Intel NUC: An alternative to the Raspberry Pi?

Desktop

A NUC also works pretty well as a fully functioning desktop PC, as long as not too many peripherals are attached to the computer. Unless you add a USB hub, there is no place for a webcam, card reader, or smartphone connection in the presence of a printer, scanner, mouse, and keyboard. Therefore, multifunction devices with WiFi and mouse/keyboard combos that share one wireless receiver are more suitable for the NUC. The NUC also loses some of its charm with more cables and an additional USB hub. The USB port marked with yellow and located on the front of the NUC delivers power even during periods of shutdown and can therefore be used to charge devices such as mobile phones.

The most recent version of openSUSE Tumbleweed was used on the system during testing [18]. The NUC proved itself to be agile and reactive in an office setting, thanks to being generously outfitted with memory. We had no problems switching among various applications.

RawTherapee [19] was used to get a feel for the relative performance of the system compared with other mature computers. This RAW converter has a batch mode and is thus useful for determining computer performance in a realistic setting. The conversion of digital images does put a load on the CPU and the I/O system.

The NUC i3 5010U was compared with an old IBM T61 laptop with a Core 2 Duo T9300 with 2.5GHz, a Samsung 900X Ultrabook with a dual-core Core i5 3317U CPU running at 1.7GHz with hyperthreading, as well as a desktop with a quad-core i7-377 CPU running at 3.4GHz with hyperthreading. The task consisted of converting 10 RAW images, taking up 150MB, into ZIP-compressed TIFF files. The files were stored on SSDs in all of the systems. The laptops were connected to a power supply.

The command from Listing 2 was used to process sequentially all of the files in directory /tmp/ptest. Practical experience shows that sequential processing of images yields better results than starting up several instances of RawTherapee.

Listing 2

Processing Files

$ time rawtherapee -o /tmp/ptest/ -Y -t1 -c /tmp/ptest/

Table 2 and Figure 4 show the results of the comparison. Not surprisingly, the run time depends on the number of cores and the CPU speed. However, the relative performance of the current Broadwell core in the NUC is higher than that of the desktop CPU. On the basis of just the cores and the CPU speed, you should be able to expect a run time of about 70 seconds. The current architecture reduces this by about a third and with significantly less power consumption.

Table 2

Batch Development with RawTherapee

Computer

Processor

Clock Speed

Cores (physical/logical)

Time (real)

Time (user)

IBM T61

T9300

2.5GHz

2/2

78 sec

135 sec

Samsung 900X

i5-3317U

1.7GHz

2/4

77 sec

244 sec

Desktop PC

i7-3770

3.4GHz

4/8

23 sec

121 sec

Intel NUC

i3-5010U

2.1GHz

2/4

50 sec

163 sec

Figure 4: The run time for converting images with RawTherapee.

The performance of the CPUs built into the NUC is just fine with all office applications, including Internet and image processing. Subjective response is predicated on the fast SSD and ample RAM. The NUC scores points here as well. Graphics-intensive applications suffer under the weak GPU. Users who play a lot of games or render 3D scenes will need somewhat more power.

Altogether, the test shows a trend that has become apparent in the last few years. Even the relatively slow T9300 CPU, which Intel brought to market in 2008, does perfectly fine in an everyday setting as part of the T61 once it has been upgraded with an SSD. The current trend is toward small and compact computers drawing only very little power and producing small amounts of heat. In contrast, trying to turn the performance up another notch has no real advantage.

Conclusion

The NUC tested here can play in the premier league of small computers on the basis of performance and price. However, other manufacturers are entering the competition with comparable devices of similar price. As a result, it is a good idea to take a look at barebone devices such as the Gigabyte GB-BXi3H [20], the Shuttle DS57U [21], and the Zotac ZBOX ID18 [22].

For situations in which less performance will suffice, the Atom NUC DN2820FYKH and comparable devices in the Atom/Celeron/Pentium class of other manufacturers may be a choice. Further down the competition ladder, there is less reason to choose a NUC. The revised and significantly faster Raspberry Pi 2 has so much added performance that it is almost in the same league as the NUC. As a result, the NUC, lacking a GPIO interface, cannot compete with the Raspberry Pi among true small-computer hobbyists.

Infos

  1. Intel NUCs: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/overview.html
  2. NUC DN2820FYKH: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-board-dn2820fykh.html
  3. NUC NUC5i3RYH: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-kit-nuc5i3ryh.html
  4. NUC NUC5i3RYK: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-kit-nuc5i3ryk.html
  5. NUC NUC5i5RYH: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-kit-nuc5i5ryh.html
  6. NUC NUC5i7RYH: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-kit-nuc5i7ryh.html
  7. NUC D34010WYKH: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-kit-d34010wykh.html
  8. Lists of compatible storage: http://www.intel.com/support/en/motherboards/desktop/sb/CS-034378.htm
  9. Details of the M.2 standard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.2
  10. Crucial SSD MX200 M.2: http://www.crucial.com/usa/en/storage-ssd-mx200
  11. BIOS update: https://downloadcenter.intel.com/download/24868
  12. OpenELEC: http://openelec.tv
  13. Debian 8 "jessie" released: https://www.debian.org/News/2015/20150426
  14. Network installation from a minimal CD: https://www.debian.org/CD/netinst/
  15. Minimal system with Debian "jessie": https://www.howtoforge.com/tutorial/debian-8-jessie-minimal-server
  16. Iperf: https://iperf.fr
  17. HP Proliant Microserver Gen8: http://www8.hp.com/products/proliant-servers/product-detail.html?oid=5379860
  18. openSUSE Tumbleweed: https://en.opensuse.org/openSUSE:Tumbleweed_installation
  19. RawTherapee: http://www.rawtherapee.com
  20. Gigabyte GB-BXi3H-4010: http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4859
  21. Shuttle DS57U: http://www.shuttle.eu/de/produkte/slim/ds57u/
  22. Zotac ZBOX ID18: http://www.zotac.com/products/mini-pcs/zbox/nvidia/product/nvidia/detail/zbox-id18.html

The Author

Bernhard Bablok, mailto:mail@bablokb.de, works as an SAP HR developer for Allianz Managed & Operations Services SE. He also enjoys being busy with all topics related to Linux, nanocomputers and programming in general. His other interests include listening to music, biking, and hiking.

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