Kaby Lake i5 NUC Review 1/3: Overview (NUC7i5BNK)

Last but not least in the Kaby Lake NUC family, I will take a look at the i5 NUC. Arguably it could be the most interesting model in the Kaby Lake series. The previous generation i5 NUC had a good enough GPU to do some casual gaming, but the 15W CPU still did not make the fan spin up too much. The current generation i7 that I reviewed earlier performs well, but the fan was a bit too noisy for my taste. Read further to find out if the i5 NUC will be able to meet those expectations.



Please note that in this Kaby Lake i5 NUC review I’m using the NUC7i5BNK model, which does not have a slot for the 2.5″ drive. However, the unit is identical to the more popular NUC7i5BNH which has a little bit larger chassis in order to accommodate a 2.5″ SATA drive. Both units feature exactly the same mainboard and CPU, the only different is the chassis.

Features

  • Intel Core i5-7260U Processor, up to 3.4 GHz, 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, ThunderBolt and USB 3.1
  • Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 GPU, 48 EUs (GT3e)
  • 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 (only in NUC7i5BNH model!)
  • 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 35 mm (4.5″ x 4.4″ x 1.4″)

If you’re interested in all of the technical details the technical product specification is available here.

Chassis

Ok, time to walk around and kick some tyres.

If you’ve already seen any of the other Kaby Lake NUCs there are no big surprises here. Heck, if you’ve seen any of the NUCs in the last couple of years there are no big surprises here. The piano black top cover is a scratch magnet, so keep the protective plastic film on until you’re done with the assembly. The power button is now on the front panel instead of the top.

On the front panel you’ll find 2 USB 3.0 ports and the yellow one is fast charging capable. To the right from the USB ports you can find a line out/headphone connector and a power button. The two small holes are for the dual microphone array. There’s also a ring LED around the USB ports and power button that by default works as a HDD LED, but can be configured for other purposes (you can write software to turn the ring LED into a disco light). The infrared remote control receiver window is also on the front panel.

On the left hand side of the chassis you’ll find a micro SDXC card reader. I think that the old SD card reader in the previous models was more useful though.

Turning the NUC around we’ll find the usual connector on the back. There are a DC connector, a full-size HDMI 2.0 connector, a Gigabit Ethernet connector, two USB 3.0 ports and the Thunderbolt port. The Thunderbolt port comes in the form of a USB Type-C connector and the port can function as a USB 3.1 port as well as a Thunderbolt 3 port, which could be used to connect an external GPU for example. The same port works even as a DisplayPort.

Assembling the NUC

The Kaby Lake i5 NUC is delivered as a barebones kit. You will need to add memory and a storage to complete the unit. As the NUC7i5BNK model that I have here does not have a SATA slot, the choice are easy. Two DDR4-2133 SODIMM RAM modules and a single M.2 SSD drive is all that’s needed. You could use only a single RAM module but that would not enable the dual-channel mode which makes (especially) the GPU run a bit faster. If you’re not entirely sure what kind of components you should buy, have a look at our build-a-NUC tool – the NUC Guru. The guru can recommend you components that are known to work together.

I decided to use the exact same components I was using when reviewing the i7 model. Two 4GB HyperX DDR4 RAM modules and a Crucial MX300 275GB M.2 SSD. The SSD is a more traditional SATA disk that is capped at around 600 MB/s transfer rates, but the NUC does support also the faster NVMe SSD disks such as the Samsung 960 EVO which can reach up to 3 gigabytes per second read rates!

The installation itself is a piece of cake. You need 2 screwdrivers: a medium size to unfasten the four screws that hold the bottom cover in place and a smaller one to take care of the small screw that keeps the M.2 SSD disk in place. The memory modules just click on to their places without any tools or screws being involved.

The last photo shows you how it looks after the RAM and the SSD are in place. At the very bottom of the picture you can see there’s a header for HDMI-CEC functionality. The NUC itself has basic HDMI-CEC functionality to control the power of a TV/amplifier but this header can be used to extend the capabilities further.

BIOS

When booting up the NUC we’re greeted by the familiar Intel Visual BIOS. Entering the BIOS setup gives us possibilities to tweak the hardware behaviour although you won’t find as many options here as some gaming mainboard might offer you.

Some changes compared to the previous generation 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

LSPCon Firmware

There is an existing flaw in the MegaChips MCDP2800 LSPCon firmware that is in the device. The same flaw was present in the Core i3 powered model. Version 1.66 is the first one that works as expected. Older HDMI firmware versions are not able to bitstream HD audio formats to an AV receiver correctly and they have issues with certain TV sets (especially some Samsung models).

A firmware upgrade tool can be downloaded from Intel. Note that it must be run in Windows and that a HDMI 2.0 device should be connected when doing the upgrade.

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5 Responses

  1. does the thundetbolt 3 on nuc support ssd thunderboldt3 drives as for storage ?

  2. Hello there, acording to the internal pics, it seem sthat the thunderbolt 3 usb type c connector ios empty, there is nothing inside, can your check it please ?

  3. I got one and for the life of me I can’t get it to detect my USB key.
    Have got a dud one ?
    The USB key is a Sandisk one.
    When I put the BIOS in legacy mode it’s seeing the SSD drive but obviously can’t boot on it.

  4. i already had mine for a week now. im happy with this unit since it’s way much faster than my old htpc ECS Liva (Celeron N2807), and was able to play games with ease like NBA 2K18 and Need For Speed Most Wanted at default medium settings. i picked this one over the i7 version because the price difference was around a third of the i5 version. and while the performance difference between the two, at least for me, isn’t that much and it doesn’t justify the overall cost of the i7 version compared to the i5 one.

    i considered getting the i7, but it’s too much for my needs. my primary use for this nuc is for watching movies on a large tv and downloading large size files (i have slow internet, and electricity cost is also a factor).

    im also worried about the heat output of the i7. since both the i5 and i7 used the same case and cpu fan, im afraid that it might not be enough to cool down the i7 in the long run. i might just end up with a fried processor.

    an Akasa case should do the job, but the price is ridiculous. it’s made out of aluminum. it’s a cheap metal, for crying out loud.

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