I'm using Intel NUCs in my homelab since a couple of years and have helped many people to get their lab up and running. This post takes a look at the models that are currently available and makes some considerations which NUC to buy at the moment for specific use cases.
To get started, here is a list of all Intel NUC models that a currently available. I would not recommend buying systems not mentioned here at the moment. I've listed the current price without memory, with 16GB and with 32GB.
|NUC6i7KYK||4x 3.5 GHz||2x M.2 (NVMe)||$ 624,97||$ 690,96||$ 738,97|
|NUC6i5SYH||2x 2.9 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 379,00||$ 444,99||$ 493,00|
|NUC6i5SYK||2x 2.9 GHz||M.2||$ 379,00||$ 444,99||$ 493,00|
|NUC6i3SYH||2x 2.3 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 289,00||$ 354,99||$ 403,00|
|NUC6i3SYK||2x 2.3 GHz||M.2||$ 289,00||$ 354,99||$ 403,00|
|NUC5i7RYH||2x 3.4 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 419,99||$ 489,88||$ 749,98|
|NUC5i5RYH||2x 2.7 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 350,99||$ 420,88||$ 680,98|
|NUC5i5MYHE||2x 2.9 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 409,00||$ 478,89||$ 738,99|
|NUC5i3RYH||2x 2.1 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 264,99||$ 334,88||$ 594,98|
|NUC5i3MYHE||2x 2.1 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 275,19||$ 345,08||$ 605,18|
A detailed description about each model can be found in my NUC reviews:
- VMware Homeserver – ESXi on 6th Gen Skull Canyon Intel NUC (NUC6i7KYK)
- VMware Homeserver – ESXi on 6th Gen Intel NUC (NUC6i*)
- VMware Homeserver – ESXi on 5th Gen Intel NUC (NUC5i*)
5th or 6th Gen NUC?
The price difference for 5th and 6th Gen NUCs are about 10%. The newer 6th Gen NUC has a slightly faster CPU. Given that, there are not much reasons to buy a 5th Gen NUC, unless you can get it very cheaper. I've seen inexpensive 5th Gen NUCs on eBay for example.
Memory Cost - 32 GB DDR3 is expensive and unsupported!
If you want to use the NUC as small homeserver running free ESXi you should be fine with 16GB Memory. In that case, the 5th Gen NUC is a valid option. However, if you need 32GB you definitely want to have the 6th Gen because 16GB DDR3 modules are very expensive and not officially supported by Intel:
DDR3: 16GB $70 / 32GB $330
DDR4: 16GB $66 / 32GB $114
The following table shows the Passmark Score for each 6th Gen NUC and the price-performance. Both, i3 and i5 models, have the same cost effectiveness so it's up to the use case to choose the best model. The latest Skull Canyon i7 NUC (NUC6i7KYK) steps out of line with a better price-performance due to its four 3.5 GHz Cores. However, this only makes sense for very CPU intensive use cases.
|MODEL||CPU||Storage||TOTAL (32GB)||Passmark Score||Price-Performance*|
|NUC6i7KYK||4x 3.5 GHz||2x M.2 (NVMe)||$ 738,97||9414||12,74|
|NUC6i5SYH||2x 2.9 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 493,00||4279||8,68|
|NUC6i5SYK||2x 2.9 GHz||M.2||$ 493,00||4279||8,68|
|NUC6i3SYH||2x 2.3 GHz||M.2 / 2.5" HDD||$ 403,00||3505||8,70|
|NUC6i3SYK||2x 2.3 GHz||M.2||$ 403,00||3505||8,70|
* higher is better
The the Skull Canyon NUC worth it?
There is no doubt that the Skull Canyon NUC is a very cool system for a homelab, also with the two M.2 NVMe SSD slots and the Thunderbolt port. But does that makes the NUC6i7KYK that best for running ESXi? I don't think so. It was very nice to run vCenter and all infrastructure components on the local NVMe SSD but my default homelab setup uses a shared storage and focuses on VMware products itself, not the hardware running it, so I effectively only need CPU and Memory performance from the NUC.
This is the CPU/Memory usage from my Skull Canyon NUC running parts of my homelab:
Remote Management / vPro
If you want to build a remote controllable Intel NUC, there is only one model available at the moment: NUC5i5MYHE. How to get the AMT Remote Management up and running is explained here.
What to buy from scratch?
If I would create a homelab from scratch today, I would buy two+ NUC6i5SYH and use a shared storage.