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Scan 3XS NUC N5 PC Review

Greg Hook looks at 'The World's Smallest PC'

by Greg Hook
Tech Review

1

Scan 3XS NUC N5 PC Review
SRP: £529.61

Introduction

Like this reviewer, nowadays, you probably carry around the collective computing power that several years ago would have filled an entire room. In fact, it's said that there is more computational power in a modern phone than there was on the space shuttle. Every year technology is improving and reducing in size to bring us devices that really are a marvel of modern technology and come with a real sense of amazement as to just what has been achieved in such a small device. Google's Glass being a prime example of a suitably amazing device offering a phone, camera, GPS and internet in something no bigger than a normal pair of glasses – smaller still in fact.

This theme of ever decreasing device sizes coupled with ever increasing power, performance and feature-sets continues with our latest product for review today. The Scan 3XS NUC N5 PC offers a fully functioning PC in a very tiny form factor. NUC stands for Intel's Next Unit of Computing and aims to offer high performance in an ultra-small package. In a unit measuring just 116mm x 112mm x 40mm high we have the latest Intel third generation Ivy Bridge i3 CPU together with 8GB of fast Corsair DDR3 Vengeance RAM and a Plextor 128GB SSD.

Coming from the award winning Scan 3XS range, here we have a PC that should rival something many times its size and offer a product that can easily become an unobtrusive but essential part of your home cinema system. Read on to see just how well it performs....

Design and Connections


Scan 3XS NUC N5

The Scan 3XS NUC N5 PC is based on the new Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) form factor and is marketed as the 'World's Smallest PC'. Whether that statement will hold water for any length of time with the rapid development in PC technology is another matter, but it certainly seems to be correct today and is the smallest PC we have ever seen here at AVForums. This sleek little black box measures just 116mm x 112mm x 40mm high and weighs just 532g. For those Apple TV owners, imagine one of those on top of the other and that should give you a good idea of just how small this PC is.

This smart little black box has a textured finish around the outside with a gloss black top (also available in red for the next model up). To the front we have a single USB 2.0 port and to the top we have the power button and drive access indicator light. At the rear there is the power connection for the 65W external power brick, two further USB 2.0 ports (no USB 3.0 at all sadly), two HDMI 1.4a ports (which support dual independent displays) and the Gigabit Ethernet connection, together with two exhaust outlets for the single 40mm fan. Obviously due to its size there is no DVD drive and the connections are limited but the basics are covered here. The tiny motherboard also offers two additional USB 2.0 ports via an internal 2x5 header.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

Power On, Start-up and Initial Setup

The system arrives with Windows 8 64bit installed, configured and ready to go. Helpfully the various drivers are all updated to the latest releases and all the latest Windows updates have also been applied together with a system stress test to ensure everything is running as it should. Scan even leave you screenshots on the system as proof that they have actually done it. All you have to do is unpack it, connect everything up and away you go. The 128GB Plextor PX-128M5M SSD has a formatted space of 118GB and after the Windows installation you get approximately 86GB of free usable space which should give you enough for many programs, video files, photos and (basic) games. It is possible to gleam another 5GB or more from the drive if you remove some unnecessary files and perhaps the hiberfil.sys if you don't wish to use the hibernation feature. Clearly not a massive amount of storage but external drives can be connected, if you need, although do remember you are limited to USB 2.0 speeds.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

The wireless adaptor included in the system is the Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6235 which is 802.11 a/g/n and dual band allowing use of the 5ghz band should you be in an area with a rather congested wireless setup. We tested both reception and performance and the full download speed of our wireless connection was received with the signal strength as we would expect in comparison to other devices such as tablets and laptops we’ve reviewed. It's worth noting that the basic model of the NUC N5 does not come with wireless, so remember to add all those basics to work out the final price.

Specifications

For a PC that has a similar footprint to an external hard drive, the specifications are incredibly impressive. We get an Intel Ivy Bridge Dual-Core i3 3217U CPU running at 1.8GHz which has onboard HD4000 integrated graphics together with 8GB Corsair DDR3 Vengeance RAM running at 1,600MHz. It's clearly not going to be a performance or gaming system and the various tests run you can see on the test results page clearly reflect that, but given its size, that's not really a surprise. What you do get is a very capable and low power consuming PC that can easily be used for general use, as a HTPC or for portable applications such as digital signage for example. The included 65w power brick resembles what you would get with a laptop and if you had this as part of your home cinema setup it's about as discrete as you can get.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

The system boots very quickly thanks to the SSD, with the time to desktop via the Bootracer app of just 27 seconds. Whilst the SSD supplied is only 128GBit, it can support an Intel mSATA drive up to 240GB in size. Included in the £530 price tag is also a Xebec XEK-100B wireless keyboard with built in touchpad. Connected via a tiny USB receiver this keyboard allows you to sit back on your couch and control the PC in comfort. Scan has obviously included this in the bundle to make this PC even more living room friendly, but during testing we found many issues with this particular keyboard and would therefore advise Scan to offer an alternative; issues such as the touchpad being extremely slow and unresponsive and the keyboard just not responding at all, resulting in us having to turn it off and on to try to pair it to the adaptor again. In fact we had so many issues that we quickly resorted back to our normal mouse and keyboard to continue our tests. During configuration of the system you can choose to not have this keyboard, thus saving yourself about £30 and then choose on you prefer from the many alternatives available.

Gaming Tests

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Normally a heavy feature in our previous gaming system reviews, the specifications as detailed above are sadly not going to cut it for hardcore gaming. We still persevered and installed the latest Call of Duty title to see just what the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics could manage.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

The answer in this case was not much at all. With low settings and a resolution of 1024 x 768 we could just about squeeze 46 FPS out of it with that falling to 33 and below during busy scenes. That is still just about playable and should you wish to play older less demanding games then the HD4000 graphics would be more than capable of doing so. But don't expect to play the latest games on anything approaching a decent setting.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

Home Cinema Integration

More so than with our previous reviews, particularly the mini ITX form factors of the Scan 3XS Nanu Gamer as reviewed here and the Scan 3XS FT03 as reviewed here the major selling point of the Scan 3XS NUC N5 PC is its size. As we said above, it is extremely small and you could easily have this as part of your Home Cinema system. It’s not much bigger than an Apple TV3 but being a fully functioning PC you get all the benefits that will bring. Particularly that fussy family member who complains at yet another huge box in 'their' living room, chances are they won't even notice it is there!

Windows 8 follows on from Windows 7 with the automatic display configuration and simple networking that is much easier than it used to be on previous versions of Windows. We connected to our amplifier via one of the HDMI ports and upon boot up the Windows desktop appeared on our HD TV with no additional changes or configuration needed. There was no messing about with resolutions or other display settings and it also automatically detected the amplifier for the sound output, which was nice.

Due to its size, obviously no DVD or Blu-ray drives are present but when connected as part of our home network we were able to test how it performed with streaming of HD video and it had no issues right the way up to 1080p. All the files played without stuttering and the low system noise from the single 40mm fan meant that it certainly wouldn't cause a distraction. HD streaming services such as Netflix played perfectly.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

Upgradeability

The upgrade path with the NUC N5 is sadly very limited. The CPU is integrated into the tiny motherboard but you could still upgrade the Dual SO-DIMM sockets to 16GB and increase the SSD size if you wish but, other than that, there is not much more you can do internally. Of course you can add external hard drives and devices but you are limited to USB 2.0 and you’ll then start to lose the major selling point - its extremely small size.

Temperatures and Noise

The screenshot below from HWMonitor shows the maximum temperatures the various system components reached during various rigorous tests such as trying to squeeze a decent frame rate out of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 or during the various benchmark tests for example. As you can see it does run quite hot when compared to a traditional PC with peaks of 84deg C for the CPU but this did not cause any issues such as system freezes or crashes and the system appeared to cope with that level of temperature.

During these peak temperatures the single system fan does run faster and, as such, the noise level increases but still only very slightly. Even with the increased fan noise, unless you are watching something with the sound muted, you will struggle to hear it at all; which is an excellent bonus if you are likely to have it in the living room. A completely passively cooled version of this NUC PC is on the cards for those that want a completely silent unit.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

Final Word

The price is of course an issue with this PC. At £529.61 it appears very expensive when compared to a standard PC, but then given that it is about half the size of a standard PC's PSU alone, then you may start to understand why the cost is higher. Being new technology the price is at a premium and as time goes on we could start to see these become more commonplace and therefore the price dropping to a level that doesn't seem as extreme.

Benchmarks and System Information

Scan 3XS NUC N5
Scan 3XS NUC N5
Scan 3XS NUC N5

The above screenshots are from freeware programs CPU-Z and GPU-Z, showing the CPU clock speeds and voltages together with memory and other system information. We can see here the low 1.8Ghz speed of the Intel Dual Core i3-3217U processor and the equally low specification of the integrated Intel HD4000 graphics.
Time to Desktop – 27 seconds

Now with the release of the Windows 8 friendly Bootracer version 4.0, we can continue with the accurate and reproducible tests of the time it takes to get the desktop that we have used in previous reviews. The result of 27 seconds is a fairly decent time but not the best we have seen. Whilst the SSD is pretty nippy, other components such as the CPU are not helping here.

Scan 3XS NUC N5
Super Pi – 1 million decimal points – 20.907 seconds

Super Pi calculates Pi to a specified number of digits. It is used to test the CPU power and is a favourite amongst overclockers to test their speeds against the World Record times and the stability of their computer following an overclock. Super Pi is not optimised for dual or quad core processors and is purely a test of a CPU's single threaded capability. We used the 1.5 mod version as it shows more detailed timings.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

The result here of 20.907 seconds is amongst the slowest that we have reviewed so far. No surprise really given the clock speed of just 1.8Ghz on this CPU. It should give you an idea of the low specification of this i3 CPU when you compare the result with the 9.032 seconds of the i5-2500K @ 4.2Ghz overclocked CPU in the 3XS Nanu Gamer we reviewed previously and also our own i5-2500K @ 4.5Ghz score of 8.3 seconds.
Windows Experience Index - 5.5

Scan 3XS NUC N5

A standard test included in Windows 7 - and now with Windows 8 – the WEI gives a quick performance score of the current system. It is a simple test and is not favoured as a benchmarking tool, but is a quick and easy way to see how your computer fares. The overall result here is a rather poor 5.5. We can see the SSD scores well with 8.1 and the 8GB Corsair DDR3 Vengeance RAM also gets a decent score of 7.2, but the Intel Integrated graphics and the CPU let the side down here. This clearly isn't a performance system so perhaps some of these tests are a little unfair, but they are a good comparison to be used against your own system and previous AVForums PC reviews. The overall rating is determined by the lowest scoring component, rather than a weighted average score that you get in programs such as the Passmark Performance Test. We include this test purely as a guide.
3D Mark 11 - 632 3D Marks

The latest version of Futuremark’s popular benchmarking tool is freely available to download, although to unlock the full functionality of it, they ask you to part with £14.82. It is particularly GPU intensive and is one of the most common programs for PC gamers, in particular, to test their system and compare it against a wide range of scores available on the internet.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

The score here of 632 3D Marks again shows the low performance of this system, particularly for gaming. Compare this result with the GTX560 and GTX660Ti in the recent Scan 3XS desktop reviews that scored 5093 and 7884 3D Marks respectively and you will begin to see that this is not a system for gaming. 3D Mark scoring is not entirely based on the power of the graphics card. Other factors such as the CPU power come into play, but the lowly Integrated HD4000 graphics does not perform well here.
Atto Disk Benchmark - SSD


Scan 3XS NUC N5

The 128GB Plextor PX-128M5M 6Gb/s SSD claims to offer a pretty decent 'up to' 540 MB/s read and 320 MB/s for write with an IOPs of 80,000. As you can see from the ATTO Disk Benchmark test result, the maximum read speed received was 539 MB/s and a write of 330 MB/s. Whilst you are not guaranteed to get the speeds manufacturers quote, this result is excellent and on par with the manufacturer's quoted speeds, in fact better by 10 MB/s for the read result.
PassMark Performance Test 7.0 - 1312.3

This next benchmark test gives an overall system performance following tests run on the CPU, GPU, Memory and disk drives (although no disk drive in the system). It is a weighted average score based on over 28 individual tests and therefore a low performing component will drag the score down. With a score of 1312.3 we can see the overall system specification doesn't perform well here. Compare that with scores of 3857.5 for the Scan i5-2500K/GTX660Ti system, 3087.90 for the Scan i5-2500K/GTX560Ti system and also 3355.3 scored by our own i5-2500K/GTX570 system.

Scan 3XS NUC N5
Cinebench 11.5 - 16.21 fps/1.81 pts

Cinebench is another free benchmark program that is ideal to test CPU and GPU performances across different systems and platforms. The scores here being 16.21 fps for the OpenGL test and 1.81 pts for the CPU test. The low scores are no surprise given the system specification and the previous tests run.

Scan 3XS NUC N5

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Extremely small form factor
  • Very quiet
  • Fully functioning PC
  • Good specification for the size

The Bad

  • Expensive
  • Lack of upgrading options
  • No USB 3.0

Scan 3XS NUC N5 PC Review

The first point we must mention and an issue you have most likely already spotted is the price. At £530 this is an expensive item and in comparison to a big box PC, with a similar specification , you’re paying a premium of about £200 for the privilege of owning what they are calling ‘The World's Smallest PC’. But given how tiny this actually is, perhaps the additional costs are worthwhile?

In this tiny sleek black case we get an Intel Ivy Bridge Dual-Core i3 3217U CPU running at 1.8GHz, Intel HD4000 integrated graphics and 8GB Corsair DDR3 Vengeance RAM running at 1,600MHz. The storage is provided via a 128GB Plextor mSATA SSD with excellent benchmarked speeds received during our tests of 539 MB/s read and 330 MB/s write. Coupled with the latest Windows 8 operating system we get a PC that boots in only 27 seconds and has enough power to comfortably operate as a HTPC; play back HD video files from attached or internal memory and use a HD streaming service, such as Netflix. Despite the decent performance with HD video this little PC is not up to the task for gaming sadly. Our gaming tests and various performance benchmarks highlight the limitations of the HD4000 graphics integrated into the CPU. Even on low settings, with an undemanding game such as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, we only saw frame rates in the low 30s. Fine perhaps for an older title or a casual gamer not bothered by low settings.

Other negative points are that the upgrade path is particularly limited, only offering opportunities to just upgrade the RAM to 16GB or change the SSD, together with the system only offering USB 2 ports and not USB 3. Should you wish to connect external hard drives or similar devices the lower speed of USB 2 may be an issue. Given the possible uses of a device this tiny in your living room, it's a shame they haven't fitted USB 3 ports Another major negative is not related to the PC itself but the Xebec wireless keyboard that Scan has bundled with this system. It’s a particularly unresponsive and frustrating device that being wireless you most likely will end up throwing out of the window. But, this is just an option added by Scan and when configuring your system you can choose to not have that keyboard, saving about £30 and then choose one yourself from the many alternatives available.

What Intel has come up with here, with their 'Next Unit of Computing' PC, is a marvel of modern technology offering a fully functioning PC with a decent specification in a box barely bigger than an Apple TV. If you are looking for the smallest PC you can buy and aren't too concerned with paying a premium for it, then this 3XS NUC N5 PC may be for you. With an improved specification such as offering USB 3.0 ports and a price point at a sub £500 this PC may have been an AVForums award winner but based on all the above it just misses out, for now anyway.

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
.
7

Specification

.
.
.
.
.
5

Included Software

.
.
.
.
.
5

Benchmarked Performance (averaged)

.
.
.
.
.
5

Noise Level

.
9

Video Playback Performance

.
.
8

Sound Playback Perfromance

.
.
8

System Temperature

.
.
.
.
6

System Connections

.
.
.
.
.
5

Upgradeability

.
.
.
.
.
5

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
.
5

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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