The Intel NUC 11 Pro is small, and that makes it exciting. While we generally review hardware that is designed to meet TCO metrics, the NUC is different. This device is, let us face it, designed to also be fun. Intel NUCs in this type of form factor has been around for a while, and despite the ominous “Tiger Canyon” codename (after all, who would want to walk through a canyon filled with hungry tigers?), this is actually a fun little node. This is not just because it has a 10nm SuperFin Tiger Lake processor in it. In our review, we are going to see why.
As we have been doing with more of our content this year, we have a video version as well.
If you want to listen this weekend, feel free to open this in a new browser tab for a better viewing experience.
Intel NUC 11 Pro (NUC11TNKi5) Overview
The system itself is a relatively compact unit, with a huge asterisk next to it. We will get to the asterisk later, but the unit measures 112mm x 117mm which is around 4.5 inches.
On the front of the unit, we have a power button along with two USB Type-A ports. These are USB 3.2 Gen2 ports which means they operate at 10Gbps.
Moving to the rear of the unit, we have a fairly full I/O panel. There are two HDMI 2.0b ports. Many other nodes in this class have at least one DisplayPort so this is a bit different. One also gets a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.2 Gen2 port each in Type-A form factors. The Type-C ports are interesting. They are listed as USB 4 / Thunderbolt 4 and 3 ports. This is a massive amount of USB connectivity in such a small chassis.
Another big feature is the Intel i225-lm networking. With this generation, we get 2.5GbE. Although it is a single port, having faster Ethernet is a big deal for many. We get comments on the availability of 2.5GbE switches, but Rohit has two fairly reasonably priced units in his review pipeline. The switch situation will get better this generation as 2.5GbE becomes more prevalent. Even the Supermicro X12SCA-F we reviewed this week has a 2.5GbE port.
On the sides, we simply have vents for cooling.
The plastic top of the system can be removed. This however only exposes a metal airflow guide as well as WiFi antenna wiring. It is not much here.
Removing the bottom cover involves four screws, one in each rubber foot. As we take the cover off, we notice that inside the NUC we get several thermal pads to keep components such as the M.2 SSD cool.
Inside the system, we see a packed set of components. Standard we get a WiFi 6/ Bluetooth solution in the Intel AX201 NIC.
There are then two M.2 slots. One is a M.2 2242 (42mm) SATA III/ PCIe Gen3 x1 slot which is designed for boot devices. The other is a M.2 2280 (80mm) PCIe Gen4 x4 slot. That means one can install both a boot drive in the M.2 2242 slot as well as have high-performance M.2 storage in the x4 slot.
In terms of memory, we get two 1.2V DDR4-3200 SODIMM slots. We added two 32GB SODIMMs and the system had no issue running with 64GB of memory.
Perhaps one of the biggest features is the CPU. This system has an Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU. While this is a lower-power four core/ 8 thread unit, it also has a new technology in it, specifically the Intel Iris Xe graphics. As Intel begins to re-enter the GPU market after many years, this Xe architecture is designed to scale from this class of chip to the large Ponte Vecchio HPC GPUs for Exascale computing. There, of course, is going to be a fairly massive difference, but Intel is getting back in the running.
The size was mentioned with an asterisk. That is because the power supply is external and is roughly the size of the unit, perhaps a bit larger. At 120W, the 19V power supply is larger than one may need for just the system however this is designed to have headroom for plugging-in higher power USB/ Thunderbolt devices.
Next, we are going to get to the performance, followed by power consumption, noise, our key lessons learned, and then our final words.