Just before Christmas Santa came to my house in the form of a package from Intel. Apparently I’ve been a good boy this year, because in the package was a brand new i7 Frost Canyon NUC (NUC10i7FNH). Frost Canyon is Intel’s 10th generation NUC, and like a kid on Christmas Eve I could hardly wait to tear open my new toy.
I think naming it “Frost” Canyon when it’s being released in December is pretty on-the-nose, but that’s just me.
This model has been a long time coming, and whether the wait has increased your excitement or just increased your frustration depends on how badly you needed to get your hands on one. It’s the first NUC based on the Comet Lake CPU.
When I first started looking through the specifications for Frost Canyon, I had a strange sense of déjà vu. The more I looked, the stronger the feeling got, and as it turns out I had good reason. I did a side-by-side comparison of the specs for Frost and Bean Canyons, and there’s much more that’s the same than that’s different. Here’s the ark.intel.com side-by-side if you’re interested.
Frost Canyon retains the same form factor as Bean Canyon, and most previous NUC models. It uses a 14nm CPU, with a slightly lower TDP. Interestingly, the specs list Frost’s supported voltage as 19v, rather than previous NUC’s 12v-19v. I was surprised by this, so I reached out to a couple of different sources. One source said Frost didn’t support running off of 12v and it’s no longer a planned feature. The other source said it would run off of 12v. Unfortunately I don’t have a 12v adapter handy that’s got enough amps to power a NUC so I can’t say who’s correct.
Also different, obviously, is the CPU.
Frost Canyon’s CPU appears to have less on-board cache and a slower turbo speed. This may or may not impact performance. UPDATE: the CPU specs on ark.intel.com appear to have been incorrect. They’ve been updated and Frost’s CPU does have a higher turbo speed, more cores, and larger cache:
Frost Canyon only lists Intel UHD graphics. Rumor has it the graphics for Frost Canyon actually under perform compared to Bean Canyon. We’ll look into that later.
Big Change in Memory Support
Frost Canyon supports twice as much RAM as Bean Canyon, and boasts higher bandwidth. For some, the extra head room for memory may be enough of a selling point to choose Frost Canyon over its older brother. 32GB SODIMMS are pricey, so a 64GB NUC isn’t something I’ll be using any time soon.
What about ports and I/O?
The obvious difference in I/O configuration is that while both Frost Canyon and Bean Canyon have USB-C ports on the rear, Frost also swaps out one of the USB-A ports on the front for a USB-C port.
Less obvious is that Frost Canyon uses Intel’s newer Wireless-AX technology. This isn’t likely to impact users with a single Frost Canyon, but if you have two of them, then communication over WiFi should be improved.
One other change mentioned in the specs is the inclusion of “far-field quad array microphones”, replacing the stereo mics from previous NUCs. I suppose this means if you like your NUC listening to everything you say & do, now it’ll be able to do that even better. Um, yay?
Frost Canyon has full size memory card slot now, which I like. It’s a lot easier to slip a micro SD card into an adapter than to squeeze an SD card into a micro SD slot. Other than that, there are no differences.
As for all the other stuff, spec-wise Frost Canyon is the same as Bean Canyon:
Out of the Box
The unit I received is a pre-production sample, so it doesn’t have the snazzy retail packaging. That also means it’ll be going back to Intel when I’m done evaluating it…and that makes me sad.
The plain cardboard box has everything that comes with the retail kit, however. You get the typical NUC accessories: mounting bracket, screws, AC adapter, manual. No surprises there.
Frost Canyon continues the asthetic of 8th generation NUCs, with the power button/LED combo positioned on the front. It would like nearly identical to previous models, other than the USB-C port that’s replaced one of the USB-A ports.
The rear reveals no surprises, as it has the same port configuration as Bean Canyon. The only difference is the cable lock opening.
Frost Canyon uses the larger “screen” ventilation on the sides. It looks nice and can only help with cooling.
On the Inside
Having a look inside, we can see Intel has (wisely) decided to continue using the single ribbon cable to connect the 2.5″ drive cage.
I’m still a fan of this. Originally I thought it would be too delicate and prone to damage, but the reality is it’s strong enough and a decent improvement over the cumbersome separate power and data cables from older models.
There really isn’t much internally that looks different. Intel has hit its stride with the NUC design over the past few generations, so I like that they aren’t redesigning things. It retains the impossibly small WiFi antenna connectors, though.
An Installation Hiccup
I installed a Patriot m.2 SSD and 32GB of Crucial RAM into the Frost Canyon for testing. When I went to install Windows 10 on it, I ran into a small issue due to the newness of Frost’s WiFi adapter:
Turns out my Windows installation USB, which I created a couple of years ago, doesn’t have drivers for the Wireless-AX adapter.
Luckily I keep USB WiFi adapters around for fun. I attached an adapter and was able to see my network.
I was then able to continue with setup.
After installation the adapter showed up, so I’d assume if I were to create a fresh USB installer it would include the appropriate drives.
It’s a given this will also be an issue with some Linux distributions. I’ll explore that in another post.
Once Windows was installed, I went through the usual Windows updates and driver installations to get everything ready for testing. Then I ran my usual favorites for bench-marking, Passmark Performance Test and PC Mark.
We’ll start with Passmark (in slideshow format).
The CPU score of 14962 is better than I expected. I seems the new CPU has some punch to it. The memory score is also strong, which I expected given Frost Canyon’s higher memory bandwidth. 2D performance is pretty good, just barely making it into the green. So productivity apps should work just fine.
But that 3D score though. The GPU score of 1384 is disappointing. It’s clear Frost Canyon isn’t meant for gamers. I’m sure you could get away with old or less demanding games, but overall you’ll want to avoid running any 3D-heavy stuff on it.
PC Mark produced a decent enough score:
Nothing to write home about, but nothing to sneeze at either.
Finally, someone reached out to me and asked if I could run something called Geekbench. I’d never tried it, but more data is always helpful so I ran it on Frost Canyon. I have no context for these numbers, I’m just providing them for anyone who is familiar with how Geekbench works.
One slide is their “compute” score, while the other (with two scores on it) is the CPU score.
I did notice something interesting when running Geekbench; it starts with a system summary screen:
Did you catch it? Intel’s specs for Frost Canyon list its max speed as 4.10 GHz. But Geekbench’s system summary lists the max speed as 4.68GHz. Not sure what’s going on there. Either Intel’s specs for the CPU are wrong, Geekbench’s reporting system is off, or Intel gave me a sooper-dooper CPU in this NUC.
Frost Canyon really is Bean Canyon part deux. It appears what Intel has done is taken the features and specs for Bean Canyon, upgraded the CPU and whatever else needed updating (like the WiFi, memory capabilities, and memory card slot) and called it a day. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Bean Canyon was one of the better NUC models to come out recently. Frost Canyon does replace one regular USB port on the front with a USB-C, which I suppose will be nice down the road when USB-C becomes the standard.
Unfortunately the integrated graphics are less than impressive so 3D gaming isn’t the best fit for it. If you’re looking at 3D gaming you should really be looking at Hades Canyon anyway. But old Frosty should do quite well with just about anything else. The 64GB upper limit for RAM future-proofs Frost Canyon a bit too.
Overall it seems Intel has upgraded what needed to be upgraded while leaving the things alone that didn’t need to be changed. Not a game-changing new model, but a respectable upgrade of an already great design.