Small form-factor PCs have become a major growth segment in the PC market over the last decade. In particular, UCFF (ultra-compact form-factor) PCs have become a welcome and permanent fixture in the desktop PC market, all the while they've also seen a good bit of success in the embedded and industrial market segments.

Further segmenting the UCFF market is the level of performance desired, and by proxy the CPU that gets used. Intel's two CPU architectures, Core and Atom, serve to split the market into premium and entry-level devices. And, even with the relatively lower performance of Atom-based SoCs, their aggressive prices make them an attractive proposition for economical desktop PCs as well as industrial motherboards and systems. Atom-based SoCs are long-life products, with Gemini Lake being the most recent SoC family in that product line. Today, we're taking a look at two contrasting Gemini Lake UCFF PCs - the fanless ECS LIVA Z2 and the actively-cooled Intel NUC7PJYH.


Intel's Apollo Lake SoCs introduced in 2016 were the first to use the Goldmont CPU microarchitecture. The Gemini Lake SoCs (introduced late last year) are an evolutionary upgrade, bringing in double the amount of on-die cache and providing better performance despite running at approximately the same frequency as their Apollo Lake counterparts. The integrated GPU is also slightly more powerful - both in terms of EUs as well as multimedia capabilities. Prior to the 14nm supply constraints issue, multiple vendors had introduced Gemini Lake-based systems in the market. Similar to our Apollo Lake experiments (reviewing an actively-cooled Arches Canyon NUC and a passively-cooled ECS LIVA ZN33), we got hold of a couple of Gemini Lake UCFF PCs for evaluation - the Intel June Canyon NUC (NUC7PJYH) and the ECS LIVA Z2.

A comparison of the Arches Canyon NUC against June Canyon, and the ECS LIVA Z2 against the ECS LIVA Z, shows the following updates:

  • Usage of DDR4 SO-DIMM slots compared to the DDR3 ones in the Apollo Lake systems
  • Standardization of at lease one HDMI 2.0 display output
  • Replacement of the Apollo Lake SoC with a Gemini Lake one

June Canyon also makes use of a more advanced WLAN solution (AC 9462 vs. AC 3168 in Arches Canyon) that takes advantage of the integrated wireless MAC in the Gemini Lake SoC. However, the ECS LIVA Z2 still uses the older AC 3165. The form factor of the LIVA Z2 is quite different from the LIVA Z - It has a smaller footprint, but is thicker, and doesn't have the dual LAN capabilities of the older version.

The June Canyon NUC comes in multiple flavors, with our review sample being the highest-end configuration. Similarly, the LIVA Z2 comes with either the Celeron N4100 or the Pentium Silver N5000. Both versions come with Windows 10 Home pre-installed on an eMMC card. The two UCFF PCs come with a 65W (19V @ 3.42A) power adapter and a VESA mount.

Both machines integrate a dual-array microphone. This allows the end user to configure it as an always-listening machine (if needed), without the need to connect an external microphone. The other selling point is the availability of a HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 support. 4Kp60 capability is present, allowing for specific digital signage use-cases. It also lends itself to usage as a HTPC capable of driving a 4K display.

Platform Analysis

The Gemini Lake SoCs support up to 6 PCIe 2.0 lanes, 8 USB 3.0 ports, and 2 SATA 3.0 ports. The distribution of the PCIe lanes in the two PCs is as below:

  • June Canyon NUC7PJYH
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #3 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTS5229 PCI-E Card Reader)
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #5 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #4 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
    • PCI-E 2.0 x1 port #5 In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 AC HMC WiFi Adapter)

Note that the usage of the integrated AC MAC in the NUC allows Intel to utilize one of the PCIe ports for a high-performance card reader.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that are being considered today. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against a particular system when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC7PJYH
CPU Intel Pentium Silver J5005 Intel Pentium Silver J5005
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 605 Intel UHD Graphics 605
RAM Kingston HyperX KHX2400C14S4 DDR4 SODIMM
16-14-14-35 @ 2400 MHz
2x16 GB
Kingston HyperX KHX2400C14S4 DDR4 SODIMM
16-14-14-35 @ 2400 MHz
2x16 GB
Storage Crucial BX300 CT480BX300SSD1
(480 GB; 2.5" SATA III; Micron 3D MLC)
Crucial BX300 CT480BX300SSD1
(480 GB; 2.5" SATA III; Micron 3D MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9462
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9462
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $170 (barebones)
$518 (as configured, No OS)
$170 (barebones)
$518 (as configured, No OS)
BAPCo SYSmark 2018
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  • mode_13h - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    I think the main reason for Intel doubling last-level cache vs. Apollo Lake is all the cheapo systems using this in single-channel mode.
  • IntelUser2000 - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    "Doubling the internal cache has led to significant performance increase in many real-life workloads."

    Come on. It's not due to cache. Goldmont Plus cores in Gemini Lake has substantial architectural improvements. Doubled caches are usually responsible for maybe 5% increase in performance.
  • shelbystripes - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Ummm... that’s not really a valid assumption. Sure, if the system already has enough cache, adding more cache will not substantially increase performance.

    But the cache size is actually small enough to restrain performance (which can happen with these smaller, lower-cost parts). The “doubling” here is going from 2MB to 4MB L2 cache, which for the quad-core designs compared here, means effectively from 0.5MB per core to 1MB of L2 cache per core.

    That sounds like a lot of L2 cache, until you realize there’s no L3 cache. That’s it, 0.5-1MB per core of last-level cache, and then you’re going to system RAM.

    Is there even an Intel Core CPU made today with only 0.5MB of last level cache? Those tend to have only 256KB of L2, but then at least 1MB of L3 per core. That’s enough cache that adding more cache won’t help you much. Given the smaller, simpler design of Atom, I’m not surprised going up to 1MB of L2 cache per core would yield substantial performance benefits.
  • Brunnis - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Goldmont Plus has substantial architectual enhancements that are much more likely to account for the lion’s share of the performance increase. The article makes it seem Goldmont Plus is mainly about larger L2, which is a bit misleading. See this link:
  • Brunnis - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Even smaller compute heavy benchmarks perform 20-30% faster, which is usually not the case for a mere L2 size increase (I’ve never seen that, at least).
  • mode_13h - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    The performance impact of cache is highly workload-dependent. However, it does sound like there are some significant improvements:
  • Smell This - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    So ...
    How many tens of billions of dollars has Chipzilla spent subsidizing the 'Next Units' and Atom 'Fails'?

    The 'new' NUCs are not, really, all that. An AMD Ryzen V1000 SoC mini-ITX FP5 BGA at 12/14nm would 'Temash' the Atom at 10-12w.

    ZOLTAC ... make it so.
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    I'd take some more AM4 mSTX motherboards. There are quite a few Intel ones, but the beefier iGPU for AMD would make for a more well rounded system.
  • Alien88 - Saturday, December 22, 2018 - link

    Check out the Udoo Bolt...
  • LMonty - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Hello Ganesh, could you pls. confirm whether the NUC operates in dual channel mode when using 32GB of RAM? I saw one review on Amazon complaining that his J5005 NUC was running in single channel mode, when using 2x8GB sticks (16GB total).

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