Using the NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon Nuc) as a plex server

This is a brand new top of the line Bean Canyon Intel NUC. It has the new Core i7-8559U 4.5GHZ processor with an Iris Plus Graphics 655 iGPU. This NUC achieved a 12870 CPU score in passmark which is impressively high for any CPU, and is especially high for such a small, energy efficient system. So how well does it perform as a plex server?

I’ve seen a lot of recommendations out there from people with regards to using a NUC as a plex server. After doing some research I decided to go with something on the high end of the performance spectrum to find out just how good these little computers could perform as Plex servers. The NUC i choose is the NUC8i7BEH. I picked this model for its powerful CPU and iGPU. It has the Iris Plus graphics 655 which scores 2k in passmark, and if you saw our previous video on the UHD 630 in the i5-8600k you know when we used that configuration with hardware transcoding enabled we got great results.

For comparison’s sake the I5-8600k scores 12806 in passmark; which is slightly less than the i7-8559U found in this NUC, and the UHD 630 igpu in the i5-8600k scores 1152 which is half that of the Iris Plus 655 in this NUC which comes in at 2050 in passmark. So on paper this NUC should outperform the i5-8600k. In reality; however, it is a slightly different story.

The first tests were ran to get a power consumption baseline. At idle with no external monitor or usb peripherals plugged in this NUC sipped on only 6.7 watts of electricity, and at full load it only used 49 watts. This computer is EXTREMELY energy efficient. To put that in perspective your typical non led light bulb is 100 watts, so at idle this thing uses roughly 1/16th the power of a standard light bulb and at full load it uses only ½ the electricity of a light bulb. If you were to migrate from a server that uses 175-300 watts of electricity at idle (most standard dual CPU enterprise grade servers fall in this range) you would be saving about $256 per year on electricity.

So how does it perform? Well considering the amount of power it uses and its size it performs quite well. I got 14 H265 1080p AAC to h264 1080p AAC transcodes with HW transcoding on, and 6 transcodes with HW transcoding off.

I was able to achieve 14 H265 1080p AC3 to H264 1080P AAC transcodes with HW transcoding on, and 5 transcodes with HW transcoding off.

Next i tested a 12mbps H264 encoded 1080p file and transcoded that down to 1080p at 10mbps. With hardware transcoding on i saw 12 transcodes and with HW transcoding off I was able to get 6.

I would like to preface this next test by saying I don’t think you should transcode 4k media down to lower resolutions as it is extremely difficult for any hardware to do, but that said it’s an easy benchmark to run for comparison’s sake. Our first test was transcoding H264 4k AC3 at 33mbps  down to h264 1080p AAC at 10mbps. I was able to get 4 transcodes with HW transcoding on and 4 transcodes with HW transcoding off.

The final test i ran was transcoding 4K H265 Main 10 HDR at 12mbps with AC3 audio down to h264 1080p at 10mbps AAC audio. I was only able to get 1 transcode running with HW transcoding on and 1 transcode to playback smoothly with HW transcoding off.

So comparing these results to our small, medium, and large builds you can see the Intel NUC performs quite well beating out our small and medium builds in h265 transcoding and tieing our large build. Its performance in H264 transcoding was pretty good, but it couldn’t beat our small, medium, and large builds. Overall this little computer is quite a powerhouse, and the cost to operate it is very minimal.
There are; however, some caveats to running such a machine as your plex server. For starters there isn’t much of an upgrade path if you pick up one of these nucs and use it as a plex server. You can’t add a GPU like a P2000 or a GTX 9, 10, or 20 series very easily. While it’s true you can get adapters to go from m.2 to Pcie x4 it would be quite a jerry rig setup if you did get it working, and you’d need an external power supply to power the card which would likely be bigger than the NUC itself.

You can’t exactly change out or upgrade the CPU either as its permanently mounted to the board. This means that if you bought one of the lower tier NUCs and wanted to upgrade you’ll have to buy an entirely new unit. This may or may not be a deal breaker, but as long as you size it appropriately from the start you should be ok down the road.

Another caveat is the fact that connecting one of these NUCs to a storage solution outside of usb or thunderbolt will require some sort of adapter. You can buy usb3.1 to 10gbe, or thunderbolt to 10+gb ethernet adapters, but they aren’t very cheap and might set you back at least half the price of the NUC itself.

Overall I think these NUCs have their place among Plex server options, but I can’t see myself using one. while the 6 watt idle and 50 watt max power consumption is something very appealing to me, the fact that my i5-8600k idles at sub 30 watts means i really wouldn’t see much cost savings from running this little box as my plex server. I do think these machines make GREAT computers and there is probably a long list of things this would be great at, but for me it’s not a replacement for my current server. It also doesn’t seem the 2k passmark for this iGPU translated to real world performance gains. That was an interesting observation, it seems newer generation cpus have better performance advantages than a synthetic benchmark scores when hardware transcoding in plex.

Some of you might benefit by ru nning this as your plex server, or picking it as your first plex server. It is really easy to set up, makes almost no noise, emits virtually no heat, and best of all occupies very little space. You likely won’t notice it in your electricity bill each month, and it is relatively inexpensive and could be converted to a desktop should you upgrade down the road.

Let me know what you think in the comments, i’d like to get a discussion going about using NUCs, why you chose a NUC and what your specific use case was. I’m very curious as i can’t think of all the potential use cases, and this did prove to be a fairly powerful solution as a plex server.

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