Insides: NVMe Support!
For those of you that have never seen inside an Intel NUC, you'll be pleasently surprised by the amount of technology that Intel is able to pack into such a small space. If you have seen the insides of one of them before…there isn't anything that has changed to the naked eye.
The first thing you find when unscrewing the bottom of the NUC5i7RYH is the mount for the 2.5-in drive on the underside of bottom plate. This flexibility allows you to include more than just M.2 storage (or instead of M.2 storage) in case you need additional capacity or just want to save money on your initial installation. There is a standard SATA data and power connection for any 9mm or thinner HDD or SSD.
Looking inside at the motherboard you'll see there isn't much room to work with but there is plenty of hardware jammed into it. The bright blue SATA connection, which existed on the thinner NUC5i5RYK, can now actually be used! The Crucial SODIMM memory you see installed along the top of the device is running in a dual-channel mode running at LPDDR3 speeds and power levels.
NUC users were previously required to install memory, storage and a wireless adapter but with the latest Broadwell iteration of the design, Intel has built in a 7265 802.11ac controller on the board itself, leaving only storage and memory outfitting as the requirement to get up and running. And of course with the H-model, you have the option of M.2 or 2.5-in SATA storage.
One interesting twist with the M.2 port on the Broadwell NUCs, including the NUC5i7RYH we are reviewing today, is support for NVMe, a brand new protocol for storage via PCI Express. We first starting seeing NVMe from Intel in the form of the P3700-series of enterprise products and now in the SSD 750 Series for consumers, but obviously neither of those options are going to fit inside the NUC!
The answer is the Samsung SM951 NVMe SSD, a product that basically only exists in the OEM market today. This SSD uses a PCI Express 3.0 x4 connection and the NVMe protocol, not the AHCI protocol that is shared with SATA, and can run at speeds over 2 GB/s! The problem at this point is availability: while you can easily find the PCIe AHCI variant of this drive, locating the NVMe version is nearly impossible. Hopefully that will change soon as getting access to this kind of speed in an M.2 form factor is truly impressive.
Even if you can't locate one or don't want to spend the cash on it, you can still use a standard PCIe or SATA M.2 SSD in the NUC5i7RYH, the NVMe support just adds a bit more potential for the system going forward.
After installing our M.2 SSD and the 8GB of Crucial LPDDR3-1600 memory, the NUC is ready to accept an operating system installation and hit the ground running. Even though the configurability of the NUC is very basic with just memory and storage, it's nice to see Intel continue to offer a DIY option for consumers looking to build in this incredibly small form factor.