"Intel's Frost Canyon NUC is powerful, yet surprisingly easy to update."
Small form factor
Solid CPU performance
Easy to update RAM, hard drive
Many ports (for its size)
Very poor game performance
CPU cannot be replaced
Small PCs are usually associated with compromises that are often lacking adjustments, future upgrades, power supply and port selection.
Then there is Intel NUC (short for Next Unit of Computing), which makes these functions its selling point. For this reason, this long-standing series of miniature PCs, which is now seven years old, is unique.
The NUC I'm looking at today, officially called NUC10i7FNHAA, is one of the most powerful so far. It has a 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor with six cores, a 256 GB solid-state drive, a 1 TB SATA hard drive, 16 GB RAM and Windows 10 Home.
Unlike some of the NUC systems I've tested, it is sold as a fully functional PC, not as a bare bones system. It contains everything you need at a price of $ 1,049. Is it the ultimate mini PC?
Design and connections
There is not much to say about the external devices of the Intel NUC10i7FNHAA. If you've ever seen a NUC, it looks similar. It offers the dark gunmetal exterior of other newer NUCs instead of the silver of previous models. It has a shiny black plastic lid.
The size of the NUCs has not changed significantly over the years. This model is 4.4 cm wide, 4.4 cm deep and 2 cm tall. It is not the thinnest NUC, but also not the thickest and many times smaller than a typical desktop PC.
Matt Smith / Digital Trends
Nevertheless, it has many ports. The front offers a USB-A 3.1 port, a USB-C 3.1 port and a headphone jack.
On the back you will find a Thunderbolt 3 port, two additional USB-C 3.1 ports, Ethernet and HDMI output. Thunderbolt 3 is particularly nice to have. While it is common on laptops, it is still rare on PC desktops. This is a solid connectivity area that covers most options, though the lack of DisplayPort could bother some.
Internals and updateability
Due to its size, the tiny body of the Frost Canyon NUC can be expected to hide complex internals. That's not the case. Intel has been around for seven years, and it shows.
You open the NUC by unscrewing the four feet on the underside of the machine. After loosening (they cannot be completely removed, so you cannot lose them), the base plate comes off with a jerk.
Matt Smith / Digital Trends
This provides access to the RAM-SO-DIMMS, the smaller sticks that you would normally find in a laptop instead of larger desktop DIMMS. You also have access to the M.2 drive and the hard drive. This is all you can replace in the NUC10i7FNHAA, since the CPU is soldered to the mainboard.
Upgrade options are limited. There is no free RAM slot, no free M.2, no free SATA. What is installed is all the desktop can handle.
However, these parts can be easily removed and replaced if necessary. The NUC10i7FNHAA supports up to 64 GB RAM, significantly more than the 16 GB installed.
There are restrictions on what a NUC can handle due to its small size, but what is available is impressive.
You will find a few open headers in it, but most users won't care. This includes two empty USB 2.0 headers and a FRONT_PANEL header.
Of course, there are limitations in handling a NUC due to its small size, but what is available is impressive. The components that you can update are easy to find and instantly accessible after removing just a handful of screws. I would argue that the Frost Canyon NUC is easier to maintain than most desktops sold by major manufacturers.
The Frost Canyon NUC I tested, model number 10i7FNHAA, had an Intel Core i7-10710U processor. This is a 12-thread mobile processor with six cores and a base frequency of only 1.1 GHz, but a maximum turbo frequency of 4.7 GHz.
It is a powerful chip. Geekbench 5 delivered a single-core result of 1,099 and a multi-core result of 5,702. These numbers don't break records, but exceed most laptops and small desktops. The Dell XPS 13 7390, which we tested with the same processor, achieved a higher value of 1,250 in the single-core test, but stayed behind with a value of 5,491 in the multi-core test.
Matt Smith / Digital Trends
For comparison: An HP Specter x360 13 with a Core i7-1056G7 achieved 1,164 points in the Geekbench 5 single-core test and 3,981 points in the multi-core test. The only mobile chips that can significantly outperform the Core i7-10710U are Core i9 silicon, like the Core i9-9880H in the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2. It achieved 5 single-core and multi-core in Geekbench Test 1,196 and 6,529 points. respectively.
The NUC 10i7FNHAA's performance is solid at $ 1,049. Desktops and all-in-one devices from major brands usually offer a Core i5 processor like the Core i5 9400 at this price. This processor is somewhat competitive with the Core i7-10710U, but will fall behind in most cases.
In addition to Geekbench, I started Cinebench R15. My Frost Canyon NUC scored 980 points there. This is less impressive, but still acceptable for the price. I noticed that the NUC had to accelerate during this test. The first test run achieved a higher result with 1,180 points, but successful test runs always achieved points in the range of 900. The number of points I reported of 980 corresponds to an average of 5 test runs.
Our handbrake benchmark, which recodes a 420MB 4K video file from H.264 to H.265, took just over two and a half minutes. The Dell XPS 13 7390, which had the same Core i7-10710U processor, was three minutes slower. The NUC 10i7FNHAA even beats some laptops with Core i9 processors, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2.
This NUC can meet the needs of many photo and video editors, developers and engineers.
Intel introduces this Frost Canyon NUC, the 10i7FNHAA, as a small workstation that is suitable for many content creators. It works well enough for that as long as you don't work with state-of-the-art content like 8K video. There you need a more powerful computer.
However, this NUC can meet the needs of many photo and video editors, developers, engineers, etc. Call it appropriate. That may not sound like much praise, but given the price of $ 1,049 and the small footprint, it would be stupid to expect more. This is a powerful PC for its price.
Player, look somewhere else
What about games? It’s not great. The fast Core i7-10710U processor does not contain the latest graphics from Intel, but the older Intel UHD solution. It scored just 1,288 in 3D Mark Fire Strike and only 490 in Time Spy.
These values are solid for Intel UHD. However, Intel's Iris Plus graphics are about twice as fast. And even a discrete graphics solution for beginners like the GTX 1650 Max-Q from Nvidia can achieve over 3,000 points in Time Spy. That is six times faster than with Intel UHD.
In summary, you can not play most modern games.
In summary, you can not play most modern games. A title with relatively simple 3D graphics such as Fortnite or World of Warcraft may offer acceptable performance with a resolution below 1080p and low graphics settings. Everything else demands too much.
The Frost Canyon NUC has a Thunderbolt 3 port, which can be used to connect an external graphics dock. However, given the price of an external graphics dock, it's not a great solution for games. You're better off with an entry-level gaming desktop.
Size is not the only benefit of a desktop based on mobile hardware. The use of mobile hardware also significantly reduces power consumption. Intel's Frost Canyon NUC consumes power under a variety of workloads.
The system only consumes 9.8 watts when idle. This is equivalent to many 13-inch laptops and less than most 15-inch systems. Desktop consumption can vary widely, but it rarely happens that a desktop consumes less than 20 watts when idle. Therefore, the power consumption of the NUC is excellent.
Matt Smith / Digital Trends
In Cinebench, the power consumption reached a maximum of 98 watts and then held at 57 watts after thermal throttling had limited the processor. Again, this is comparable to modern laptops. The mid-range desktops I tested slightly exceeded 100 watts in the benchmark.
Low electricity consumption means lower electricity costs and less impact on the environment. It can also mean less fan noise. Unfortunately, this is not the case here. The Frost Canyon NUC turned out to be an exuberant PC puck, the fan of which was audibly buzzing even when idling. It's good that the NUC is small, as you may need to place it out of earshot.
The Intel NUC 10i7FNHAA, like other NUC models before, is a unique interpretation of what a desktop should be. It is not for everyone, but it is absolutely fulfilling its mission. The NUC is simple, compact and energy-efficient. It accomplishes all three goals and is one of the best mini PCs I've tested.
Is there a better alternative?
It depends on what you want.
If you only want a desktop and are not interested in the size, there are numerous options available worldwide. Dell's XPS desktops are consistently among our best desktops and remain our first choice.
Apple's Mac Mini is the best known alternative. However, it is a bit bigger, almost 20 cm wide and deep. While you can buy a six-core Mac Mini for $ 1,099, this model only has 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. A Mac Mini with RAM and memory similar to the NUC will bring you back $ 1,500.
If you want a small desktop, especially one on Windows, the NUC 10i7FNHAA models – and NUC in general – remain a very solid option. The most common brands in the U.S., such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo, offer small PCs. However, they are mainly designed for the business-to-business market, which leads to a high price for many models.
How long it will take?
You can't replace the NUC 10i7FNHAA's processor, but the Core i7-10710U is fast enough to stay relevant for at least a few years. The RAM and the hard disk can be exchanged without any problems. I think you will benefit from it for at least five years.
Intel grants a standard 3 year warranty. This is unusually good in the PC area, where a 1-year warranty is standard.
Should you buy one?
Yes, if you want a powerful desktop PC that fits almost anywhere. The Frost Canyon NUC fits into a niche like previous models. But if this niche is perfect.