Haswell comes to NUC

The Intel NUC D54250WYK incorporates a dualcore, hyperthreaded mobile Haswell processor running Intel HD Graphics 5000 in the palm-size chassis introduced last year, now with more I/O and an infrared remote sensor. Do Haswell’s advantages translate well to this tiny desktop PC?

Product NUC D54250WYK
Barebones Mini PC
Manufacturer Intel
Street Price US$370~420

Intel’s tiny NUC computer line has expanded to five kits since its release
a year ago. Recently, we examined a Logic
Supply LGX ML300
fanless system based on a NUC D53427RKE board. Our
only disappointment was that this board is not one of the new Haswell CPU boards
that incorporates a SATA port and power connector. This would have been ideal
for the ML300 chassis, which has room for a 2.5″ drive, unlike
the standard Intel NUC cases.

I asked Intel about sending one of the D54250WYB or D34010WYB boards (with
SATA port). Intel responded by sending over a D54250WYK
kit instead. This was more than expected, and I hoped to transplant the D54250WYB
board into the ML300, but then it turned out that the back panel cutout on the
ML300 review sample is incompatible with the WYB boards, and the appropriate
cutouts will not be ready for a few more weeks. Hmmm… What to do? Obvious
answer: A review of the kit.


The box was clearly marked “pre-production engineering sample”
so there’s no guarantee the retail product will be identical, but it should
be pretty close. The small box contained the NUC, AC/DC power adapter,
VESA adapter for mounting on the back of a monitor, a sheet of basics
info regarding compatible RAM, SSD, etc, and a folded up sheet that unfolds
into a large illustrated setup poster — though this somehow managed
not to get into the photo
.


This NUC case is a touch “slimmer” than our original DC3217BY
sample, measuring 5mm shorter (37mm vs 42mm including the feet). The one
piece that makes up the vertical panels is nicely finished aluminum, rather
than the plastic of the original. It features a front panel headphone/mic
jack, IR remote sensor, and happily, dual USB 3.0 ports. Our original
NUC didn’t have USB 3.0 ports at all, though a single Thunderbolt back
port might have been a consolation for some.


The back panel has the DC power input jack, mini-DisplayPort, mini-HDMI,
a gigabit ethernet port, and two more USB 3.0 ports. The bigger slots
above are exhaust vents for the fan.

 

Intel D54250WYK
Features
Form Factor UCFF (Ultra Compact?)
CPU
4th (Haswell) generation Intel® Core™ i5-4250U
processor (soldered) with active fan heatsink
Chipset
Integrated QS77
GPU
CPU embedded graphics
System Memory
Two 204-pin SO-DIMM slots for 1600/1333MHz 1.35V, 16GB
max
Display – Intel® HD Graphics
5000
– One mini DisplayPort* 1.2 with audio, supporting ultra-high definition

4K displays and multiple monitors
– One mini HDMI* port 1.4a with audio support

Expansion capabilities
– Full mini PCI Express, mSATA support
– Half mini PCI Express
Peripheral interfaces
– Two USB 3.0 ports (front panel)
– Two USB 3.0 ports (back panel)
– Two USB 2.0 ports (internal headers)
– One SATA port (internal header)
– Infrared sensor on front panel
LAN
Integrated Intel 10/100/1000 Network Connection
Audio
Intel® High Definition Audio (Intel® HD Audio)1
subsystem in the following configuration:
– 8-channel (7.1) digital audio via HDMI 1.4a output and via one DisplayPort
1.2 connector
– Headphone/microphone jack on the front panel
Chassis Black plastic top &
bottom; aluminum sides
Size
116.6 x 112.0 x 34.5 mm
(4.59¨ x 4.41¨ x 1.36¨ )
Included
– 19V, 65W power adapter (brick)
– Power cord options (Types B, E, G, or no cord)
– VESA* mounting bracket
– Integration guide
– Wireless antennae (integrated into the chassis)
– Intel Core i5 logo
Warranty
3-year warranty
Standard Warranty Replacement

As with our first NUC DC3217BY sample, Intel offers the D54250WYB board in
package as a barebones kit with case, CPU-embedded motherboard and PSU. An AC
cord is not provided in all packages, presumably because of the hassles of matching
the AC plug for all the various places in the world where this product will
be sold. The AC interface is a 3-plug C6 or “cloverleaf” connector.

Some things to point out:

  • The i5-4250U
    processor
    is a dual core with hyperthreading, 3 MB cache, 15W TDP and
    “tray cost” of $337. It happens to be the processor featured on
    this year’s MacBook Air, both 11″ and 13″ models.
  • HD Graphics 5000 is Intel’s best integrated GPU, a couple steps up from
    last year’s 4000.
  • For display output, it has mini-DMI and mini-DisplayPort. Unlike last year’s
    DC3217BY the mini-DP port does not support Thunderbolt.
  • Only 1.35V SODIMM DDR3 RAM is supported. A whole morning was spent troubleshooting
    no-boot with half a dozen 1.5V RAM sticks before this fact was run home. The
    earlier DC3217BY NUC supports both 1.5V and 1.35V RAM.
  • Yay for 4 USB 3.0 ports!
  • Gigabit ethernet is welcome, and you can add wireless if you like.
  • mSATA SSDs now go all the way to 480GB, but for a price of course.
  • The SATA port is 6.0 Gb/s, supported by the PCH. Note that the SATA power
    port does not supply 12V, so only 2.5″ drives are supported. This is
    moot if you’re staying with the stock Intel chassis, which has no room for
    any extra drives. Only in a larger custom case (like the Logic Supply ML300)
    is the SATA port usable.
  • The $370~420 for this kit buys you a motherboard, CPU, case and power supply.
    You need to add RAM and an mSATA SSD — the system will run ~$500 before
    OS, keyboard, mouse or monitor.

SYSTEM ASSEMBLY

Only two components needed to be mounted:

Windows 7 Ultimate was installed from a USB 3.0 key in well under half an hour.


The bottom retains the nice captive screws in the rubber feet and an
intake vent for the cooling fan.


The interior layout is virtually identical to that of our previous NUC sample, with the exception of SATA power and data ports. The half and full mini PCIe slots are stacked, as in the original NUC. You might recall The Tech Report had trouble with the bottom-placed wireless NIC card overheating (with the mSATA SSD above) during long file transfers. Good thing this NUC has gigabit wired LAN.

The Kingston 120GB mSATA SSD chosen for this build. .


NUC ready to go with 4GB x2 of 1600MHz 1.35V RAM, also from Kingston:
We found after lengthy frustration that all of our SODIMM modules are
1.5V, and this NUC supports only the 1.35V variety.

No photos of the other side of the board are shown because the cooling system
is exactly the same as in the previous NUC sample. (See
this page for details
.) It uses a notebook style blower fan and heatsink
with an airflow shroud.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Software and Measurement/Analysis Tools:


Device listing.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest BIOS is installed prior to testing.
Our NUC was updated to BIOS WY0022.BIO dated 11/21/2013.

Certain Windows 7 services/features like Indexing, Superfetch,
System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled to prevent them from causing
spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy saving features like
Cool’n’Quiet/SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function properly.

Our tests determine the overall AC power consumption, noise
level, and heat output of the product at various states. To stress the CPU,
we use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which
produces higher system power consumption. To stress the GPU, we use FurMark,
an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility. Video encoding and
HD video playback isalso tested for usability, power, noise and thermal
conditions.

TEST RESULTS

BIOS Fan Control Simplified

The NUC features the Intel Visual BIOS, a modern UEFI/BIOS with mouse control.
Most of the options enthusiasts expect for CPU clock and voltage adjustments
are missing, and the fan control section has been simplified considerably compared
to our original NUC. There’s a choice between AUTO and MANUAL fan control. If
manual is chosen, a single slide control for speed goes from 0 to 100%. Don’t
set it to 0% because the fan will stop altogether and the system will overheat
pretty quickly. We tried. Our system came on AUTO with the fan set at 18% minimum,
100% maximum, and that’s the way it was left. Maximum speed is over 6000 RPM
(around 32 dBA@0.6m), and 18% made the fan just about inaudible at 1800 RPM,
11 dBA@0.6m.

Thermals & Noise

The original Intel NUC had “the distinction of being the quietest fan-cooled
mini-computer we’ve come across.” The NUC D54250WYK, with the same cooling
system, sounds exactly the same. In normal use, you can’t hear the fan until
your ear is inches from the unit. Our highly sensitive acoustic test system
barely registered any rise in the ambient sound level in the anechoic chamber
when the NUC was idling or playing HD video, at 0.6m from the unit.


This graphic is for the original NUC, but D54250WYK sounds the same.

The CPU ran somewhat hot with the fan at the 18% AUTO setting, but it was no
cause for concern. The casing got fairly hot in some spots, but never too hot
to touch. With the graphics card torture test of Furmark, CPU temperatures jumped
above 82°C, when the system would go into throttling, forcing the clock
speed to drop as low as 800 MHz, then getting into a periodic cyling between
higher clock speed (up to 2.3 GHz Turbo in multi-core load) and throttling over
a 2 minute period. Furmark’s stress on the system is so high that adding Prime95
to the load does nothing to total power draw; the system simply doesn’t have
spare clock cycles to add.

With the torture test loads, Prime95 and Furmark, the fan noise jumped in both
volume and pitch. At full tilt, it emits a hissy and whiny noise. But with normal
loads, including a long sequence of video encoding, the noise always remained
very low.

Intel NUC D54250WYK Measurements
State
AC
Fan RPM
SPL @0.6m†
CPU
PCH
HD
Top Cover‡
Idle
6W
1800
11 dBA
39°C
38°C
33°C
39°C
x264 video
9W
2100
12 dBA
54°C
51°C
43°C
40°C
TMPGEnc
20W
2800
16 dBA
70°C
59°C
43°C
42°C
Prime95
26W
4200
21 dBA
80°C
60°C
30°C
43°C
Furmark*
40W
5800
30 dBA
82°C
63°C
30°C
44°C
P95+Furmark*
40W
5300
28 dBA
80°C
63°C
30°C
44°C
Ambient: 22°C, 10~11 dBA.
External temperature measured using an IR thermometer pointed
at the hottest portion of the external chassis
We measure SPL at 0.6m for all devices meant to be used
atop a desk, as it is more realistic a distance than the usual 1m. It
also corresponds to the “seated user SPL” distance as per the
computer noise measurement standard ISO 7779.
* Throttling occurs at a bit over 80°C. See text.

Mounted on the back of a monitor, the SPL did not drop by more than a decibel,
but the overall perception of higher frequency noise dropped so that the subjective
impression was of a softer overall sound. This is a benefit only when the system
is being pushed hard enough so that the fan RPM exceeds ~3,000 RPM; below that
speed, the fan is quiet just resting under the monitor.

COMPARISONS

Energy Efficiency

The Intel NUC D54250WYK reaches all new lows in idle, and video playback. The
AC idle power is 3W lower than any previous tested system, and H.264 playback
power draw is 4W lower. The numbers don’t seem like much until you consider
that they are single digits: 6W, 8W, and 9W respectively for the three states.
They represent power reductions from previous bests of 33%, 25% and 31% respectively.


Power draw during lower demand tasks is the lowest ever.

Energy efficiency drops a bit with more intensive applications but still remains
among the best ever. The vast power difference between minimum and maximum load
is impressive, 6W to 40W, reflecting both the energy savings functions as well
as the performance enhancement functions in the Intel processor.


Power draw during high demand tasks is similar to the first NUC.

 

Performance

This Intel NUC, along with its other recent NUC brethren (Logic Supply ML300),
outperforms all previously reviewed mini-computers by substantial margins in
every category. While a bit shy of the performance of a Sandybridge i3-2100,
it trades blows equally with an AMD FM2 A8-5600K. It clearly offers the kind
of performance expected of a modern desktop system.


The NUC is nearly on par with the Core i3-2100 desktop on the above benchmarks,
and some 10% above the AMD FM2 A8-5600K.

 


The NUC remains highly competitive against desktop systems with NOD32,
TMPGEnc and Handbrake benchmarks.

 

Intel HD Graphics 5000

As the graphics engine is essentially the same as the HD Graphics 5000 in desktop
chips, we refer you to the GPU benchmarks in our Intel
Core i7-4770K Haswell Processor review
. Its 3D performance is definitely
improved over the HD Graphics 4000 in the original NUC, perhaps by as much as
25% depending on the game or application. This GPU is good enough for online
gaming, but it can’t replace a discrete GPU for most modern gaming titles except
at lower resolution and detail settings. Video playback is perfectly smooth
on 1080p content including H.264 MKV/MOV and Flash (YouTube HD).

Storage Subsystem Performance

To test storage subsystems CrystalDiskMark was employed on the 1000 MB setting
with 0x00 fill test data, and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive (compressible
data produces the best possible speeds out SandForce drives). The drive was
connected using an Icy Dock external dock which supports eSATA and USB 3.0 (limited
to 3 Gbps and 5 Gbps respectively). This drive was also used to test the internal
SATA data and power ports.

Kingston 120 mSATA drive on left. USB 3.0 on right.

The performance of the Kingston 120 mSATA drive (left screen) in the NUC D54250WYK
was very speedy. USB 3.0 performance (right screen) was surprisingly modest,
notable enough that several other USB 3.0 SSDs and drives were tried, all with
similar results. In contrast, on recent motherboards, sequential reads/writes
with 1M and 512K data approach 200 MB/s, nearly double that of the NUC.

The SATA port had to be tested with the cover off, as there is no way to shoehorn
a 2.5″ drive into the NUC.


SATA test setup

As expected, the Kingston SATA SSD performed similar to the Kingston mSATA
120 SSD, both approaching half gig per sec speeds with 1MB reads and writes.

Neither the SATA or the mSATA port is likely to be a bottleneck for any type
of data transfer in or out of the system. The reality is that there are only
two methods of transferring data in/out: LAN and USB 3.0. Gigabit ethernet is
limited to 125 MB/s theoretical max, and the NUC’s USB 3.0 peformance is slightly
lower than that.

For your interest, we did run some quick tests with the gigabit ethernet port
and found performance to be fairly typical: Bursts close to saturating the LAN
capacity, typically maintaining 70~90 MB/s average in either direction.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The NUC evolution continues, with the Haswell i5-4250 in this D54250WYK providing
incremental savings in power and similar boosts in performance over last year’s
Ivy Bridge i3-3217U in the NUC DC3217BY. An idle power level of just 6W and
typical use power barely into two digits is very impressive in one sense; in
another sense, it’s what you find in current Ultrabooks using similar components.
As with such laptops, in normal use, the acoustics of this NUC remain unobtrusive
enough to be trivial. If the NUC represents the future of mainstream desktop
computing (other than gaming), then the line between desktop and mobile computing
is so blurred as to be nonexistent.

The generous inclusion of four USB 3.0 in the D54250WYK is welcome, albeit
with some misgivings about the surprisingly anemic performance. Admittedly,
this will not impact real transfers with a single USB drive. This model, with
both mini HDMI and mini DisplayPort connections, offers multi-monitor support,
and up to 4K on a single monitor with either video port. All this plus the gigabit
LAN to access a high capacity file/media streaming server makes this NUC a near-ideal
Media PC. Thunderbolt is not supported through the DP port as it was in the
DC3217BY, but the multiple USB 3.0 ports are probably more practical alternative
for most users.

Pricing remains a bit high compared to a similarly equipped mini-ITX system,
but we’ve always paid more for miniaturization. As many of you know, Intel partner
Gigabyte’s
BRIX line
is directly competitive with and very similar to the NUC, but
at time of writing, pricing
of equivalent models
is really no different and perhaps even a bit higher.
One expects a few more players will come into this market, and the tendency
will be for competition to put downward pressure on price. Interestingly, the
similarly featured NUC
D34010WYK kit
, with i3-4010U and Intel HD Graphics 4400, typically sells
for $300, which seems like a considerably better deal.

The Intel NUC has obviously carved out a spot for itself in the tech consumer
marketplace. The D54250WYK iteration is solid but screams for a bigger case
to take advantage of that SATA 6 G/s port. You can easily guess that I’m awaiting
a new ML300 chassis from Logic
Supply
to transplant the innards of this NUC into, along with a high capacity
2.5″ drive, perhaps one of the new 1
TB 2.5″ WD Reds
. Then we’ll see whether my trusty old AMD 785G mATX
HTPC setup survives the comparison.

Our thanks to Intel
for the NUC sample.


Intel NUC D54250WYK wins the SPCR’s Editor’s Choice Award

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Logic Supply LGX ML300 Fanless
NUC

Logic
Supply LGX AG150 Fanless Mini PC

Sapphire
Edge HD3: AMD E-450 Mini PC

Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit
DC3217BY

* * *

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