had a 6700 desktop skylake processor, I honestly can barely notice a difference in 90% of the programs. Even in visual studio, opening takes another second or two which is crazy impressive for a 15w chip vs 55w chip. Much faster than the previous gen i5 too. I don’t think personally it is worth it for the i7.

    • Tommi says:

      They should create one for i7, it really needs it more than i3/i5

  8. Zane Stout says:

    Loving my 7i5bnk NUC! Very quiet and energy efficient and plays 4k great (on edge only). I am anxious to see your benchmarks, I left a review on Amazon. but it’s very basic and I just tested normal programs like edge iTunes opening of word and chrome etc. A few older titles I tried, but nothing crazy.

    Curious to see your more advanced benchmarks and comparisons compared to the skylake. Interesting enough, on passmark (I did a test and submitted results to passmark also to verify the i5 7th gen) the score is 25% faster than the i5 6th gen. If accurate, that would be pretty impressive. Looking forward to your comprehensive review

    • nucblognet says:

      Many thanks for your feedback Zane! I’ve got NUC7i5BNK here as well and will try to push out the article next week. I’ve just got almost 20 thousand kilometers to fly tonight/tomorrow, so maybe I can write some drafts on the plane…

      • steve says:

        Thanks for the great review. The NUC7i5BNH is finally arriving in Europe this week but here seems to be some complaints about its noise levels too. What are you findings?

        • nbzn says:

          A noisy 7i5 would be very disappointing…as it is, I am struggling to decide between it and the 7i7 (performance vs noise, as reported in the review)…that subjective factor is quite the wildcard. Still looking forward to the 7i5 performance review, and hoping it will include a comparison (db meter) of noise from the 7i7

          • Olli says:

            It’s not as quiet as the previous gen i5 was, unfortunately. I’ll try to finish my review by tomorrow…

  9. Ade says:

    Will the HTPC Guide be getting a refresh now?

  10. TheWombat says:

    Thanks for the review. I was deciding whether to go for the 7i7 or 7i5 as my every day desktop machine and the review confirmed my concerns re: fan noise on the 7i7, sothe 7i5 is probably the better option for me.

  11. roop says:

    Hi Olli. Thanks for the review. You used kennel 4.8.0 on Ubuntu 16.10, right? So 16.04.2 with hwe kennel should work too right? The hwe kernel is also 4.8.0. Would you be able to test ubuntu 16.04.2 please?

  12. Eliasz Perun says:

    I would also like to hear about some test when paired nuc with egpu. Yes I am a type who wants to do this. I have some purpose for this and no one will convince me to buy desktop:) I just don’t know which box should I buy. Nuc 7i7bnh or zotac mi572. Mi has four cores and support 2400 MHz ram. So this can fit better game mode with egpu. Just need to know how egpu works with mini PC. And now. I am not game freak. Its gonna be casual gaming.

  13. rcg1950 says:

    Roop –

    Running the Kaby Lake i3BNH on Ubuntu 16.04.2 with hwe kernel. Works perfectly, but stay away from the Intel micro code driver update. For office apps, email, internet kinds of activities its more than adequate. Have yet to hear the fan spin up in my usage. Very quiet. I think all I’m hearing is the sound of the 2nd HDD I use for data storage.

    Olli – thanks for this site. Has been a great help.

    • Olli says:

      Many thanks for the information!

    • roop says:

      Thanks. Great news! Did you test Kodi (h256 playback) too?

      For now my media center runs on Windows 10. But it’s pretty annoying. I’m testing ubuntu right now. With this I can easily run some virtual machines / serves and still use it as a media center.

      If ubuntu + kodi is working I will upgrade to kaby lake. So thanks for the info!

      • nucblognet says:

        For H.265 playback you will need cutting-edge alpha-grade software. You’ll need the latest Kodi (the latest stable release does not have this in) and Intel graphics drivers to support 10-bit HEVC HW decoding on Apollo Lake and Kaby Lake.

        The code is there and it will soon be in the “standard” releases, so in that sense the Kaby Lake is a safe bet for a HTPC. The only thing that’s slightly irking me still is the lack of HD Audio Bitstreaming to an amplifier for DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD formats. I do expect this to get fixed in the Linux drivers eventually, but it has certainly been taking time…

  14. Tommi says:

    Got reply from Akasa, there will be variant of the case for i7, Plato X7 with Product Code: A-NUC37-M1B, upcoming status soon.

  15. rmilyard says:

    If using Kaby Lake CPU and HDMI 2.0 port please join in on this Intel Support page.
     
    https://communities.intel.com/message/470997#470997
     
    This combo will not playback 3D.  If Intel’s 7th Gen NUC released is becoming a BIG issue for many!
     

  16. Reece says:

    Wait, does this version still require a connected monitor? Or can I run it headless?

    • Olli says:

      To be honest, I did not try and cannot try within the following weeks due to travelling. However, I’m running a Skylake i3 NUC headless as a mini-server, so I have no reason to believe that you couldn’t run the Kaby Lake NUC headless…

  17. Dennis says:

    “Headless” is a problem because without display, you cannot do remote desktop. SSH works fine, but for a remote GUI (RDP or VNC) you need some sort of display attached…

    • Olli says:

      Well, that’s then just poor design on Microsoft’s side! I run a Linux system and can take a remote connection to the GUI even if there’s no display connected to the system. If you need the PC to think there’s a display connected, you could get one of these: http://amzn.to/2qeGBOA

  18. Great review Olli, I’m just about to purchase the i7, however the sound worries me. I would use it as a HTPC, any idea how much db the fan would generate while playing video? specifically MPC-HC playing 10-bit 120Mbps HEVC at 4k, as this would be the most cpu requiring video. Thank you!

  19. Tommi says:

    I wish Akasa would release fanless case for NUC7i7BNH also, one reason why I haven’t yet bought NUC7i7BNH yet. I usually play minimal settings / ultra tweaked games, so I’m pretty used to it, and some older games that can be played 60 fps almost any newer devices (even on older intel HD gpu)

    And usually I just play WoT, works even my older hardware, with worse cpu and gpu, which manage 61fps, not all settings low. I bet NUC7i7BNH play 61fps even higher settings.

  20. Reuben says:

    NUC 7i7BNH or Skull Canyon NUC 6i&KYK. It’s a tough choice from what I’ve seen so far. Is the Skull Canyon NUC worth the extra $$$? I could probably get along just fine with an i3 NUC.

  21. Ron says:

    NUC7i7BNH is very noisy….. i’m full of regrets, its not made for personal computer use.

    Does anyone know of a quieter fan that can be replaced ?

  22. Lew Zealand says:

    Under what conditions do the people using their 7i7 NUCs experience excessive noise? I bought mine when they became available on Amazon (~4 days after this review was posted), and for home/business use, I do not hear the fan noise. I’m somewhat tolerant of room/background noise so I’m probably not the best person to criticize the NUC’s noise levels but mine only becomes noisy when running the CPU at 100% or when gaming.

    Especially when gaming, it’s simply a given that the fan will spool up to near max and in fact my 6i5 NUC does the same. Yes, that one is silent under normal use but when pushed playing 3D games, it also will spin that fan right up to near max. BTW, calling the i5s “15W” CPUs is a bit misleading as in the NUCS they are set in BIOS with a higher wattage limit. Open the Intel Power Gadget and run Prime95 or any CPU test and observe. Here’s the BIOS-set power limit I see in my NUCs:

    D54250WYK (NUC4i5): 15W manually configurable in BIOS up to 25W, which I did
    NUC5i5: 20W
    NUC5i7: 28W
    NUC6i5: 23W
    NUC7i7: 28W

    My assumption is that the NUC7i5 matches the Skylake NUC6i5 at 23W and should have a similar noise profile. If someone tries the Intel Power Gadget on their 7i5, please post to let me know the wattage limit as I’m assessing the utility of using a 7i5 with an eGPU. Basing my assumptions on 23W usage, the 7i5 should be a good match for an eGPU as my 7i7 with a 1060 in an eGPU (Node) loafs along at 15-20W usage for most games. Even SW: Battlefront only takes around 20-25W playing at 3440×1440 Max settings.

  23. Ben says:

    I can tell you guys, I have the NUC7I7BNH. I attached an eGPU unit for a GeForce 1060 on the USB-C port. When playing games, the temperatures go so high, that the system crashes like every 2 hours. It is horrible. I can only hard reset and start again, play for 2 more hours and boom, freezing again.
    Intel offers me a replacement which I will take, but I doubt another one will be better. Very disapointing, since I am just playing Diablo 3. Not even 4k, just 1440p.

  24. Neo says:

    Am already ready to pay for the NUC7I7BNH since I’ve been eyeing a high-end NUC for quite some time, will only use it for work and some light gaming.
    But reading the comments here (especially Ben’s) really makes me think twice.

  25. Jim says:

    Same as Ben. I have the 7I7BNH with akitio node and evga 1080ti. Great for my 3D scanning work, but can’t play overwatch for more than 45ish minutes without freezing the nuc, which is ironic since it’s burning hot.

    • Neo says:

      Have you guys tried gaming with just the internal plus graphics 650?

      I went ahead and got my unit recently without any external gpu, because I only do light gaming.
      Tried Starcraft 2 with all ultra highest settings, although not recommended.
      Game seems to run fine and smooth. But the fan was at full speed for sure.

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