Into the Vault – NUC Gemini Lake

Welcome back to the Vault
Which actually makes no sense, it’s not even a vault.
It’s my basement.

My name is Matt Mutch.
I am a computer enthusiast.
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to make an admission.

The Intel NUC 7CJYH was a mistake.
It wasn’t Intel’s mistake, it was mine. I’ll explain.

As long as Intel has been making its NUC (pronounced “nuck” like “puck” I think) line of small form factor desktop computers, and it’s been a few years now, I’ve wanted one.
In a fairly forward thinking move, Intel decided to see how much computer they could pack into a 4x4x2 inch box. There are some taller NUCs, and some significantly larger NUCs recently, but the understanding is you’re talking about a thing that can roughly sit in your palm.

NUC 7CJYH with Xbox One controller for scale
Controller for scale

Of course, every NUC has a power brick at least half of its volume in size, but that’s a whole other article. In fact, it’s this one.
Anyway, like I said, I’d always wanted one. It’s a thing of fascination. And recently as of this writing, the new low power CPUs had recently come to market from Intel (codename: Gemini Lake) and somewhat unusually, the lowest end model was immediately on a sale from prominent PC hardware seller Newegg.com. I was interested, and immediately did my research.
A decades long following of Intel’s product lines had me well aware what was at hand was the lowest end offering, that was never a surprise. However, due to the luxury and highly integrated natures of these devices, the sub-$100 dollar price tag was.
I checked benchmark scores of the CPU which yielded low numbers but surprising comparisons to older CPUs. I read reviews of the NUC and the integrated Celeron J4005 CPU and things were looking very good. This low end 8th Generation CPU was making a good case for itself, all things considered.
I did ask myself, what would I do with this NUC? I could not make the purchase unjustified, and I’m fairly well versed in justifying extraneous purchases to myself. I decided that it would be replacing an older computer, one attached to my television which handled streaming video and light browsing, and while the cost benefits don’t actually add up, I allowed myself the mark in the “Pros” category that it used astoundingly less energy than the computer it was replacing. I was swapping a 95 watt CPU for a sub 10 watt CPU, and it promised at least equivalent video viewing ability. It was also, of course, absurdly smaller than even the already small mini-tower currently in place. Plus, $90 dollars for a nearly complete computer is a tantalizing figure.
Also striking, as it turns out, is the current market for RAM. Thinking I would max the low RAM ceiling in the NUC 7CJYH and get that over with, I discovered the 8 GB of DDR4 RAM I intended on installing would run me just over $100 dollars, even when purchasing the lowest cost set. Oops. Sadface.
I could have pulled the plug there, so to speak, but a foolish part of me was determined to own a NUC, any NUC, and after all, I’d already justified the usage case to myself, so, sure!
The only other missing component was some kind of storage to occupy the single available 2.5 inch drive bay. While I lamented the lack of a modern m.2 storage slot, I knew the older 2.5 inch format drive would save me money no matter how nuts I went on storage. Plus, putting in incredibly high performing m.2 drives would be completely wasted on the low end CPU.
While I already knew the format would save me money overall, I wondered about adding some kind of SSD, even if it was small, because the added performance boost would make the basic Celeron J4005 in the NUC far more tolerable in overall usage. To my surprise, my local Micro Center had started selling really inexpensive SSDs which I was immediately skeptical of and interested in at the same time. The relatively unadorned packaging claimed lofty performance figures, and a quick check of user reviews confirmed that basically, if the drive wasn’t dead out of the box, it was a very capable hard drive, especially relative to its price. So, basically, if you’ve got a Micro Center near you, and you want a 240 GB 2.5 inch SATA SSD, you can go grab one for a scant $50 dollars. Anecdotally, it feels good, and more down to the nitty-gritty, it does benchmark impressively, pretty much matching or nearly matching its advertised read/write numbers, which is hard to believe, because again, at least at the time of this writing, that’s a really cheap SSD. 240 GB is comfortable for a basic computer or user, where 120 GB gets a little tight, depending on usage, and 64 GB or even 32 GB is territory where you have to kinda know what you’re doing just to not fill it all the way up simply by accident.

Stock image of Inland 240 GB SSD
Not too shabby! #notAnAd

I consider the affordable SSD, and just the knowledge of them being out there and available, a bright spot that will likely come back to bite me some day when one fails at a critical moment. So, there’s that. Chalk it up as a happy face.
The problem is, my $90 dollar NUC I had been so eager to have had actually become, all told, around a $270 dollar expense. Relatively cheap for a computer equipped with 8 GB of RAM and an SSD of any size, but it’s kinda $270 I shouldn’t have spent. It’s also problematic in that I did not convince myself the notion was absurd and did not return everything.
How is the NUC though, with its impressive configuration including max RAM and an SSD?
It’s okay.
A sort of informal bench test I use is “How brutal is updating Windows?” Do updates’ installs flick by, or does it take an appreciable amount of time, or does it drag on and on? For the NUC, even having performed a fresh installation of Windows 10, the straggling updates that had not yet been rolled into the installer still took between a half hour and an hour. That’s really CPU time there. The RAM speed and amount aren’t the bottleneck in that process, and neither is the hard drive, since it’s a surprisingly decent SSD. The overall usage of the system, from opening File Explorer windows, Chrome windows, or even just the Start Menu, display just a barely perceptible amount of hesitation. No one would accuse the computer of being slow, no, not really, but no one would ever say it’s fast. It falls into a special category of computers I refer to as “usable”, where that’s the highest compliment I can bestow on its performance.
The maxed out NUC is the slowest computer I own that I would use day to day for anything. Luckily, it is not my daily driver, and has tasks designated that it handles nicely. It can playback streaming video at full HD resolution with no visible tearing or stuttering. It can handle local playback of high bitrate full HD video at the same level of visual quality. I don’t have any gear or media to test its 4k prowess but reviews state that it can handle it fine with the caveat that the onboard HDMI ports cannot output HDR enhanced media properly, which doesn’t bother me at this juncture but could upset some with their intents being more toward a high end home theater PC experience. I’m sure someday I’ll lament the lack of HDR capability but certainly not this day with my 10+ year old HD tv still plugging along, doubling as a space heater.

Back of NUC 7CJYH showing onboard ports
Onboard HDMI? We got TWO!

The other problem with shelling out $270 on a new computer for any purpose is that… I don’t actually use it all that often for its intended purpose! As I had already made clear, I’d only managed to justify it to myself in that way. The other part of me knew it was absurd from the get-go. I’m fully aware of just how often I sit around and stream media to my TV – not much.
I do experience a lot of buyers remorse and do return more things to their places of origin than most people probably do. However, the NUC isn’t going back. Some strange part of me is still pleased as punch to own one, modest as it is. And, people have always agreed, computers as a hobby is a terrible hobby to have from a financial standpoint. But hobbies are interests that cost money – at least that’s how I think that goes. And, buying the NUC isn’t going to make me late on any of my bills or deprive me of meals, so I guess it’s all right.
I’m still pleased to have it. And I still know it was silly. And I was hoping that admission of my folly would lift a bit of the egg-on-face feeling but so far, nope. And we’re almost to the end of this article too.
Oh well. I stand by the little guy. It’s just doing the best it can.

***
I’ve opted to leave the article as it was written in late April and add a quick addendum. The NUC has found uses! It is contentedly finding its purpose as a media server – assisted by a portable style 2TB drive I had lying around, home theater PC (which I’m actually viewing on), FTP server (although that really isn’t working very well), and a sort of a local Dropbox repository. The quiet little box is good for all manner of “always-on” tasks without dinging my power bill too badly. In fact, I wonder what else I could coax it to do. It is also, so far, the most properly performing computer I’ve had any time recently, primarily for its ability to sleep when told to. Shockingly uncommon behavior.
I am a long lapsed couch potato, but the NUC does make the occasional potating easier. Maybe with the addition of the Steam client, I can couch potate and game over Steam in-home streaming from my gaming PC in the other room. Perhaps that’s next.
I knew my NUC could find purpose.
***

How about you? Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it? Know how to properly configure an FTP or SFTP server??
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been
Into the Vault – Intel NUC 7CJYH

The Intel NUC 7CJYH is an ultra compact form factor computer that runs the Intel Celeron J4005 CPU. The J4005 is a dual core part capable of processing up to two simultaneous threads at 2.0 GHz but can burst up to 2.7 GHz as need and thermals allow. It has a 4 MB L3 cache and is a 10 watt TDP part. The CPU is soldered on the mainboard, but RAM is not, and two RAM slots accept up to two SODIMMs of DDR4 2400 MHz RAM totalling a maximum of 8 GB which is what is installed. The NUC accommodates one 2.5 inch storage device, in this case an Inland 240 GB SATA III (6.0 Gbps) SSD. Graphics are integrated into the CPU and fall into the Intel UHD Graphics 600 category and outputs are two HDMI 2.0a ports, each supporting up to 4k resolution at 60 Hz. Graphics outputs are complimented by a ⅛ inch output jack (headphone style) which also supports 7.1 surround sound output through optical connections. The NUC communicates with the world through four integrated USB 3.0 ports (type A) as well as one Gigabit ethernet port and includes integrated 802.11ac wifi (in a rather pedestrian 1×1 configuration) and Bluetooth 5.0. Also included is an SDXC card slot supporting up to UHS-I transfer speeds. It is powered by a generic power brick that is, as expected, approximately half its volume in size.

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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