Robert, your original inquiry is one of great value to those considering a dedicated Roon server (a VERY good idea, BTW). I worked at Intel for 12 years ending in 2010, though not in engineering. Perhaps I can shed some light on the improvements among NUC generations without getting too technical. But let’s start with the “answer” and then give supporting details.
- No, you don’t need the latest generation NUC because Roon ROCK is small and very efficient.
- The NUC Gen 7 i3 with 4GB RAM will work great for most (UP TO 10,000 albums/100,000 tracks, UP TO 6 simultaneous zones, moderate* DSP functionality); If your needs are extreme, go with a Gen 7 i7 with 8GB RAM (OVER 10,000 albums/100,000 tracks, OVER 6 simultaneous zones, advanced** DSP functionality). In all instances, opt for the “tall” NUC denoted by BNH in the model number.
OK, so as to the generations of NUC. In general, each generation makes incremental (but meaningful) improvements in performance value (MIPS per $) and thermal dissipation (often measured in MIPS per watt). In the 90s, new generations of processors were eagerly awaited because there were notable improvements in PC functionality that users could see and feel. In the 2010s, the base systems are more than powerful enough to meet basic Windows PC needs and users (gamers/graphics/CAD users excluded) don’t feel compelled to upgrade every few years. (I personally buy and recommend notebook users purchase last year’s Thinkpad refurbs from Lenovo directly, keep it five years and then rinse an repeat).
Here’s the thing: Roon ROCK servers are NOT PCs and they DON’T run Windows. Understanding requirements for them requires a different mindset. The Roon software architecture is super clean, efficient, and reliable. Other than “heavy duty users” it works great on i3 based systems.
Here’s what I did last year when looking for huge bang-for-the buck ROCK server for my tiny 500 album, 8,000 track library that uses a max 2 simultaneous endpoints: I purchased a NUC7i3BNH (open box and blemished) on Amazon for $125, added a 128GB M.2 SSD for $20 (open box), added as single 4GB RAM stick that I bought used on Craigslist for $15 and re-purposed a 500GB 2.5in SSD. Grand total: $160. The NUC7 had one feature that (I think) was new: it offered a fanless mode in the BIOS. In addition, I lowered the processing speed to make sure it runs nice and cool. I figured I could increase the processor speed later or add extra RAM. Neither proved necessary so I have a fanless appliance should easily meet my needs for 8+ years!
It took a bit of work to get the software installed and my library moved, but I ended up with a system that is ROCK SOLID (pun intended). I was upgrading from a non-dedicated Win10 HTPC that was nothing but trouble with endless OS/Security/Application updates that would break Roon every few weeks.
Lastly, are you wondering how I knew that the Gen7 i3 and i7 specs would work? I copied them directly from the Nucleus product page. I figured Roon engineers know how best to align hardware specs with ROCK performance so as to maximize user enjoyment. Don’t tell them that I paid $160 for performance and reliability that mirrors their $1,400 offering (though the Nucleus is quite a bit better looking ).
*Moderate DSP functionality, as defined in Nucleus specs = All DSP functions available in the PCM domain. Certain combinations of functions using DSD source or destination formats, upsampling, or multichannel processing may not be possible.
** Advanced DSP functionality, as defined in Nucleus specs = All DSP functions available
Roon Nucleus product page: https://roonlabs.com/nucleus