Small form-factor PCs have become a major growth segment in the PC market over the last decade. In particular, UCFF (ultra-compact form-factor) PCs have become a welcome and permanent fixture in the desktop PC market, all the while they've also seen a good bit of success in the embedded and industrial market segments.

Further segmenting the UCFF market is the level of performance desired, and by proxy the CPU that gets used. Intel's two CPU architectures, Core and Atom, serve to split the market into premium and entry-level devices. And, even with the relatively lower performance of Atom-based SoCs, their aggressive prices make them an attractive proposition for economical desktop PCs as well as industrial motherboards and systems. Atom-based SoCs are long-life products, with Gemini Lake being the most recent SoC family in that product line. Today, we're taking a look at two contrasting Gemini Lake UCFF PCs - the fanless ECS LIVA Z2 and the actively-cooled Intel NUC7PJYH.

Introduction

Intel's Apollo Lake SoCs introduced in 2016 were the first to use the Goldmont CPU microarchitecture. The Gemini Lake SoCs (introduced late last year) are an evolutionary upgrade, bringing in double the amount of on-die cache and providing better performance despite running at approximately the same frequency as their Apollo Lake counterparts. The integrated GPU is also slightly more powerful - both in terms of EUs as well as multimedia capabilities. Prior to the 14nm supply constraints issue, multiple vendors had introduced Gemini Lake-based systems in the market. Similar to our Apollo Lake experiments (reviewing an actively-cooled Arches Canyon NUC and a passively-cooled ECS LIVA ZN33), we got hold of a couple of Gemini Lake UCFF PCs for evaluation - the Intel June Canyon NUC (NUC7PJYH) and the ECS LIVA Z2.

A comparison of the Arches Canyon NUC against June Canyon, and the ECS LIVA Z2 against the ECS LIVA Z, shows the following updates:

  • Usage of DDR4 SO-DIMM slots compared to the DDR3 ones in the Apollo Lake systems
  • Standardization of at lease one HDMI 2.0 display output
  • Replacement of the Apollo Lake SoC with a Gemini Lake one

June Canyon also makes use of a more advanced WLAN solution (AC 9462 vs. AC 3168 in Arches Canyon) that takes advantage of the integrated wireless MAC in the Gemini Lake SoC. However, the ECS LIVA Z2 still uses the older AC 3165. The form factor of the LIVA Z2 is quite different from the LIVA Z - It has a smaller footprint, but is thicker, and doesn't have the dual LAN capabilities of the older version.

The June Canyon NUC comes in multiple flavors, with our review sample being the highest-end configuration. Similarly, the LIVA Z2 comes with either the Celeron N4100 or the Pentium Silver N5000. Both versions come with Windows 10 Home pre-installed on an eMMC card. The two UCFF PCs come with a 65W (19V @ 3.42A) power adapter and a VESA mount.

Both machines integrate a dual-array microphone. This allows the end user to configure it as an always-listening machine (if needed), without the need to connect an external microphone. The other selling point is the availability of a HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 support. 4Kp60 capability is present, allowing for specific digital signage use-cases. It also lends itself to usage as a HTPC capable of driving a 4K display.

Platform Analysis

The Gemini Lake SoCs support up to 6 PCIe 2.0 lanes, 8 USB 3.0 ports, and 2 SATA 3.0 ports. The distribution of the PCIe lanes in the two PCs is as below:

  • June Canyon NUC7PJYH
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #3 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTS5229 PCI-E Card Reader)
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #5 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
  • ECS LIVA Z2
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #4 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #5 In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 AC HMC WiFi Adapter)

Note that the usage of the integrated AC MAC in the NUC allows Intel to utilize one of the PCIe ports for a high-performance card reader.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that are being considered today. 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 a particular system when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC7PJYH
CPU Intel Pentium Silver J5005 Intel Pentium Silver J5005
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 605 Intel UHD Graphics 605
RAM Kingston HyperX KHX2400C14S4 DDR4 SODIMM
16-14-14-35 @ 2400 MHz
2x16 GB
Kingston HyperX KHX2400C14S4 DDR4 SODIMM
16-14-14-35 @ 2400 MHz
2x16 GB
Storage Crucial BX300 CT480BX300SSD1
(480 GB; 2.5" SATA III; Micron 3D MLC)
Crucial BX300 CT480BX300SSD1
(480 GB; 2.5" SATA III; Micron 3D MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9462
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9462
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $170 (barebones)
$518 (as configured, No OS)
$170 (barebones)
$518 (as configured, No OS)
BAPCo SYSmark 2018
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  • mode_13h - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    I had the same thought, after the last NUC review. Margins too low = Intel can't even... Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Well, the Gemini Lake SoC doesn't have gigabit LAN integrated. Since Gemini Lake integrates the chipset, it would have to be part of the chipset. Gigabit LAN might be too big for such a small die part.

    In their Core CPU platforms, the Gigabit LAN is in the separate chipset.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Gigabit is like a million years old. There's no way it's too big.

    And the reason their desktop chips relegate it to South Bridge is because it doesn't *need* to be wasting space and I/O pins in the CPU. Especially since the board designer might decide to go with 10 Gig or whatever, instead.
    Reply
  • coreai - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    J5005 on intel website shows max memory of 8GB yet you have installed 2x16GB... what’s the catch ? Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    You'd have to ask Intel. I have an Atom D2550 NAS that officially only supports 4GB. But I have 8GB installed without issues as have many others (Thecus N5550) My guess is that Intel doesn't want to impede on their lower end Core products with these Atom derived ones. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    That is funny, because I specifically installed 32GB just to show them that the spec was wrong :)

    Gemini Lake NUC has no issues supporting up to 32GB of RAM.
    Reply
  • npz - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    Intel is wrong or intentionally misleading. Others have installed > 8GB on their Gemini Lake systems where Intel ark lists 8GB without issues too.

    As another example, Intel lists 64GB as a limit for 5960X but in reality it's 128GB
    Reply
  • nandnandnand - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    So when is AMD going to get itself into one of these? Reply
  • HStewart - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    Never: Especially from Intel - but Intel has one with GPU integrated - but never with CPU.

    Does AMD have a super low power low cost chip like the Atom series. (Pentium)
    Reply
  • RSAUser - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    AMD has Athlone and I expect they will release truly low power with 7nm. Reply

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