Intel’s new Comet Lake i3 NUC Reviewed (NUC10i3FNK)

The Frost Canyon NUC is Intel’s latest performance-line NUC also known as NUC 10 Performance. The i7 model has been on the market for quite some time already but the i3 and i5 models have been missing in action. Possibly delayed due to the COVID outbreak. Anyhow, both of them are now available and I’ve got both here for review. Let’s start with the i3 model. This NUC is identical to its i7 sibling so many things in my Comet Lake i7 NUC review are true for this NUC as well.

NUC10i3FNK Review

The NUC in the review was borrowed to me by a local NUC specialist retailer TeraStore.

The i3 model is the entry point in to the performance NUCs that are powered by Intel’s Core CPUs. There is an i3, i5 and an i7 model available in this line. The NUC is built into a 10 cm x 10 cm (4″ x 4″) case that has not evolved significantly during the last years. The glossy plastic cover has become a bit of trademark but I think it just mainly collects fingerprints and scratches. You can purchase this NUC in two variants: NUC10i3FNK and NUC10i3FNH. The NUC10i3FNK case is slimmer and is only 36 mm (1.4″) in height, whereas the NUC10i3FNH is 51 mm (2.0″) in height. The difference is that NUC10i3FNH contains a slot for a 2.5″ SATA drive. Other than that there’s no difference. The mainboard and the CPU are exactly the same – the only difference is the case.

Specifications

  • Intel Core i3-10110U Processor (dual-core with HT, 25W TDP, 4M Cache, up to 4.10 GHz)
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU (up to 1.0 GHz, 24 EUs)
  • 2x DDR4-2666 SO-DIMM RAM slots, max. 64 GB
  • M.2 slot with PCIe X4 lanes (2242 and 2280 form factors supported), Optane support
  • Display connectivity: One HDMI 2.0a port and one USB Type-C port with DisplayPort 1.2
  • 7.1 digital audio over HDMI/DP, 3.5mm headset jack on front panel
  • USB ports: 2x front (Type-A, Type-C) and 3x rear USB 3.1 Gen2 (2x Type-A, Type-C); 2x USB 2.0 via internal headers
  • Gigabit Ethernet port (Intel i219-V)
  • Wireless 802.11ax adapter integrated (Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200) with Bluetooth 5
  • Thunderbolt 3 on USB Type-C port
  • Full size SDXC card reader
  • Quad array microphone, IR receiver, Kensington lock…
  • Dimensions: 117x112x38 mm (for the NUC10i3FNK model in test), 117x112x51 mm (the taller NUC10i3FNH model with a SATA slot)

The full technical product specifications are available here (75-page PDF document).

So compared to the previous i3 NUC (NUC8i3BEK) this one has an updated CPU, significantly slower UHD Graphics GPU, supports 64 gigabytes of RAM, features an 802.11ax Wi-Fi adapter and has a full-size SD card reader. Dropping the Iris Pro GPU from the NUC 10 Performance lineup in favor of the slower UHD Graphics has been a controversial decision that has gotten quite a bit of bad feedback. Perhaps on the i3 model it is not as big of a deal as the i3 model never was the choice if any gaming or other GPU intensive work was necessary.

Connectivity Overview

There’s now a Type-C USB port on the front.
Rear panel has a power jack, HDMI 2.0a port, Gigabit Ethernet, 2x USB 3.1 ports and a Type-C Thunderbolt/DP port.
Air intake grills on both sides. This year the SD card reader is full size.

Assembly

As usual, the Comet Lake i3 NUC is delivered as barebones product so it does not contain RAM nor SSD drive. You’ll need to purchase these separately and plug them into the mainboard.

For this review I used two 16-gigabyte DDR4-2666 memory modules from Kingston’s ValueRAM line (currently $68.70 each on Amazon) and Adata XPG SX6000 Pro 512GB NVMe SSD drive (currently $67.99 on Amazon).

Start by unfastening the four screws on the bottom cover.

You are greeted with the mainboard of the NUC. You can see the two DIMM slots at the lower half of the picture and the M.2 slot at the top.

Insert the M.2 drive in its slot and fasten the screw that keeps the drive in its place. Considering the low price of M.2 NVMe SSD drives these days there’s no need to use a slower M.2 SATA SSD any more, especially in smaller sizes.

Finally, click the SO-DIMM modules into their slots and you’re done.

Tear Down

Disclaimer: The photos below are from my Comet Lake i7 NUC review. These two models are identical when it comes to the chassis and the mainboard. Only the CPU is different. So excuse me for being lazy and not dismantiling the i3 model as well.

This is how the mainboard looks like when it has been removed from the chassis.

On the other side of the mainboard you’ll find the cooling solution that dominates the view here.

After removing the fan you can see the copper heat pipe.

There’s a good amount of heat-conducting paste between the CPU and the heat sink.

Keep on reading our review of NUC10i3FNK for benchmark results, power consumption and conclusions.

Contents

6 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    This one or NUC8i3 for use as HTPC? They have almost the same price at the moment. Does the better GPU matter for decoding video?

    • Olli says:

      Hi Chris, that’s a good question! For video decoding the UHD Graphics 620 GPU is more than enough. I’m currently using a NUC7PJYH with even lesser GPU for my HTPC and it’s perfectly fine for HEVC/4k content. Personally I’d pick the NUC8i3 over this just to have some headroom. Also, if you plan to build a Linux based HTPC, the NUC8i3 is better supported. This will change soon as the drivers evolve, but the Bean Canyon is ready to go out-of-the-box. On the other hand, the NUC10i3 does consume slightly less power.

  2. Tomi says:

    I just don’t get what Intel product manager was thinking when this product was developed and released…

    Or maybe Intel is so badly in ropes after AMD blow on their face, that they are just trying to get anything new out…

    … but losing even for their own previous generation product is beyond my understanding. Price of i3 8th and 10th gen NUCs seems to be pretty munch the same.

    Strange.

    • chubaduba says:

      Interesting question. Things are sometimes a bit strange in large companies and they might have been told to develop a NUC using a 10th gen CPU, but there’s no Comet Lake-U CPU with a more powerful GPU (maybe it was, but got axed for some reason and at that point they didn’t want to cancel the NUC). But yeah, I’d give this gen a pass and wait for Tiger Lake.

  3. Tom says:

    i owe it also a few weeks and i used Celeron NUCs last 5 yeas so my impression is:
    -much more performance for standard work, i would not recommend Celerons only if you dont use parallel tasks.
    -quite like the Celeron NUCs, very rarely the Fan is noticeable for a few seconds after windows was booted

    what i dont like is the jack on the front now but not an probleme due my monitor has an front jack for the speakers :-D

    overall very nice NUC and the dualcore is great for standard work :-)

  4. GM Datura says:

    Wow, pathetic. What an embarrassing product.

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