Intel Atlas Canyon (NUC11ATKPE) and GEEKOM MiniAir 11 UCFF PCs Review: Desktop Jasper Lake Impresses

Intel’s low-power Tremont microarchitecture has enabled a range of products – from the ephemeral Lakefield to Elkhart Lake in the embedded space and finally Jasper Lake in the client computing area. Since the introduction of Jasper Lake in early 2021, a steady stream of Jasper Lake-based notebooks and motherboards/mini PCs has become available. Given their pricing, ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) machines offer attractive entry-level options in the NUC domain. With a range of SKUs specified for power consumption ratings ranging from 4.8W to 25W, the product range lends itself to designs that can be actively or passively cooled.

Intel’s Jasper Lake SKUs are a sequel to Gemini Lake. In 2018, we had tested two different Gemini Lake UCFF PCs: Intel’s actively cooled June Canyon NUC and ECS’s passively cooled LIVA Z2. For Jasper Lake, we purchased four different UCFF PCs: two passively cooled systems with 6W TDP processors and two actively cooled systems with 10W+ TDP processors. Our in-depth look at the two passively cooled JSLK UCFF PCs – the ECS LIVA Z3 and the ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano, was published last week. To wrap up our Jasper Lake coverage, the review below looks at the performance and value proposition of the two actively cooled systems – the Intel NUC11ATKPE and GEEKOM’s MiniAir 11.

Introduction and product impressions

Intel’s Apollo Lake SoCs (based on Goldmont) introduced in 2016 were quickly followed by Gemini Lake (Goldmont Plus) in late 2017. However, the delays related to 10nm production resulted in a significant gap before the Tremont-based Jasper Lake products appeared in early 2021. Compared to Gemini Lake, the new Jasper Lake products have improved CPU performance (Intel claims an increase of 33%) with an updated microarchitecture and larger caches. The integrated GPU is also clocked higher with additional EUs on specific SKUs. On the system side, faster expansion options are available, with up to 8 Gen 3 lanes (compared to 6 Gen 2 lanes in Gemini Lake), 14 USB ports (up to 10 Gbps) (compared to 8 ports up to 5 Gbps in Gemini Lake). Jasper Lake also integrates a Wireless-AX MAC, enabling cost-effective systems with Wi-Fi 6 support. Manufacturers can adopt or exploit these characteristics in various ways to bring differentiated products to the market.

As with our Apollo Lake (Intel Arches Canyon and ECS LIVA Z) and Gemini Lake (Intel June Canyon and ECS LIVA Z2) experiments, we obtained multiple Jasper Lake UCFF PCs for evaluation. Today’s review focuses on the two actively cooled systems – the Intel NUC11ATKPE and GEEKOM MiniAir 11.

A quick comparison of the Intel NUC11ATKPE and the GEEKOM MiniAir 11 reveals the following distinguishing features:

Intel Celeron N5095 (TDP of 15W) in the MiniAir 11, compared to Intel Pentium Silver N6005 (TDP of 10W) ​​in the NUC11ATKPE Slightly smaller physical footprint for the MiniAir 11 Mix of USB Type-C and Type-A ports in the MiniAir 11 , compared to only Type-A ports in the NUC11ATKPE Availability of SDXC UHS-I card reader in the MiniAir 11, not available in the NUC11ATKPE Physical DisplayPort output is full size in the NUC11ATKPE while it is mini DP in the MiniAir 11 Combo audio jack in the MiniAir 11, while the NUC11ATKPE provides separate audio output and microphone jacks in the front panel Intel Wireless-AC 9462 in the NUC11ATKPE, compared to Intel Wireless-AC 7265 in the MiniAir 11

The NUC11ATKPE is primarily priced as a barebones system, but the availability of computing systems in general has been scarce in the recent past due to supply chain challenges. This allowed B2B/B2C retailers like SimplyNUC to place significant bounties on turn-key Atlas Canyon NUCs. Get a taste of this – a barebones NUC11ATKPE has a recommended retail price of about $180 (street price, if available, is about $188). However, SimplyNUC’s base price for the Atlas Canyon NUC is currently: $449 and comes with 4 GB DDR4 SODIMM and a 256 GB M.2 NVMe SSD. One can remove the DRAM and SSD from the configuration, but that will not affect the price. Compare that to the GEEKOM MiniAir 11 – with current discounts it’s priced at $219 (including taxes) when ordered through their website and $245 (additional tax) on Amazon. For that price, GEEKOM bundles a 256GB M.2 2280 SATA SSD and 1x 8GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM.

The use cases for both systems are endless. Intel markets the Atlas Canyon NUCs under the NUC Essentials brand – inexpensive, yet effective enough for workloads that don’t require extreme processing power. GEEKOM’s push is also similar – making an effort to convey that the system is for casual home and office use, not heavy gaming. The systems are also being pushed for retail applications such as kiosks and digital signage.

While GEEKOM sampled us a retail version of their system package, Intel gave us a pre-production technical sample for evaluation. Both systems come with a 65W power adapter (19V @ 3.42A) and screws for installing the internal M.2 SSD. The MiniAir 11 package also includes a VESA mount (and accompanying screws), an HDMI cable, a mini DP to HDMI adapter cable, a storage bag and a user manual.

The NUC11ATKPE example was barebones – we used an SK hynix Gold P31 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD in the M.2 slot (although we could have gotten by with a PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe SSD like the WD Blue SN500, as the M .2 slot in the NUC is only electrical PCIe 3.0 x2). The DRAM option was trickier. The Jasper Lake platform officially supports DDR4-2933. Having collected a large number of DDR4-2933 / DDR4-3000 / DDR4-3200 SODIMMs (from the Skylake days), I was hoping that one of those early high-frequency SODIMMs would run at DDR-2933 speeds in the NUC11ATKPE. Unfortunately, they all defaulted to DDR4-2400 or DDR4-2666, and the BIOS wasn’t too helpful in terms of allowing DRAM timings to be changed. Only recent DDR4-2933+ SODIMMs were able to run on DDR-2933 in the system – unfortunately I only had 32 GB SODIMMs in hand from the recent batches. Ultimately, the NUC11ATKPE was equipped with 2x 32GB DDR4-3200 Kingston HyperX (now, FURY) SODIMMs for a total of 64GB of RAM – higher than the NUC11ATKPE’s officially specified maximum memory capacity of 32GB. Fortunately, the system ran flawlessly through our benchmarking routines, despite this sub-spec configuration. The complete specifications of the tested NUC11ATKPE sample can be found in the table below.

Intel NUC11ATKPE (Atlas Canyon) Specifications
(as tested) Processor Intel Pentium Silver N6005
Jasper Lake 4C/4T, 2.0 – 3.3GHz
Intel 10nm, 4MB L3, 10W
PL1: 15W/28s; PL2: 25W / 2.44ms memory Kingston HyperX KHX3200C20S4/32GX DDR4-3200 SODIMM (working on DDR4-2933)
19-21-21-39 @ 2933MHz
2x32GB Graphics Card Intel UHD Graphics
(32EU @ 450 – 900 MHz) Disk Drive(s) SK hynix Gold P31 SHGP31-1000GM-2
(1 TB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD, running at x2)
(SK hynix 128L 4D TLC; SK hynix Cepheus ACNT038 Controller) Networking 1x GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Intel Wireless AC-9462 (1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps) Audio Realtek ALC269 (3.5mm audio jacks in front panel)
Digital audio and bitstreaming Support via HDMI and DisplayPort outputs Video 1x HDMI 2.0b
1x DisplayPort 1.4 Various I/O ports 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (back)
2x USB 2.0 Type-A (Back) Operating System Windows 11 Enterprise (22000.778) Pricing (Street Pricing on July 12, 2022)

US $188 (barebones)
US $468 (as configured) Full specs
Intel NUC11ATKPE Specifications

The test sample of the GEEKOM MiniAir 11 came with only one of the memory slots occupied (1x 8GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM). A 256GB SXMicro NF830 M.2 SATA SSD is also included. The retail copy comes with Windows 11 Pro pre-installed, but as usual we erased the drive and installed our own copy for evaluation purposes. The full specifications of the GEEKOM MiniAir 11 sample tested are in the table below.

GEEKOM MiniAir 11 Specifications
(as tested) Processor Intel Celeron N5095
Jasper Lake 4C/4T, 2.0 – 2.9GHz
Intel 10nm, 4MB L3, 15W
PL1: 10W/28s; PL2: 20W/2.44ms memory Shenzhen Wodposit Tech. WPBS26D408SWE-8G DDR4-2666 SODIMM
19-19-19-43 @ 2666MHz
1x8GB Graphics Card Intel UHD Graphics
(16EU @ 450 – 750 MHz) Disk Drive(s) SXMicro NF830
(256GB; M.2 2280 SATA III;)
(Micron 64L 3D TLC; Silicon Motion SM2259XT controller) Networking 1x GbE RJ-45 (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Intel Wireless AC-7265 (2×2 802.11ac – 867 Mbps) Audio Realtek ALC269 (3.5mm combo audio jack in front panel)
Digital audio and bitstreaming Support via HDMI and DisplayPort outputs Video 1x HDMI 2.0b
1x mini-DisplayPort 1.4 Multiple I/O ports 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C (front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (back)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Back) Operating System Ships with Windows 11 Pro, tested with Windows 11 Enterprise (22000,739) Pricing (Street Pricing on July 12, 2022)

US $245 (as configured, with operating system) Full specifications
GEEKOM MiniAir 11 Specifications

The chassis of both systems is made of polycarbonate, except for the metal plate which is held on the bottom with four screws. The top of the MiniAir 11 is glossy and attracts smudges and fingerprints, while the NUC11ATKPE has a matte finish.

A closer look at the NUC11ATKPE case and internal photos are available in the gallery below. The thickness of the system is such that a simple thermal pad on the underside of the chassis is enough to cool the installed SSD. Another interesting aspect of the NUC11ATKPE is the absence of an LED indicator in the front panel, other than the power button itself. Instead, there is a header on the front panel (behind the flexible cover) that contains pins to drive LEDs for storage activity and other states.

The gallery above offers a look at the chassis design of the GEEKOM MiniAir 11. It also includes disassembly photos – disassembly is easy and required if ever you need to update the internal SSD or RAM. A thermal pad on top of a metal block on the underside of the chassis provides thermal protection for the installed SSD.

In the next section, we’ll look at the system configuration and follow it up with a detailed platform analysis.

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