Coming Apollo Lake NUC: What to Expect?
We’re almost in the middle of Q4 2016, which is when Intel is expected to release the new Apollo Lake NUC. Apollo Lake is a codename for Intel’s latest low-cost CPU/GPU architecture that is going to be found in the low-end laptops and Intel NUCs during 2017. A lot of the details have already been leaked out and first Apollo Lake mainboards have been delivered to end users, so we’ve got a pretty good idea how the Apollo Lake NUC, or NUC6CAYH if you prefer the product ID, will look like.
Apollo Lake NUC Specifications (prediction by nucblog.net)
These are educated guesses based on rather credible leaks.
- CPU: Intel Celeron J3455 CPU, quad-core, 1.5 GHz (2.3 GHz burst), 10W TDP
- GPU: Intel HD Graphics 500, 12 EUs, 250 MHz base frequency, up to 750 MHz
- Memory: Up to 8 gigabytes of DDR3L-1866, 1.35 V, single channel
- USB: 2 front USB 3.0 ports (one with fast charging), 2 rear USB 3.0 ports
- 2.5″ SATA slot: Single slot for a 2.5″ SATA SSD or HDD drive, max. height 9.5 mm
- Display connectivity: Full-size HDMI 2.0 port, VGA port
- Audio connectivity: 7.1 channel digital audio over HDMI, 3.5 mm headphone jack in front panel, 3.5 mm speaker/TOSLink connector in the rear panel
- Networking: Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek), 802.11ac m.2 2230-size WiFi card preinstalled, Bluetooth 4.2
- Infrared: Infrared receiver in the front panel
The CPU in the Apollo Lake NUC is a quad-core Celeron which probably means that Intel is going to have only a single CPU in the Apollo Lake NUCs. The previous generation Braswell NUCs had 2 models: one with dual-core Celeron N3050 and one with quad-core Pentium N3700. Good news is that I’d expect NUC6CAYH retail price to be closer to old Celeron-based NUC5CPYH than the Pentium-based NUC5PPYH. At the same time I expect that the Apollo Lake Celeron NUC will beat the N3700-based Braswell NUC.
If we look at some benchmark results from J3455 from passmark.com (J3455 vs. N3700) we can observe roughly 10% improvement in the raw CPU power. The German site technikaffe.de reports similar increases.
When it comes to the GPU performance I expect more significant improvements than on the raw CPU side. After all, this is a 10-watt processor whereas the previous N3700 had a TDP of 6 watts. Looking at the raw numbers there’s not that much of a difference. N3700 had 16 EUs and the burst frequency of the GPU was 700 MHz. J3455 has 12 EUs but the burst frequency is higher at 750 MHz. According to AnandTech Intel has said the GPU of the 6-watt Apollo Lake N4200 is 45% faster than the 6-watt Braswell N3710. Thus I’d expect a bigger gap between the 10-watt J3455 and the N3700. And indeed, technikaffe.de reports that in Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL test the J3455 beats N3700 by 86%!
More importantly, the GPU features full hardware acceleration for 10-bit HEVC decoding and for decoding Google’s VP9 format as well. The 10-bit HEVC decoding means that this NUC is finally the model that’s able to answer the challenges that the 4k UHD TV, 4k TV broadcasts and 4k BluRays are presenting. Google is pushing VP9 heavily via their YouTube site, so instead of taxing the CPU to the max this NUC should be able to play a VP9 coded video and happily do something else on the side as well.
The Miniature HTPC Many Have Been Waiting For
I predict that this NUC will become wildly popular as a HTPC. It’s got enough CPU and GPU power, there are finally 10-bit HEVC decoding capabilities and it has a HDMI 2.0 connector that enables you to connect to a 4k screen with 60 Hz refresh rate. HDCP 2.2 should be supported as well. An LSPCon (Level Shift Protocol Converter) is used to provide the HDMI 2.0 capability, but that should not present an issue.
In Windows the 10-bit HEVC decoding should be supported already and in Linux world ffmpeg supports 10-bit HEVC decoding for Intel hardware already. I have a feeling that Kodi will support this soon as well…
So what do you think of the Apollo Lake NUC? Let us know in the comments below.