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.

Task Sound level
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.

Power Consumption

So how much does it pull from the grid? The following figures were measured using a Brennenstuhl EM240 watt meter.

Task Power
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.

Video Playback

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.

MPC-HC with MadVR, full screen, no frame drops when in full screen. Seen drops take place in windowed mode before entering full screen mode.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Recommended Setup

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.

Product US UK DE FR
Intel Coffee Lake i3 NUC NUC8i3BEH $288.99 £301.55 EUR 286,24 EUR 331,64
Kingston HyperX 2x4GB DDR4-2400 CL14 RAM (8GB) $79.99 £65.00 EUR 89,43 EUR 85,43
Samsung 970 EVO M.2 250GB NVME SSD drive $77.99 £83.69 EUR 94,15 EUR 103,50
Check out the total price of the whole setup on Amazon.com!

75 Responses

  1. Jason says:

    Good review, I have a friend that got rid of his old desktop computer a month ago and I talked him into getting a NUC instead of getting another desktop. He doesn’t play games, just web browsing/office productivity software and basic use stuff. He wants it to be super fast and last for years to come. I was thinking of having him get the i5 model but do you think he would notice a difference with i7 model? For future proofing I was thinking of i7 but I’m hesitant since I don’t know how loud i7 is compared to i5. We want it to be quiet as possible, was hoping for a review of i7 to see if it gets super loud like previous i7 nuc models.

    • Olli says:

      Thanks for the comment Jason! I haven’t got the i7 yet, but I’ve heard that it’s surprisingly quiet as well. To be honest, I don’t expect much difference between the i5 and the i7 (both are quad core 28W TDP CPUs with the same GPU).

  2. omnium says:

    Thank You for the perfect review.

  3. Great review! I’ll make a trip to USA next week and I’m considering buying the i5 beh version for a htpc, but it seems that it isn’t really available. This i3 version would do just fine, according to your tests! Btw, do you know if the i5 beh will be available any time soon?

    • Olli says:

      The i5 model indeed seems to be quite difficult to obtain still. I guess that’ll come next month though. You could always buy the i7 instead. 🙂 That’s readily available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2POF2D0 (The i5 is also listed there but at a higher price than the i7… go figure).

      • Thanks for the reply! I believe the ridiculous price for the i5 is just because no one else is selling them! Crazy! The i7 would be way overkill for my needs and the price difference would be almost the cost of a 500 Gb m2 and 8 Gbs of RAM. I just need a tiny HTPC, 4k capable and HD audio passthrough and the NUC units have an unbeatable WAF.

        I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the i5 to be available next week at recommended price, otherwise the 8th gen i3, that outperforms the 7th gen i5, will be the one!

        Thanks again!

        • Olli says:

          Amazon has the slim model NUC8i5BEK ready for shipping at $395: https://amzn.to/2R9Udqt . Of course if you were planning to install a large SATA drive for media that does not work too well… I’ll be getting one later this week, so can get the results out pretty soon. 🙂

  4. Vlado says:

    Thank you for testing video playbak. What were the max rpm’s of the fan during max load 52W?

  5. Peter says:

    I have read elsewhere, that with some Megachips type DP converters on-board they were able to get FHD 3D MVC working properly. Not sure if it’s the same chip that Intel have used previously on their -failing- NUC’s, so a test would be nice…

  6. SZQ says:

    Great review! Exactly what I was looking for so thank you 🙂

    There don’t seem to be any other thorough reviews for these Bean Canyon NUCs yet.

    I am definitely going to get one but I live in Japan where they are not available yet so I was thinking to import from Amazon US.

    I can’t decide between the i3 or i5 (BEK versions). i3 is dual core but has high base freq. whereas i5 is quad-core but lower base freq. Which would you recommend for my usage (browsing, YouTube videos, htpc, office, programming occasionally)?

    i5 seems to be about $100 more expensive compared to the i3. Not sure it’s worth it…

    • Olli says:

      Thanks for the comment! Hard to say really. I see the i5-8259U has a passmark CPU score of 11020 which beats the i3-8109U (score 6246) with a significant margin. So it depends if you really need more power than what the i3 is able to deliver. The i7-8559U coincidentally has a Passmark score of 11994, so not that much more than the i5…

      • SZQ says:

        Thanks again. Yeah, the i7 is kinda pointless for me. I guess I’ll go for the i5 as the i3 seems impossible to get right now for me.

    • Vlado says:

      The base frequency depends on the TDP and TDP depends on the thermal solution. In BIOS you can enable/disable hyper threading and turbo boost select the number of physical cores change power limits. In other words you can transform i5 in to i3 and even have better efficiency. You have to look at it this way – from the produced chips i5 is just a better silicon than i3.
      To the OS i3 looks like 4 core processor. But those cores are logical ones – not as fast as physical. Hyper thread uses unused resources of the physical core. there is a chance that the OS dispatches important work on a slower hyper thread. And if all the resources of the physical core are in use then it becomes hot.
      So if your work load is not threaded a lot it is better to disable HT to have best singe thread performance at given frequency (you can restrict it in the OS power plan settings). But on an i3 it is better to have HT enabled. On an i5 if you disable HT i expect you will have better performance at lower power consumption (less noise). And if you leave HT enabled on i5 you will have much better multi threaded performance.
      For thermally constrained situations for long multi threaded loads it is better (more efficient) to run at lower frequency on more threads (HT on) because at lower frequency you can have lower voltage and Power = C.F.V.V where C – constant F – frequency V – voltage.
      The lower base frequency of the i5 guaranties 28W long term consumption while 8 threads are executing at 100% load.

      But if turbo boost and HT are enabled you will have higher power draw, and if you can dissipate it while maintaining CPU Temps below 85 deg C then it is ok (if you didn’t exceed the power and current limits: https://www.anandtech.com/show/13400/intel-9th-gen-core-i9-9900k-i7-9700k-i5-9600k-review/21). Of course to dissipate higher power draw you will have to increase the volume of the air going through the heat sink – rpm of the fan which will lead to higher (and higher piched) fan noise.

      i3 base F = 3.00 GHz max Turbo F = 3.60 GHz 4MB L3 cache GPU max F = 1.05 GHz
      i5 base F = 2.30 GHz max Turbo F = 3.80 GHz 6MB L3 cache GPU max F = 1.05 GHz
      i7 base F = 2.70 GHz max Turbo F = 4.50 GHz 8MB L3 cache GPU max F = 1.20 GHz

      So is it worth it? I don’t now.

      If you have multithread load then maybe yes.
      Is i3 enough for simple desktop use? Yes.
      Are these future proof?
      Depends.
      After 1 – year they will still work but will look old. 10nm and 7nm chips are expected to have 50% power consumption for the same productivity. TV with HDIM 2.1 are expected and here you don’t have DP 1.4. With HDMI 2.0a you can’t have 3840x2160p at 60 Hz 10bit RGB. You can only have 8 bits with dithering per RGB.

      If you buy i3 now and upgrade in 1 year then you must consider reusing some parts. What OS are you using? If only Linux then ok. But if you use Windows then you have to buy it again or buy retail now and later (or in case of bad unit and have to RMA) reuse it. Then on the old PC you can put LibreELEC hopefully HDR will be working by then.

      You have to decide.

  7. j2842 says:

    How does this compare to Zotac ZBOX C Series for HTPC?

  8. Arion says:

    Does anyone know if the cooling is the same for the high (beh) and the low (Bek) versions?

    • Olli says:

      Yes, the mainboard is the same and the cooling is part of the mainboard. The only difference is the higher enclosure for the BEH model. The drive bay is on the other side of the mainboard vs. the cooling solution.

    • marcel says:

      Got an 8i5bek and, while I haven’t opened it, the results shown in this review match mine: it’s silent. Much more silent than my nuc5i5ryh i had before that.

  9. Zokkel says:

    Thanks for taking the time and making this extended review. You convinced me to buy the i3 model for a HTPC.

    I placed a link to your review on the KODI hardware forum. If you do not want that, please let me know, I’ll remove it then.

  10. omnium says:

    FYI: The score for PassMark CPU performance test for the NUC8i5BEK was 7589. https://www.passmark.com/baselines/V9/display.php?id=109619744937

  11. Вячеслав Сапроненко says:

    Nice review – thank you, Olly!

  12. omnium says:

    Yes, that is a very big difference and I don’t know the reason so I am glad, that you clarify next time. Thank you!

  13. Petri Kaldjärv says:

    Hello and thanks for a really nice review

    I am thinking about buying a NUC8i5BEH, but i have a question, is it uable with only 2.5″ drive or do you really have to use a m.2 drive?

    Hope you have an answer for me

    Petri

    • nucblognet says:

      Thanks for the comment Petri! Yes, the NUC8i5BEH has a 2.5″ SATA drive slot and a slot for an M.2 drive. You can use either one or both at the same time.

  14. Lewis says:

    Thanks very much for the review! It’s great to see the improvements in this generation. I’m in the market for an i5 or i7 – if possible it’d be really good to see the FPS for a few games on those versions for those of us who do some light gaming. Thanks again!

  15. Gianluca says:

    Hi. Thaks for the post. I should like to buy NUC8i3BEH, do you know about SSD NVME (samsung 970 evo) temperatures? I know they worm up easly and the NUC is so tiny.
    Thank you.

  16. Gianluca says:

    Tahk you both! I was looking for this.

  17. Simone says:

    Sorry fr the question, that might sound stupid for many of you, but I am a bit confused about hardware decoding of video formats like HEVC.
    Is it performed by the graphic hardware or by the CPu itself? In the first case, as the GPU is the same for all the Nuc8 family, I might save some money buying the i3 version. If not, maybe I should buy the i5 version which could have more computational power to decode HEVC?
    Thanks for any help!

    • Olli says:

      As Omnium says below, all NUC8ixBEx NUCs have the same GPU and it does support HW decoding of pretty much all formats you could ask for today incl. HEVC and VP9. If you don’t need the CPU power of the more powerful versions for something else than video decoding then the i3 should suffice.

  18. omnium says:

    The Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 fully supports hardware decoding of H.265/HEVC Main 10 with a 10-bit color depth as well as Google’s VP9 codec.

  19. Jacob says:

    Very nice review! Why can’t we see some gaming tests on this nuc? The graphic chip is on pair with the old 7i7 nuc and should provide some decent numbers. I would appreciate some gaming tests and also power consumption and noise during gaming.

  20. Axel Holler says:

    Hi,
    I am interested in which Realtek ALC codes the NUC is actually using. Is it the ALC700 like in the Hades Canyon?
    Thanks!

    • Olli says:

      It’s realtek ALC233. There’s only stereo audio out from this NUC when it comes to analog outputs. Of course, via HDMI you can get out more than that in digital format.

  21. LoneWolf says:

    Thank you for the review. It looks amazing; just ordered a NUC8i5BEH for $365 (after shipping) based on it looking like the supply channel is finally getting some. I can’t wait to replace my HTPC with this little mini-box.

    • SZQ says:

      May I ask where you ordered from? That’s a good price!

      • LoneWolf says:

        Provantage. They often sell to IT people (like a CDW does). My HP Proliant server I use at home is an open box from them, and I’ve done business with them before, and they’re top-notch.
        My NUC is supposed to arrive Friday (shipped FedEx Ground; I already have my tracking number, shipped same-day Tuesday) and it is en route. They are shipping out of California.

        • SZQ says:

          Thank you! They are significantly cheaper there and have a lot of stock. Unfortunately they do not ship the NUCs internationally. I’ll have to stick with Amazon.

  22. Can you please benchmark how well Photoshop CC will run on this machine, the tool is available for public download: https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Puget-Systems-Adobe-Photoshop-CC-Benchmark-1132/
    Thanks.

  23. nonstatik says:

    Why is the idle power consumption so much lower than what was measured in your Kaby Lake NUC review (4w vs 13.6w)? This seems odd, considering that the TDP of the Coffee Lake CPU is almost double of the previous generation.

    • Lars says:

      And compare to NUC7PJYH whivh seems to be around 10w…

      I am looking for a low power “server” for my home, I planed for the PJYH, but reading this review, I start to think NUC8I3…..?

      • Olli says:

        I’ve been using the same wattmeter for all these tests, so I think they should be comparable. The Bean Canyon seems to be pretty optimized when it comes to the power states, as the power consumption figures at idle are really quite good…

  24. Lucian says:

    Is it possible to change the fan with another brand? Or is it custom made?

    • teeman05 says:

      hi it looks custom made by intel there are 4 screw holes around the cpu where as on previous nucs there was only 3 holes…

      if we could swap out the fan for a large heatsink this could be fanless, iv found somebody already has same idea as me on http://www.fanlesstech.com/2018/09/alpine-nuc.html

      how awsome would it be that IF you could keep your orginal nuc case then add a custon cpugpu mount and have a alpine heatsink sticking out the top but with all the corners sealed
      off!

      It would look stock as if it meant to be like this! 🙂

  25. Julian says:

    Thank you for the detailed review. I bought the same Nuc model you tested but I can’t get YouTube HDR 4k working. Strong stutters and CPU usage jumps to 100%. Seems like it doesn’t hand the load over to the iGPU. I’m using chrome browser because it’s said that it has the best support for YouTube’s HDR mode. I hope anyone has a suggestion to solve the issue because Google didn’t provide me a working solution.

    • Olli says:

      CPU usage 100% means definitely that HW acceleration is not being used and decoding is done using the CPU instead. Can you check what chrome://gpu says about hardware acceleration? I’ve actually had best HW acceleration results on the Microsoft Edge browser, even if I normally like to use Firefox… Is that any better?

  26. fidelisoris says:

    Thank you for continuing to review new NUC units and including LibreELEC as a test platform! My NUC6i5 is a dedicated LibreElec box and I was looking at the new models for the upgraded USB-C and video!

  27. hello is it possible to turn off the fans from bios? so make it fanless?

    • Red says:

      Yes! In the bios cooling settings there is also the option to set it to fanless.
      This will disable the fan and all related warnings.
      I wouldn’t recommend to use this setting, because the CPU can get quite warm and then definitely throttles down.
      But if you set the minimum fan speed to 10-20%, it’s only audible if you put your ear directly on the fan outlet. In this case, the CPU gets about 40 degrees Celsius warm in mostly idle operation and not much warmer with low load.
      The possibilities to adjust the fan to your needs are very extensive and work well.
      I also experimented a lot until I found my optimal settings.

  28. DFFVB says:

    Interesting review, however I am bit suprised, that it didnt get mentioned, that the SATA Port is only SATA3 and not SATA6

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