The Quartz Canyon We Have Seen Before
Intel has been making PCIe-based systems for years. As an example, in Unboxing the Intel Visual Compute Accelerator we found a solution with three Intel Xeon CPUs using upgraded Iris Pro Graphics and ECC SODIMM support.
Perhaps the closest comparison looks almost exactly like something we used from Intel back in Q1 2015, over five years before this NUC. Enter the Intel Xeon D-1540 development platform. Here is the compute module from that system:
The Intel Xeon D-1540 development platform had a Beverly Cove node that had a similar feature set. It had:
- An 8-core 45W TDP Xeon CPU
- Support for up to 32GB DDR4-2400 ECC DIMMs
- Onboard M.2 storage
- PCIe Gen 3 slots and extra storage off of a daughterboard
- Chassis cooling
Of course, the big difference here is that this was a development platform. It was extremely loud. There was no BMC for onboard video. The USB port had a bug where one needed a specific powered USB hub to plug in USB powered devices such as keyboards and mice.
Here is what we have for photos of the main PCB assembly. One will note that this was in the era of SATA SSDs.
The implementation found in the current Quartz Canyon NUC is much more refined, but this is clearly something we have seen before from Intel. Anyone claiming this is a new concept from Intel probably never saw a Beverly Cove platform. Intel had something strikingly similar albeit an unrefined development platform over five years ago.
Beverly Cove was effectively productized in future iterations for Facebook’s Open Compute platforms such as Yosemite/ Yosemite V2.
It was updated with the Xeon D-2100 series with their Twin Lakes Intel Xeon D-2100 Platform.
This BGA Xeon CPU on a card with memory and M.2 storage is actually a widely used design in the industry. Facebook and the OCP community even have PCIe modules for extra NVMe storage and liquid-cooled modules. It does not take much imagination to see where Intel can draw inspiration from for next-gen versions of Quartz Canyon NUCs if it wanted to make full edge computing lines.
While we would not want to have the Beverly Cove development platform (nor the OCP Yosemite V2 platforms) anywhere near us while working, the Intel NUC 9 Pro kit is something designed as a quiet workstation.
Let us move on to our topology, management, power consumption, and performance testing before getting to our final words.
beverly cove! you’re like the only person that’d pick up on the parallel
This reminds me a lot of the old (And new) PCIMG style computers. Just in a consumer friendly form. That might be a fun comparison given how cheap they are now.
Patrick, did you try putting the compute board into a normal motherboard? Does it still work? That would be my use case, as a 2nd pc for streaming housed in the same case.
Please try it and let me know or post somewhere! I would really buy one if it did work.
Great review Patrick! Very nice extra touch to relate it to the early prototypes as well!
Surprising to read that it is quiet. Isn’t that a 40mm fan in the PSU?
I’ve had 5 Mac mini over the years and I love the form factor, but ever since I wanted more GPU power I switched to larger stationary PCs, typically mATX. Something like this could tempt be to go back to small machines, but then the $1500+ price absolutely kills it. You could easily build a much more modular, powerful, quieter and cheaper mITX-based machine in a Dan A4 (which is even smaller than this) or Ncase M1.
The main advantage with this NUC would be having two PCIe slots, but unfortunately they are only PCIe 3.0, and sharing x16. With AMD Ryzen you can get a PCIe 4.0 x16 in mITX.
Alex, I wouldn’t be surprised if putting this compute board into a PCIe of another motherboard would fry something.
I doubt it’s possible to plug the board in another motherboard, in fact I believe it likely to cause damage to one or both components (since in both cases the PCIe interface would provide power, unless you don’t plug the compute board into the PSU).
You could of course put the board in the same case as another motherboard provided you don’t connect it to a motherboard (for example a large case with only an ITX or mATX board installed). This sounds kinda intriguing actually, get a big tower, install an ITX board and put in one or two of these compute board for a small cluster.
Thanks for the replies guys.
I would love a simple compute card like this that just sucked 75W of power from the PCI slot but had a jumper/switch that could make it independent (i.e. not search for other PCI boards, as is the case with this NUC).
Simply slot this in and have another full dedicated PC to encode my stream as it goes out live.
I’m sure there could be other uses … like having 4 or 5 of these in a HEDT system for a cluster? Who knows…
for me this will be perfect in my home-studio (Music) 1 pci-e card (universal audio dsp card) 3 or 4 ssd s and thunderbolt that will work with my Apollo interface (hm maybe do a hackintosh also we will se thx for a good site
This could be perfect for a small VSAN cluster.
Only downside I see here is memory support, if only it was possible to push in around 256gb ram that would be great.
Isn’t Intel providing the baseboard specs and design guidelines to OEMs so they can make their systems? I think I saw some at CES. I‘d love to see what someone like Dell would do with this with all the ready built up ecosystem they have
I can also see a use case for using this in a rack, similar to a Supermicro Microcloud but instead of sleds, we just have cards. Also extremely reminiscent of a transputer!
Anyway, this is something that AMD should jump on too with their PCIe lane advantage, this is a nobrainer for them to adopt the baseboard and compute module functionality too. Just need a 2nd PCIe slot to the baseboard…
@AdditionalPylons The Dan A4 (7.2L) is significantly bigger than the NUC 9 at 4.95L. You might be thinking of the Velkase Velka 3. at 4.2L
Though the design is fairly clever, I feel like Intel didn’t put a lot of effort into it.
1. Processor cards? Really? Vendor and platform lock-in?
2. They’re trying to emulate a “sandwich layout”, but they don’t seem to understand what makes the sandwich layout good. It’s not having your cooling system sandwiched in between 2 PCBs.
3. Why bother redesigning the industry-standard Flex-ATX PSU? Why not go further and design an even more compact PSU?
If size and expandability are all Intel has going for it, then the NUC 9 is a day late and a dollar short. The mini-ITX form factor has come a long ways over the past 3 years, allowing enthusiasts to build PCs as small as and expandable as the NUC 9. Actually, it feels like most things Intel has been releasing over the past 2 years has been lackluster. Hopefully Intel can drum up more interest in Lakefield or Alder Lake.
Nice machine and review. If the price weren’t so high, it would be much more tempting to get. At this price range, it’s got a lot of competition, if one didn’t mind going with physically larger servers. Question regarding the vPro/AMT functionality: is it possible to remotely install an OS (in particular ESXi) by mounting an iso on the network? Wondering if vPro/AMT allows the server to be completely managed remotely (including for fresh installations)? Wondering what I would be missing using vPro/AMT as compared to IPMI (such as HPE’s iLO).
@Ed Rota: Point me a min ITX MB with 3+ PCIe slots and 2+ thunderbolt ?