Coffee Lake i3 NUC Review (NUC8i3BEH)
Fan noise, Power consumption, Conclusions
.. and it’s pretty quiet actually
Intel decided to increase the TDP of the Coffee Lake NUCs up to 28 watts instead of the 15 watts that was the norm for Core i3/i5 NUCs before. This called for an improved cooling solution. In the past Intel did release a few 28-watt i7 NUCs with the same cooling solution than the other NUCs but these were categorically noisy. This time even the lower end i3 and i5 NUCs have a 28-watt CPU which makes it really important to get this right.
And I’m happy to report that the new fan unit is really improved indeed!
The fan is much larger than it used to be. I also find that its noise profile is much more pleasing than the one of a smaller fan. It’s more like humming instead of whining. I also found out that the fan speed does not significantly increase when the power consumption does. While using the NUC for standard desktop tasks it was very quiet although not completely silent. All in all, I’d say this NUC was quiet enough for me to keep on my desktop.
Taking some measurements with my el cheapo UNI-T UT353 sound meter provided some tangible results. 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.
|Power off (noise floor)||33.8 dB|
|Windows 10, idle on desktop||35.0 dB|
|Prime95 running stress test on all cores||37.3 dB|
As you can see, there wasn’t a much of an increase between the tasks. For a lot of tasks such as playback of a video or general browsing of Internet the noise level stayed on the “idle on desktop” level.
So how much does it pull from the grid? The following figures were measured using a Brennenstuhl EM240 watt meter.
|Windows 10, idle on desktop||4.3 W|
|Playing a YouTube video in a browser||14.1W|
|Playing a 4k HEVC video in a MPC-HC||14.4W|
|Playing a video in LibreELEC||9.3 W|
|Prime95 running stress test on all cores||52.4 W|
|Prime95 + 3DMark Fire Strike looping||50 W with drops down to 35W|
It’s interesting to see that when running Prime95 and 3DMark simultaneously the power consumption is actually less than when running only Prime95. This points out to some kind of throttling taking place.
Ok, some of you might be interested in building a HTPC out of this i3 NUC.
In Windows 10 the unit supports HDR and WCG. I enabled HDR and HDR streaming without difficulties in the display properties and my HDR-capable LG 4k TV immediately reported that it was receiving HDR signal. HDR-enabled videos on YouTube and playback with MPC-HC looked good. I received a few questions regarding the video performance from a reader, so I try to answer them here. I used the video here to test the performance.
It’s worth noting that the i3 NUC has the same GPU as the i5 and i7 models.
- 4k 10-bit HEVC in MPC-HC, fullscreen, no issues, no frame drops.
- 4k 10-bit HEVC in MPC-HC, windowed, no issues, no frame drops.
- 4k 10-bit HEVC in MPC-HC with MadVR, fullscreen, no frame drops when video is full screen, drops only before entering full screen mode.
- 4k 10-bit HEVC in MPC-HC with MadVR, windowed, significant frame drops.
- 4k 10-bit HEVC in Kodi, fullscreen, no issues, no frame drops.
- Playback of YouTube video in 4k 60p mode, full screen, no drops, a few drops when mouse is moved to bring up the video overlay for GUI.
Also, when tested, audio passthrough to my AV receiver was ok for all sound formats including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. The reason I’m mentioning this is because there were issues with the LSPCon chip used earlier and issues were seen.
Of course decoding of VP9 and HEVC videos are fully supported by the HW. Here’s the DXVAChecker output still for the GPU.
Things are not that rosy in Linux. For starters HDR is not supported in Linux/Kodi yet at all. Also, you need to make sure you’ve got everything set up correctly. I installed the latest beta of LibreELEC 9 (8.90.006) that has support for the Gemini Lake and Coffee Lake
and while most of the things were working ok I observed some gaps in audio when passing through the audio stream to my AV receiver. When I switched off audio passthrough functionality the sound tracks were ok (but of course then Atmos will not work). If you’ve been following the HTPC Linux scene for a while you’ll probably know that Intel will push out their latest CPUs and integrated GPUs out on the new NUCs and people will unavoidably start building HTPCs with them. Of course the Linux drivers haven’t yet been properly developed for these models, so problems will arise. They’ll also be ironed out within the first 12 months or so, but it can be a bit irritating if you’re looking for something you can fully use today. When making sure that all the needed resolutions and refresh rates where whitelisted everything worked nice and smooth.
I also did install vanilla Ubuntu Linux Desktop 18.10 on the NUC without issues. Everything I tried seemed to work out of the box. The boot log (dmesg) is here.
It was a long wait for the Coffee Lake NUCs, but dare I say that it was worth it? I think the Coffee Lake i3 NUC must be one of the most positively surprising NUCs I’ve reviewed in a long time. Yes, the Hades Canyon was superfast but everyone expected it to be. Where I expected the usual small performance increase over the previous generation instead I got a huge power boost without added noise thanks to the new cooling solution. The new fan and heat sink is by no means high end but certainly a step in the right direction. Of course a good part of the performance boost is due to the increase of the CPU TDP to 28 watts. The power consumption at idle desktop still remains respectably low at only a tiny bit above 4 watts.
In addition to the healthy power injection I like that Intel didn’t cripple the i3 model this time. Sometimes they’ve left features out of the i3 model in order to justify the higher price of the i5 and i7 models. This time the i3 has all the same features as the bigger brothers do and even the same GPU. I actually don’t expect much higher score in some of the graphics heavy benchmarks for the i5 and i7 models. I’m sure the raw CPU power will be significantly higher on those two though.
What’s there not to like with the thing then? Well, it still does not have native HDMI 2.0 port but uses an LSPCon instead. But honestly, for the price I cannot think of much more. Yes, it’s not a gaming PC by no means but will do fine with some casual gaming even – as long as we’re not talking about the latest titles or too high detail levels.
I’d recommend you pair this NUC with 8 gigabytes of DDR4-2400 RAM. I’ve recommended CL14 RAM as price difference is small between CL14 and CL15-17 RAM. If you need more disk space than the 250 GB SSD recommended below you could always buy a 2.5″ SATA SSD and use that for storage while keeping the OS on the fast NVMe drive.
If you’d like to have your NUC equipped with something else go visit the NUC Guru to build your own Coffee Lake NUC.