I apologize in advance for the use of so many acronyms in this post. I asked my wife to read it and her head exploded about half-way through. It’s a short post, but apparently the ratio of real words to acronyms is pretty high.
A couple of months back I reviewed the NUC5PGHY, Intel’s first complete “off-the-shelf” NUC system. Unlike other models, this one comes with storage, memory, and Windows. While I found it to be a decent enough low-end starter system, I was disappointed with the 32GB of eMMC storage, as well as the relatively anemic 2GB of RAM. Neither were enough for Windows to function well as anything beyond a web browsing platform.
I wasn’t even able to update Windows to the latest version, because there wasn’t enough space on the internal storage, and running Windows with only 2GB of RAM is a recipe for “hurry up and wait”. Like wading through mud, working with any apps that need more ram is a frustrating experience.
Ultimately I concluded it was a solid effort, and would work for you if you were tight on cash and wanted to get started with Windows, but the small, slow storage and tiny amount of RAM just weren’t enough. I recommended upgrading the storage and RAM for a much more pleasant Windows experience.
A Better Use
I’ve had the unit up and running for a few weeks, and I think I’ve found a much better use for it than as a Windows workstation: I turned it into a surprisingly solid home theater PC! Think about it; it’s processor and graphics are more than enough for 1080p playback, it has built-in WiFi, on-board storage, a full-sized HDMI port, and enough RAM for most HTPC tasks (full specs are here if you’re curious). Seems ideal to me!
Again, 32GB of storage just isn’t enough for Windows. What it IS enough for is pretty much any flavor of Linux, especially Openelec or Libreelec, which have extremely small footprints. Both run Kodi, my very favorite home theater PC interface, automatically. I decided to use Libreelec, only because I’m still experimenting with it.
Better Safe Than Sorry
I’d already migrated Windows off of the internal eMMC onto a larger SSD, so I had no worries about “losing” Windows. I’m not sure I’ll go back to Windows on it any time soon, but just to be safe I ran a couple of rounds of Windows Update to be sure it was as fresh as possible before pulling it. I decided to install Libreelec to the eMMC, wiping Windows in the process.
I’ve been getting more familiar with Libreelec lately, as I like to try new things (imagine that in the creepiest voice possible), and I enjoy the fast installation, easy setup, and snappy performance. It took all of a minute to install. I added my favorite add-ons and was up and running in no time. 2GB of RAM may be “barely” enough for Windows, but for Libreelec it’s plenty. I was able to stream from the Internet, from my NAS, and from USB with no concerns about RAM. I could easily see this model marketed specifically for entry-level home theater.
If I wanted dual boot I could just leave the SSD with Windows installed, and choose which OS I wanted on boot. No need to configure dual boot, it’s already there. But I had another idea; I installed a Western Digital 320GB 2.5-inch drive and loaded it up with a bunch of movies. That gave me crisp, smooth playback with or without a network connection.
To Windows or Not to Windows
Now I know what you’re thinking…why not just leave Windows on as the OS and install Kodi? The main reason is that Windows takes too long to load for an HTPC. For a workstation it’s fine, but if I’m sitting down to watch a movie, I want that set-top experience, so I want it up and running quickly. Libreelec has Kodi loaded and ready in about 10-20 seconds.
Of course you could build the same system with the NUC5PPYH, a stick of RAM, and an SSD. The two models are identical except for the eMMC (and the memory and OS the PGYH comes with). If you wanted to use the 2.5-inch drive bay for storage, you could install your OS to a 32GB USB flash drive, or use an SDXC card in the built-in slot.
Both models have the removable lid, so if you want to add a feature with a GoRite lid you’re all set. Tuner, extra USB, VGA, you name it. The only thing missing (for me at least) is CEC. CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) is my new favorite HTPC tech, and the PGYH/PPYH models don’t support it on-board. Luckily, GoRite offers an external “in-line” CEC module, which I’m hoping to try out soon. It’s not as clean as having something inside the case, but if it gives me the CEC I want, I’ll be happy.
The performance is solid and reliable, and so far it’s handled everything I’ve thrown at it. As a Windows workstation the NUC5PGYH is “meh”, but as an entry-level home theater PC it feels just right.