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

    Oops, wrong again.

    https://www.anandtech.com/show/13053/sapphire-unve...

    Real Ryzen cores should run circles around Goldmont+, and even a 3 CU Vega should stand up well to Intel's 18 EU HD Graphics (192 shaders vs. 144). Configurable TDP down to 12 W is comparable to the J5005's 10 W.
    Reply
  • drzzz - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    The configuration comparison table on the first page is broken. It only shows the J5005 config for all possible choices in the right column. The J5005 is configured with what Intel says is an unsupported dimm size which begs the question how is this working? Actually the Pentium N5000 is also limited according to Intel to 8GB dimm modules. What is going on and why should I accept these results as valid if the configurations are not officially supported by Intel? No guarantee the unit I receive would be able to use 16GB modules and no guarantee it will perform like these test units. Disappointed by this article and the testing methodology used. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    One of the few times Intel ark is wrong in my experience. A lot of the Atom SKUs have wrong max memory sizes. Reply
  • mczak - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    It is not really wrong per se. This is intel's official stance, those chips only support 8GB in total, apparently they want to sell you Core-based chips if you need more.
    But luckily intel didn't go that far and actually really limited them to 8GB, so yes from a technical perspective the ark pages are wrong.
    Noone (at least for home use) should ever care about the official max memory limit (well as long as they know it's only a marketing limitation...).
    Reply
  • Jorgp2 - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    Gemini Lake was also originally listed as supporting HDR10, but was later corrected Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    "The configuration comparison table on the first page is broken."

    Fixed! Thanks for the heads up.
    Reply
  • fackamato - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    Any chance you can include non-NUC systems on the charts? The graphs are great to see which of the 3 NUCs are faster... but that does not give me a sense of how much slower (if any) these are to a mATX PC, or a 45w CPU, or an AMD APU etc. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    These are results based on our new Fall 2018+ benchmark suite - We actually re-benched a whole lot of systems (starting with the Coffee Lake SODIMM memory scaling piece). I have some other results from systems targeting a different market segment, and I will add them in for the next Gemini Lake review (probably mid Q1 2019) Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Please do.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Mikewind Dale - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    In the meantime, the Cinebench R15 scores are useful for comparisons. That benchmark is widely available for a variety of CPUs.

    Just for comparison, I have a Core i7-7500U dual core laptop that gets 145/345 in Cinebench R15.

    And online, I see the Core i7-8550U gets a median of 164/558.
    Reply

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