Comet Lake i5 NUC Review (NUC10i5FNK / NUC10i5FNH)

The i7 model of Intel’s NUC 10 Performance hit the shelves already early this year but the i3 and i5 models have only recently started to be available. I’ve already written articles about the i3 and the i7 models so if you’ve read those there will not be much new in this one for you as the models are very similar.

The NUC10i5FNK NUC that I have in review here is also called Frost Canyon i5 NUC (codename for NUC product) or Comet Lake i5 NUC (codename for CPU used).

NUC10i5FNK Review

The NUC in the review was borrowed to me by a local NUC specialist retailer TeraStore – many thanks!

The i5 model sits between the entry-level i3 model and the top-end i7 model. It’s got a quad-core Comet Lake i5 CPU with an integrated UHD Graphics 620 GPU. It is available in two variants: NUC10i5FNK and NUC10i5FNH. The NUC10i5FNK case is slimmer and is only 36 mm (1.4″) in height, whereas the NUC10i5FNH is 51 mm (2.0″) in height. The difference is that higher case 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.

Specifications

  • Intel Core i5-10210U Processor (quad-core with HT, 25W TDP, 6M Cache, up to 4.20 GHz)
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU (up to 1.1 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 NUC10i5FNK model in test), 117x112x51 mm (the taller NUC10i5FNH model with a SATA slot)

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

So compared to the previous i5 NUC (NUC8i5BEK) 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.

Connectivity Overview

Disclaimer: the pictures in this chapter are taken from the i7 model that is entirely identical to the i5 model from outside.
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 i5 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 Western Digital SN500 250G NVMe SSD drive (currently the newer and faster SN550 is $40.47 on Amazon).

If you would like to build your own NUC with your own specifications take a look our Build a NUC tool that will create you a shopping list based on your wishes.

In addition to the SSD drive and the RAM modules you will need two screwdrivers. The bigger one for the case screws and the smaller one for the screw securing the M.2 SSD in place.

NUC10i5FNK main board

After removing the cover you’ll immediately get access to the main board 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. If you’d like to use a half-size 2242 M.2 drive, you’ll need to move the holding screw and its post to the correct location.

Western Digital SN500 NVMe SSD drive

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.

NUC10i5FNK assembly ready

Finally, insert the RAM modules into their slots until you hear them click on to their places.

Tear Down

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.

After cleaning the heat paste out the shiny flat surface of the chip works as a mirror.

Keep on reading our review of NUC10i5FNK for benchmark results, power consumption and conclusions.

Contents

14 Responses

  1. Mike Rubin says:

    I have a NUC10i7 with 16gb RAM that I use only for serving music via the ethernet port. When I engage in CPU-intensive activity like continuous upsampling via DSP on Roon or Audirvana, even with the “Cool” BIOS setting, I find that CPU temperatures exceed 80c. That’s not so good.

    I have been considering the Turing FX less for silencing and more for cooling. Have you used this case yet (or its predecessor)? If so, how is its cooling performance?

    One reason I have been a bit terrified to go the Turing FX route is that the NUC motherboard looks crazy difficult to remove. I also have read that the microphone connectors are easily destroyed. If you have used fanless cases, how difficult did you find it to remove the motherboard and microphones and install them in the new case?

    • Olli says:

      I actually have the Turing FX case and will write an article a bit later about that. If you continously load the CPU at 100% for longer periods of time you might want to drop the TDP from 30W to 25W to avoid CPU temperatures exceeding 80 degrees C.

      The main board on Frost Canyon is rather easy to remove, no problems there. The WiFi antennas are the ones you need to watch out for. I’ve managed to break a connector before… Now I’m more careful and use tweezers. The microphone connector is not bad and to remove the mic from the case you’ll need to open two screws, pull out a protecting metal plate and then remove the small PCB where the mics are attached. It’s fastened with a piece of tape that you need to remove.

  2. Mike Rubin says:

    Thanks, Olli. I will watch for the Turing FX review.

    According to Core Temp, I am not close to pegging the CPU but the temps still make me uncomfortable. The only way I know to get them down a bit is to use the advanced power settings in power management. When I used my Dell XPS 8930 general purpose computer, i ran the CPU at 99% and that gave me some thermal cushion. Is there a better way to drop TDP?

    Removing the motherboard still is hard for me to picture, but I should hit YouTube to see if there is video help.

  3. RadarJammer says:

    I removed the board of the NUC10i5FNH, put it on spacers, took off the noisy little fan and made a JST 1.25mm 4-pin connector to 4-pin PWM plug adapter to connect the little 5V NUC header to a “real fan”.

    Then I took a Noctua NH-L9x65 cooler with four heat pipes, changed its thin 12V fan to a Noctua NF-A9 5V PWM, which is easy, since the cooler can accomodate two fan heights. Then I unscrewed one of the side braces of its cooler plate, which was an obstacle for mounting.

    Thanks to you pictures, which I used for planning, I saw that the original copper heat pipes of the NUC are needed as a spacers so I left the copper at its place. There is no way to screw mount another cooler, and I saw on reddit a user who strapped a Noctua NH-L9i onto a NUC8 with cable zip lock fixers (but it was cramped) so I took that cable fixer route, too.

    To optimize the heat transfer between the NUC copper heat pipes and the Noctua plate, I put Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut paste onto that copper and filled its central gap.

    Since I had removed the brace on one side of the NH-L9x65 cooler plate, there were two srew holes open. I threaded a slim and long cable fixer through the holes under the Noctua fins.

    That cable fixer actually fits under the steel wings on each side of the NUC copper cooler on its rear side, thus you can press and fix the Noctua base plate against the exhaust fins of the NUC copper by closing the cable fixer loop with another cable fixeraround the rear of the NUC board. More cable fixers around the center and the front of the Nocua-NUC combo.

    A metal filter on top of the fan completes the build. The result remains without a housing, preventing heat traps, like inside thise closed Akasa cases. All this is just a compromise and not suitable for transport, but the Noctua remains within the perimeters of the NUC board, only adding height. There is enough room under the cooler fins, unlike with a Noctua NH-L9i.

    The result? Almost inaudible, unleashed and cool Comet Lake-U power.

    No throttling, just power oriented settings in the BIOS, cool settings for the fan. At 35% base, the NF-A9 5V PWM is running with 820 rpm, amost inaudible. HWinfo tells me about idle temps of 33 C, while the fan cools the whole upper side of the board, not just the SoC.

    This is made for half the price of an Akasa Turing FX, with better performance and cooler temps for longer component life.

    Ah, and I fitted the NUC with 32 GB of HyperX RAM and an 512GB Adata XPG SX8200 Pro NVMe.

    Not pretty but it does the job very well :)

  4. Sven says:

    Thank you for the review. Seems like a part of the review is not available yet. When I click on the “Keep on reading” link I get a error page not found. Tried different browsers. I hope this can be corrected. Keep up the great work!

  5. Mike Lim says:

    “The possibility to equip it with 64 gigabytes of RAM”

    Though not officially supported, NUC8 do support 64 GB RAM and many have used it as ESXi server (see https://www.virten.net/2020/03/intel-nuc-with-64gb-memory-support-6th-10th-gen/ and https://madlabber.wordpress.com/2019/07/13/running-esxi-6-7-on-a-bean-canyon-intel-nuc-nuc8i5beh/)

  6. Mike Lim says:

    I am surprised by the CPU benchmark values. A comparison between NUC8(i5-8258U) and NUC10 (i5-10210U) CPUs show quite a big difference at https://www.cpubenchmark.net/compare/Intel-i5-8259U-vs-Intel-i5-10210U/3299vs3542 with values of 8371 and 6486 respectively.

    • RadarJammer says:

      No surprise there: you linked table shows i5-8258U with 28W and the i5-10210U with 15W!

      But in the NUC10 is allowed 30W, while the iGPU needs less energy than that of the predecessor.

      Im my NUC10i5 mainboard with attached Noctua cooler and HW-Info running in the background, the CPU package average is 8W with maximum shown as 40W.

      Temps range between 30°C and 82°C with an average of 42°C.

      • pipsel says:

        How do you attached a Noctua cooler to the NUC? And which cooler did you use? Have you done this to reduce noise or to improve performance?

  7. Mike Lim says:

    “The possibility to equip it with 64 gigabytes of RAM might make it interesting as a micro server.”

    Many users have been successful running ESXi with 64 GB RAM on NUC8. See https://madlabber.wordpress.com/2019/07/13/running-esxi-6-7-on-a-bean-canyon-intel-nuc-nuc8i5beh/ and https://www.virten.net/2020/03/intel-nuc-with-64gb-memory-support-6th-10th-gen/. Supported RAM speed is slower at DDR4-2400 vs DDR4-2666 on NUC10.

  8. marcolopes says:

    Did Intel just made a NEW “REVERSED” version of the FAN just to make it “incompatible” with, let’s say, NUC v8 versions???

    I just HATE that!!! Damn these manufacturers. I just moved away from lenovo, because they make a NEW fan model for every “SAME LINE” of tiny PCs!

    Did you noticed that?

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