Question NUC style mini PCs...should I?

Savor Muck Fuss

Active Member
I built my PC 11 years ago, and was looking to change this year.

What I built was a really nice specced machine at the time (see bottom);

11 years later, times have changed. I only console game now and don’t tinker as much any more. I mainly use the PC for every days tasks like browsing, office but also a good bit of video and image editing.

My ideas was to buy a small mini barebones PC. Asrock or ASUS have caught my attention with their offerings. Expected specs would be;

- Ryzen 7 4800U.
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM 3200mhz (I think more would be overkill?)
  • M.2 NVME for the OS.
  • SSD for some additional storage.

My question is how good are these NUC style machines? Space and cleanliness is a big factor these days, but I don’t want to sacrifice too much performance for the sake of a small footprint. I keep seeing that you won't get the performance with one of these machines as a full sized desktop? Is this solely referring to the lack of a dedicated graphics card? As mentioned above, gaming isn’t important – but video and image editing is. As is everything just being very snappy for everyday tasks.

Thanks

My current spec;

AMD CPU Phenom II 965 Black Quad Core Processor
AMD Radeon HD 6850

8GB DDR3 RAM
Huge Aerocool Open Strike-X Case - which is still a sight to behold by the way.
 

EndlessWaves

Distinguished Member
The 4800U is a lower power consumption laptop CPU so in desktop terms it's going to be equivalent to a model further down the range, something such as a 4300G/4350G.

Of course a CPU at that level is still very capable - it's fitted to laptops costing four figures - but it's not going to deliver the top of the range performance you'd expect from seeing an 8 in a desktop context.

That particular size of machine does tend to be where you start to see the big capability drops and things like external power bricks instead of properly integrated power supplies so depending on exactly what you're after you may want to look at a somewhat larger Mini PC.

You certainly don't need anything like the size of a tower case though, unless you're burning many hundreds of watts.
 

Savor Muck Fuss

Active Member
Thank you for that great answer.

So I guess I need to decide whether the 4800U is enough for my current and future needs, which I suspect it will be...or whether to up a little for a proper desktop cpu.

I still would like to keep the build as small as possible if I did, so if anyone has any recommendations on motherboard and case combos - that would be great. I've always bought AMD so, I think Ryzen would be the way to go for me.
 

Savor Muck Fuss

Active Member
The other thing I use is my PC as a Plex Media Server. I've been reading that AMD processors can't use 'hardware transcoding' and are as such, bad for Plex Servers.

But then, look at my current processor above. I've never used 'hardware transcoding' (you need Plex pass for that?) so really this doesn't matter to me at all? Even when I transcode a huge 4K file, 10 bit, HDR, ATMOS down to a 1080p screen...it has always just worked fine for me. So hardware transcoding really isn't an issue I think. It just caught me by surprise as I was just watching a review of the ASUS PN50 (with a 4800U) and he went out his way to state that it wouldn't work well as a Plex Server.
 

EndlessWaves

Distinguished Member
The dedicated encoding and decoding hardware is normally considered part of the GPU rather than the CPU. So your existing system had it as part of the Radeon 6850 instead of the Phenom II. Back then AMD was branding it as UVD for the decoding and VCE for the encoding, these days they badge it together under the name VCN. Intel's version is branded Quicksync.

AMD CPUs with integrated graphics do have VCN hardware and as far as I'm aware it works fine so it may be that Plex simply doesn't support it.

Transcoding is decompressing (decoding) and then recompressing (encoding) it in a different format, for example for transmission over a network. If you're playing it through an HDMI connected TV then you're just decoding it, not transcoding. The actual scaling is undemanding, it's the compression that's the intensive bit.

Anything can de/en/transcode, the fixed function hardware is just faster and much more power efficient so instead of using dozens of percent of CPU time it'll just use a few percent.

Very important on battery powered devices, but for desktops it's not critical - although less CPU use does mean lower electricity bills and less heat being generated - potentially quieter fans.


In terms of motherboards the default choice is still Mini-ITX. Intel does seem to try new form factors every generation - Thin-ITX, bare NUC boards, mini-STX - but none of them have really taken off among enthusiasts. There's probably an AM4 board available in whatever the latest attempt is but expect only one or two, with limited case choice as well.

How many 2.5" drives do you want? What about expansion card possibilities? Are you likely to add one?
 

Savor Muck Fuss

Active Member
Am I right in thinking that my old system, even with the graphics card - is nowhere near as powerful as a 4800U? Looking at scores, that would seem to be the case.

Not fussed on 2.5" drives. But would be nice to have at least one. I'd rather the main machine have an NVME drive for the OS.

I'm basically deciding on;

  • Asus PN50 - 4800U

  • Asrock Desk Mini - with 4750G (supply issues here though for both processor and case, may have to go lower on the processor if I can even find the case in UK)

  • Coolmaster NR200P - with an undecided Ryzen CPU and an undecided GPU. Could really spiral the costs on this one.

    Would go with 16GB 3200mhz RAM on all of them, and at least a 500GB NVME. If I can fit in other drives, great, but not too bothered at this point.

I'm put off by the latter due to the footprint, but realise its not that big in reality. I can't see much difference the 4800U to the 4750G. It's inferior, but not by much? Which means the PN50 would be the easier and cheaper option given the lack of gains?
 

EndlessWaves

Distinguished Member
Forget the ludicrous super-sized gamer cases like the coolermaster.
Am I right in thinking that my old system, even with the graphics card - is nowhere near as powerful as a 4800U? Looking at scores, that would seem to be the case.

The 6850 might slightly edge ahead of modern integrated graphics in a few specialist tasks - it's still got over double the raw memory bandwidth for example - but the rest of the system is much faster and even in most GPU-focused tasks I'd expect it to be ahead.

What's putting you off a traditional Mini-ITX case instead of a super-sized one like the coolermaster? It's been a few years since I looked but something along the lines of an In Win Chopin. Those that are basically just a Mini-ITX motherboard and FlexATX PSU with a 2.5" drive mount or two tucked in somewhere:

Going by someone like Anandtech's review of a similar 4800U Mini PC the difference ranged between about 10% and 40%, always in favour of the 4750G. Handbrake was nearly 25% faster.

That's a reasonable difference but certainly not a huge one and the power brick on the PN50 doesn't look too big:
 

Savor Muck Fuss

Active Member
I'm definitely not against any idea. In fact, I'm really looking for ideas as to what to go for.

I think the thought with the NR200P, is that if I was going for a Ryzen CPU, I might as well go the extra and get a dedicated GPU too - whether thats now, in the future, or even possibly using my old card.

But given what I use my PC for now, I do feel a APU would be the best option. The concern is the Plex Server and the image/video editing. But really, its classifying those things - my editing would be considered lite, but who knows with the Plex Server, I was very surprised at the recommended settings for various PLEX transcodes, when my aged existing PC does a good job of it already.

But yes, I want it to be significantly better than what I have now for every days computing (browsing, office), and I want it to still do what I do with Plex and editing. But having such a beast of a case for so many years, I do want to go as small as I can too.

So I guess, its how much better are the Ryzen dekstop APUs to the mobile APUSs. Or do I go with a CPU (and a GPU, or just leave it at the CPU).
 

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