Let’s wrap up the review with some random observations about gaming, Linux, HTPCs and power consumption. If you landed here via a search engine, you might be interested in the previous parts of the review.
In addition to desktop apps and benchmarks I even tried to run a couple of older games on the NUC. Surprisingly, it did quite all right. Dirt 3 with 1920×1080 resolution, low details and no MSAA gave me an average frame rate of 38.4 and minimum of 29.0. Very much playable. Of course we’ll need to put things in context: This is a cheap low-end PC with integrated graphics. It will not run most of the newest games in a decent way. But if you want to enjoy some of your older classics or maybe do some emulator gaming, it’s up to the task.
Finally I tried out the Nintendo Wii emulator called Dolphin and was happy to find out that it was not a problem to play some Super Mario with it.
Installing Linux on NUC7CJYH
The other Gemini Lake NUC I tested with Ubuntu 17.10 but since that article Ubuntu 18.04 has been released. So that’s what I installed on my NUC this time. One positive thing about that change stood out immediately: the WiFi adapter was supported out-of-the-box as the kernel was recent enough.
In general the system seemed to be working fine. Functionality was there: WiFi, Bluetooth, wired Ethernet, display, audio over HDMI all working as I expected. Here’s a dmesg printout of the system and here’s lshw.
Building a HTPC
In theory the Gemini Lake NUC is a good platform for a HTPC. Hardware decoding of 10-bit VP9 and HEVC videos, low power usage, almost silent operation, 4k support, HDMI 2.0a ports are all good characteristics of a modern HTPC.
In Windows all important functionality seems to be supported fine. 4k resolution at 60Hz works fine and I can play HEVC encoded videos at 4k/60Hz without any problems. CPU utilization stays below 20%. I can play 4k video from YouTube without any issues on Chrome and on Microsoft Edge, but on Firefox there seems to be severe skipping. I presume that’s due to lack of hardware decoding. In addition and unlike with the Apollo Lake NUC at introduction, passthrough audio seemed to work for all audio formats that I tested: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-X.
Here’s a DXVA Checker result for the NUC:
The only letdown here is that Intel will not support HDR on Gemini Lake NUCs. You will need to get at least an i3 NUC in order to play HDR videos in Windows 10. However, there are some indications that the Gemini Lake hardware itself could actually be HDR capable, it’s just that there’s no HDR capable Windows driver for it.
Which brings us to Linux. LibreELEC is the way to install Kodi on Linux on your PC with no Linux skills required. Unfortunately the latest stable release (8.2.4 at the time of writing) did not boot up at all with the NUC. All I got was an error message about the GPU being unsupported. I talked to a few developers and they basically told me that there are a few developer versions available.
I tried one such developer version and could confirm that all basic functions were working as expected: H.264 and HEVC videos at 4k@60Hz, audio passthrough even for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-X, WiFi and wired Ethernet. In general it looks like LibreELEC 9.0 will support these Gemini Lake devices just fine. However, don’t expect any HDR capabilities yet. It’s still a long way before Linux can handle HDR content properly on x86 platforms. As far as I have understood, changes are needed in Linux kernel, the drivers and in Kodi. This is by no means trivial but I expect things to happen during this year anyhow. As I said before, there are indications that the Gemini Lake hardware supports HDR even if currently Intel has no plans to bring support for it in Windows. Ville Syrjälä, an Intel Open Source developer, posted a source code of a PoC that provides very experimental HDR support last December. In the description of the PoC, he writes (among other things):
Hardware wise you’ll need a HDR capable display obviously, and you’ll need an Intel Geminilake GPU. Older Intel platforms don’t support the HDR infoframe, so the display wouldn’t know what to do with the data you’re feeding it.
I also took power consumption measurements. These are taken with an el cheapo Brennenstuhl consumer-grade measurement device so I’m sure they’re a bit off, but close enough to give you an idea anyhow.
- Idle at Windows 10 desktop: 8.8 W
- Playing 4k HEVC video: 15.1 W
- Prime95 stress test: 22.9 W
- Prime95 stress test and Cinebench OpenGL test simultaneously: 21.8 W
It’s clear that when both the CPU and the GPU are getting fully loaded some kind of thermal throttling takes place. In the BIOS you can set the package power limits but unfortunately you can only set them lower than the default values. This seems a bit odd, as the CPU never gets very hot and the fan doesn’t kick in properly at any point. During simultaneously stress test of both CPU and GPU it does start to spin in an audible way, but by no means it’s anywhere near noisy. That was actually the only time during my evaluation when I heard the fan.
I was a bit underwhelmed with the other Gemini Lake NUC (NUC7CJYH) when it came to performance compared to NUC6CAYH from last year. However, the Pentium NUC (NUC7PJYH) here makes a strong appearance. The CPU is more powerful than previous generation i3 NUCs and the GPU is a good 30% more powerful than the lower end sibling. This one is $50 more expensive than the NUC7CJYH, but in my opinion it is money well spent. In the total cost of the NUC that’s neglible and you do get up to 100% more CPU power depending on the application. Personally I made the choice to keep the NUC7PJYH and sold out my NUC7CJYH.
It’ll be interesting to see the Coffee Lake i3 NUC. It’ll be a 28-watt CPU instead of 15W like before, so I expect significantly better CPU performance and some more fan noise.
In any case, if you’re in need of a mini PC for light desktop use, HTPC, mini server, the NUC7PJYH gets my recommendation. It’s well built, HW decodes all modern video codecs even at 10-bit 4k and the CPU is relatively beefy for many tasks. However, by no means it’s suitable for gaming and the lack of HDR support is a bit of a bummer.
If you would like to customize this NUC for your needs go visit our NUC Guru – it’s a simple tool that will recommend you hardware that is known to work together and if you want, it’ll give you a ready shopping list as well. This NUC is a bit picky when it comes to the RAM so pay attention when choosing your RAM. Intel has a list of validated hardware here.
Here’s our recommended setup (clicking the price takes you to Amazon):
Be sure to read also the earlier parts of this review!