Gemini Lake NUC Review (NUC7CJYH) – Linux, HTPC, Conclusions (3/3)
Ok, it’s almost time to wrap up our NUC7CJYH review. Before we do that, let’s see how do recent Linux distributions support this hardware and how well does it work as a HTPC.
Installing Linux on NUC7CJYH
Based on my previous experiences with new Intel NUC hardware I expected some trouble installing Linux on the NUC. I started with Ubuntu 17.10 as that was the most recent Ubuntu desktop image at the time of writing. The installation as such went fine and I managed to install Ubuntu on a 32 gigabyte SD card that was in the SD card reader. I didn’t want to overwrite the Windows installation that I had on the SSD drive.
However, it became apparent that neither WiFi not Bluetooth were working after the installation. The Intel Wireless-AC 9462 adapter is only supported in kernel 4.15 or later so I updated to kernel 4.15.14 and installed linux-firmware package version 1.173. The drivers also need firmware which was not available in the package that was installed by default. After these changes both WiFi and Bluetooth were working fine. Here’s the dmesg output.
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.
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. 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 hasn’t been confirmed whether this device is HDR capable even!). 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.
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: 7.2 W
- Playing 4k HEVC video: 11.8 W
- Prime95 stress test: 15.6 W
- Prime95 stress test and Cinebench OpenGL test simultaneously: 24.1 W
It’s difficult to avoid comparison with the previous generation low-end NUC, the Apollo Lake NUC (NUC6CAYH) when talking about the Gemini Lake. The slightly uncomfortable truth is that last year you could get a faster NUC for the same money as you can today. Of course, the $50 more expensive big brother of this NUC, the NUC7PJYH will beat both of these quite handsomely (I’ll try to get one for testing soon).
So what’s better on Gemini Lake vs. Apollo Lake then? Mainly the GPU. The GPU now does HW accelerated 10-bit HEVC and 10-bit VP9 decoding, even at 4k resolutions. There’s also SGX (Software Guard Extensions) that are required for some DRM applications. Basically the Gemini Lake will make a nice Linux HTPC when the software gets a bit mature. It every year the same thing: the NUCs do get the latest and greatest Intel CPUs and every year there’s something missing in the Linux drivers for them. This year most of the basic functionality seems to be there even if you do need to use cutting edge developer versions to try it out.
Even if the NUC7CJYH doesn’t do many things any better than its predecessor it’s still a relatively cheap mini PC that many enthusiasts can find use for. Quiet mini server, digital signage, streaming HTPC… What would you do with a small NUC like this? It does okayish on Windows 10 desktop as well. It’s not horribly slow, but it’s not really completely smooth and enjoyable either. For desktop replacement I would consider at least an Core i3 CPU. For special cases this might do just fine though.
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.
Here’s our recommended setup (clicking the price takes you to Amazon):
Be sure to read also the earlier parts of this review!