Small form-factor (SFF) PCs and gaming systems have represented the bulk of the growing segment in the PC market over the last few years. Intel's NUC line-up has enjoyed unprecedented success, prompting the company to branch off the NUC family to target a variety of market segments and price points. Continuing that momentum, in November 2019, Intel announced the NUC10 series in their line of mainstream ultra-compact form-factor (UCFF) systems, bumping up their NUCs to using the company's latest Comet Lake processors.

More recently, Intel finally began sampling the systems for review, sending us the NUC10i7FNHAA - an Intel NUC10 Mini-PC with Windows 10. The system sports a 256GB NVMe SSD and a 1TB 2.5" hard drive along with a pre-installed copy of Windows 10 Home x64. Traditionally, most SFF PCs we evaluate sport a single storage device, so the inclusion of hybrid storage is stil a bit of an unsteady eara for vendors who are not Apple. In fact, it's so uncommon that this is the first hybrid storage system to cross my desk; Intel's latest NUC doesn't really have any peers as far as any other reviewed systems are concerned.

To that end, we've decided to simplify things a bit for Frost Canyon and take out the 2.5" HDD – essentially reducing it to the barebones version of this NUC, the NUC10i7FNH. This makes for better apples-to-apples comparisons, and in particular avoids the power and performance drag from having rotating rust in the storage mix.

So how does Intel's first Comet Lake NUC fare? Let's find out.

Introduction and Platform Analysis

The NUC10i7FNH is Intel's mainstream HDD-kit NUC with a 100mm x 100mm main-board housed in a 117 x 112 x 51mm chassis. The board comes with a soldered processor - the Core i7-10710U. This belongs to the Comet Lake-U family, and is the first U-series processor with 6 cores and hyper-threading enabled. Thanks to Intel's use of cTDP-up, the TDP of the processor is nominally at 25W, though the default BIOS settings set the PL1 (sustained) and PL2 (burst mode) levels to 30W and 64W respectively. Meanwhile the PL1 Time Window is set to 28 seconds by default.

Switching to peripherals and networking, the board's WLAN component is also soldered - the Wi-Fi 6 AX201 enables the NUC10 family to be the first UCFF PC from Intel to come with Wi-Fi 6 / 802.11ax support. As for storage, for the barebones version end-users have the flexibility to choose their own storage device and RAM. For best performance, a PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD can be used, and DDR4-2666 SODIMMs are supported. The system also comes with a host of value-additions such as a quad-microphone array in the front panel, and an infrared receiver (strangely disabled by default in the BIOS).

Our NUC10i7FNHAA sample came with the following components pre-installed:

  • Kingston Design-In SSD U-SNS8154P3/256GJ (essentially an OEM version of the Kingston A1000) PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe SSD
  • 2x Kingston ValueRAM KVR26S19S8/8 DDR4 SODIMM for 16GB of DRAM
  • Seagate ST1000VT001 1TB 5400RPM 2.5" Video HDD

The hard drive is connected to the board using a slender ribbon cable that can be easily slotted in and out, as shown in the picture below. Our evaluation was processed with the hard drive disconnected completely from the board.​

The specifications of our Intel NUC10i7FNH review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Intel NUC10i7FNH (Frost Canyon) Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-10710U
Comet Lake-U, 6C/12T, 1.1 (4.7) GHz
12MB L2+L3, 14nm (optimized), 25W TDP
Memory Kingston ValueRAM KVR26S19S8/8 DDR4 SODIMM
19-19-19-43 @ 2666 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) Kingston Design-In SSD U-SNS8154P3/256GJ
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe; Toshiba 64L 3D TLC)
(Phison E8-based, similar to the Kingston A1000)
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2x2 802.11ax - 2400 Mbps)
1x Intel I219-V Gigabit Ethernet Controller
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) Type-A (rear)
1x Thunderbolt 3 Type-C (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) Type-C (front)
1x SDXC (side)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Enterprise x64
NUC10i7FNHAA comes with Windows 10 Home x64 pre-installed
Pricing (As configured) $605 (barebones)
$752 (as configured)
$940 (NUC10i7FNHAA Bundle with 16GB RAM, 1TB HDD, 256GB SSD, and Windows 10 Home x64)
Full Specifications Intel Frost Canyon NUC Kit - NUC10i7FNH Specifications
Intel Frost Canyon NUC Mini-PC - NUC10i7FNHAA Specifications
 

The contents of the package include a 120W power adapter, and an additional screw for a M.2 SSD. Since the 2.5" drive comes pre-installed, the ribbon cable for the SATA data and power is already inside the system. Other components of the package include a US power cord, safety information, and a product manual.

The Visual BIOS has undergone a major re-design for the NUC10 series. While the core functionality has obviously not changed, the screens are more streamlined - a vertical organization of the various options compared to a horizontal-heavy layout in the BIOS for the older models. A new set of value-added features include the ability to configure a RAM disk in the BIOS, mount iSCSI volumes prior to boot, and set up various network interface characteristics. Given that these are the first NUCs to support up to 64GB of DRAM, the ability to configure RAM disks is welcome.

The block diagram of the components on the board are presented in the diagram below.

The AIDA64 system report provides a breakdown of the usage of the PCIe lanes and confirms the above block diagram:

  • PCIe 3.0 x4 port #5 In Use @ x4 (Intel Titan Ridge Thunderbolt 3 Controller)
  • PCIe 3.0 x4 port #9 In Use @ x2 (Phison PS5008 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe 1.2 SSD Controller)
  • PCIe 3.0 x1 port #14 In Use @ x1 (Genesys Logic PCI-E Card Reader)

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Intel NUC10i7FNH against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Intel NUC10i7FNH when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC10i7FNH (Frost Canyon)
CPU Intel Core i7-10710U Intel Core i7-10710U
GPU Intel UHD Graphics Intel UHD Graphics
RAM Kingston ValueRAM KVR26S19S8/8 DDR4 SODIMM
19-19-19-43 @ 2666 MHz
2x8 GB
Kingston ValueRAM KVR26S19S8/8 DDR4 SODIMM
19-19-19-43 @ 2666 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Kingston Design-In SSD U-SNS8154P3/256GJ
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe; Toshiba 64L 3D TLC)
(Phison E8-based, similar to the Kingston A1000)
Kingston Design-In SSD U-SNS8154P3/256GJ
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe; Toshiba 64L 3D TLC)
(Phison E8-based, similar to the Kingston A1000)
Wi-Fi Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2x2 802.11ax - 2400 Mbps)
Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2x2 802.11ax - 2400 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $605 (barebones)
$752 (as configured)
$940 (NUC10i7FNHAA Bundle with 16GB RAM, 1TB HDD, 256GB SSD, and Windows 10 Home x64)
$605 (barebones)
$752 (as configured)
$940 (NUC10i7FNHAA Bundle with 16GB RAM, 1TB HDD, 256GB SSD, and Windows 10 Home x64)
BAPCo SYSmark 2018
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  • YB1064 - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    In the temperature charts (thermal performance page), the green graph shows huge temperature spikes (~ 20 C, Furmark). Is this real? The package graph is less noisy. How are you measuring this? Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    All parameters are recorded using HWiNFO. We have been using the program since 2013 for recording the sensor values in all our SFF PC reviews. Reply
  • abqnm - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    "A new set of value-added features include the ability to configure a RAM disk in the BIOS, mount iSCSI volumes prior to boot, and set up various network interface characteristics."

    These are all actually possible in the NUC8 visual bios too, though the settings are a lot harder to find, buried in the boot tab.
    Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    This system isn't making a lot of sense to me from a price/performance standpoint. $605 for a bare bones? $940 as configured? Yikes!.

    One of the things I noticed is that there were a lot of benchmarks where the Asrock mini with the i3-8100 did pretty well against the i7 "u" cpu's. Particularly for just a standard office sort of machine, which is what I have
    in mind, the i3 performs just about as well and definitely well into the more than good enough range. Of course the i3-8100 will use more juice but its also way cheaper. I just had to satisfy my curiosity so I priced out a system. The Asrock mini with an i3-9100 (vs the 8100 in the review), 16 GB DDR4, 500 GB Samsung 970 Evo (previous gen without the + to save a few bucks) and a Noctua low profile cooler for a grand total of $465.00. I've got plenty of decommissioned 2.5 inch disk drives if I need to expand. Or if I want to cheap out completely, I could use an old 2.5 inch 850 EVO 256 GB I've got laying around which would bring the price down to $375.00.
    If I really wanted more CPU power, the mini would actually take an i7-9700K which would be +$275 from my local Microcenter and take the $465 configuration up to $740...still $200 under the NUC. Or a more reasonable for this system i5-9400 would add just +$65 to $530 total.

    So, keeping in mind that graphics don't matter for my usage and neither does the power savings of the "U" cpu's, I just can't see the reviewed system as a viable option
    Reply
  • Holliday75 - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    I need 10k of them to install at buildings across the country. How soon can you build these and deliver? Reply
  • Holliday75 - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    EDIT: Oh and I need ongoing hardware and kernel level support for the next 5 years with an option to extend that to 7 if needed. We boot a custom Linux image via PXE and this image changes on a regular basis along with our network infrastructure that serves it. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    I get teh point you are making, but there are also other mass-produced options other than NUC systems. Yes they are sometimes physically larger, but a SFF Dell or HP box may cost somewhat less in a bulk buy than a NUC with comparable compute power. If you need 10k fixed location systems, that would be where I would turn first rather than NUCs and certainly not use DIY builds. Reply
  • sandtitz - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    That'll take about 3-4 months since Intel can't provide the CPUs... Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Tuesday, March 3, 2020 - link

    "I need 10k of them to install at buildings across the country. "

    So? You have a different need than me. I just need one :). If you need them mass produced all the major manufacturers build something that's in this general size range with many different options for CPU, RAM, storage etc.

    But my main point still holds. There are options for PC's that are both cheaper and more powerful than the NUC.
    Reply
  • Irata - Monday, March 2, 2020 - link

    You guys are still using Bapco benchmarks? Really? Reply

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