Intel’s Tiger Lake-based NUCs have been shipping for over a year now. Initially, four product lines were planned: Panther Canyon for the mainstream market, Tiger Canyon for the professional/business market, Phantom Canyon for game enthusiasts and the Elk Bay Compute Element for embedded applications. Supply chain challenges have impacted the availability of different models in different regions, but that hasn’t stopped Intel’s partners from providing complementary products.
akasa is a well-known manufacturer of thermal solutions for computer systems for both industrial applications and home users. They’ve been servicing a range of passively cooled enclosures for Intel’s NUCs since 2013. We had reviewed their Turing enclosure for the Bean Canyon NUC a few years ago and were pleasantly surprised. We don’t often see a fanless case that manages to keep the processor cooler than an actively cooled solution for the same workload, but that’s exactly what the Akasa Turing has achieved. For Intel’s Tiger Canyon NUCs, akasa wears three main products – Newton TN, Plato TN and Turing TN. The company tested us the Newton TN for review with Intel’s sample of the NUC11TNKi5.
On the Tiger Lake UCFF front, we had only tested a few systems last year – the ASRock Industrial NUC BOX-1165G7 and more recently the Supermicro SYS-E100-12T-H. We took the opportunity of the Akasa Newton TN review to also do a detailed evaluation of Intel’s own offering – the NUC11TNKi5 Tiger Canyon NUC. The review below introduces the Tiger Canyon NUC hardware and describes the build process for the fanless version using the Akasa Newton TN before getting into the usual platform analysis. After this, the benchmark numbers for the passively cooled configuration are compared to the original NUC11TNKi5 (along with numerous other systems). Finally, the results of the thermal evaluation of the fanless system are presented. Together, these give an idea of what Tiger Lake can deliver in a fairly compact fanless system and also whether the Newton TN will manage to replicate the Turing’s success.
Introduction and product impressions
Intel’s Tiger Lake processors released the Willow Cove microarchitecture, manufactured in a fairly mature 10nm process, last year. The main focus was on the mobile market, but the company launched a series of mini PCs based on it last year. The company divides the Tiger Lake-based mini PCs into several categories: Performance, Pro, Enthusiast, and Extreme. The NUC11 Pro Kit NUC11TNKi5 (Tiger Canyon) we’re looking at today is a UCFF solution that puts a 100mm x 100mm motherboard in a 117mm x 112mm x 37mm chassis. The board comes with a soldered processor – the Core i5-1135G7. It belongs to the Tiger Lake-U family and can operate through a range of configurable TDPs – from 12W to 28W. The NUC’s default BIOS settings set the PL1 (sustained) and PL2 (burst mode) levels to 28W and 64W respectively, with the PL1 time window set to 28 seconds.
End users have the flexibility to choose their own storage device and RAM. For best performance, a PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe SSD can be used and DDR4-3200 SODIMMs are supported. Our NUC11TNKi5 sample came with the following components preinstalled:
Samsung SSD 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe SSD 2x Kingston ValueRAM KVR32S22D8/16 DDR4-3200 SODIMM for 32GB DRAM
The system is actively cooled, with a fan on the bottom, away from the side of the motherboard containing the SODIMM and M.2 slots.
The specifications of our Intel NUC11TNKi5 test configuration are summarized in the table below.
Intel NUC11TNKi5 / NUC11TNBi5 + Akasa Newton TN Specifications
(as tested) Processor Intel Core i5-1135G7
Tiger Lake 4C/8T, 2.4 – 4.2GHz
Intel 10nm SuperFin, 8MB L2, 28W
(PL1 = 28W, PL2 = 64W) Memory Kingston ValueRAM KVR32S22D8/16 DDR4-3200 SODIMM
22-22-22-52 @ 3200MHz
2x16GB Graphics Intel Iris Xe Graphics
(80EU @ 1.30 GHz) Disk Drive(s) Samsung 980 PRO MZ-V8P500B/AM
(2500GB; M.2 2280 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe;)
(1xxL V-NAND Gen 6 3D TLC; Samsung Elpis S4LV003 controller) Networking 1x 2.5GbE RJ-45 (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 (2×2 802.11ax – 2.4 Gbps) Audio Digital audio with bitstreaming HDMI port support Video 2x HDMI 2.0b
2x Display Port 1.4a with HBR3 over Thunderbolt Various I/O ports 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (back)
1x USB 2.0 Type-A (rear)
1x Thunderbolt 4 + 1x Thunderbolt 3 (Type-C) (back) Operating System Windows 11 Enterprise (22000,739) Pricing (Street Pricing on July 21, 2022)
$420 (plate) + $150 (case) + $130 (RAM) + $95 (SSD) = $795 (as configured, no OS) Full specs
Intel NUC11TNBi5 Specifications
Akasa Newton TN Specifications
The NUC package includes the usual VESA mount and screws, along with an integration guide. A region-specific power cord is included with the 120W (19V @ 6.32A) adapter.
The gallery below provides an overview of the kit chassis and I/O distribution. The main differences compared to the Performance line of Tiger Lake NUCs (Panther Canyon) are the absence of an SDXC card reader, an HDMI 2.0b port instead of a mini-DP port, an additional USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type -A port in the front panel and the limitation of Thunderbolt Type-C ports to the rear panel only.
Compared to the Performance line, the NUC11 Pro line adds official support for Linux and Window IoT, supports use over a wider DC input voltage range, has an additional internal SSD slot (M.2 2242 SATA / PCIe 3.0 x1), vPro capabilities in select SKUs and extended product lifecycle.
The standard NUC11TNKi5 kit above can be used in most scenarios, but there may be use cases that require the complete absence of moving parts. In industrial applications, the reason may be the need to avoid performance loss due to deterioration of cooling efficiency due to dust build-up. For professional creators, this may be due to the need to avoid external noise that affects work output. The average home consumer may also prefer a quiet system to better focus on work. For HTPCs, multimedia content can be enjoyed without distraction – an aspect that can be of utmost importance to audiophiles.
Traditionally, passively cooled computer systems were either woefully underpowered for general use, or came at a significant premium in terms of both cost and physical footprint. However, improvements in computational performance per watt and new passive cooling chassis designs (which don’t cost an arm and leg to mass-produce) have combined to give consumers the ability to create powerful, yet affordable, fanless systems. This is where suppliers like Akasa come in. For the NUC11TNBi5 (the board in the NUC11TNKi5 kit), Akasa has three different enclosures, with sizes to suit almost any deployment scenario:
Newton TN [ 176.6mm x 200mm x 53.6mm ]
Plato TN [ 247mm x 240mm x 38.5mm ]
Turing TN [ 95mm x 113.5mm x 247.9mm ]
We ran the standard kit through our benchmarking process first. Then we disassembled the unit and transferred the board to the Akasa Newton TN. The same benchmarks were reworked on the Newton build.
Before analyzing the NUC11 platform and looking at the comparative specifications of the systems under consideration, let’s dive deep into the build process using the Akasa Newton TN.