NUC starting point

I have been using a general purpose Dell XPS 8930 PC (latest gen i7 with 16gb memory) to serve via Roon, JRiver and Audirvana. All music is stored on a NAS and is streamed to three Sonore rendus. All connections are via ethernet.

I recently followed suggestions in various forums to try upsampling everything streamed to two of my DACs to DSD256. I was very pleased with the SQ, especially on RAAT, but not with how crazy hot my CPU ran even when it was doing nothing other than upsampling music. Turns out this model Dell is known for overheating and that aftermarket cooling isn’t easy to fit if you don’t want to start cutting holes in cases. It thus might be time for a dedicated server.

I am interested in a NUC or similar form factor Intel cpu-equipped mini-PC because I want to run Windows so I can preserve my investments in Audirvana and JRiver. I like Roon SQ at DSD256, but I am not confident that I always will be a subscriber, so I am not looking for something dedicated to Roon. I am confident that I will always use JRiver to manage my metadata and library maintenance functions. I might want to try HQ Player if there’s enough horsepower. Add that I am more familiar with Windows than Linux (although I have owned Linux boxes before) and that I have limited desktop space, and a NUC in an aftermarket fanless case like this one becomes an interesting proposition for me.
(Please don’t flame me for these choices. :smile:)

http://www.akasa.com.tw/update.php?tpl=product/product.detail.tpl&no=181&type=Fanless Chassis&type_sub=Fanless NUC&model=A-NUC52-M1B

What I can’t figure out is how to choose between the various versions of the NUC out there. An i7 or even i9 seems critical for constant upsampling, but, beyond that, I don’t know which generation board to buy for this application. I note that there is a version of the Turing case for 8th generation and that the Turing FX in the link works with the 10th, but there are at least a couple versions of each generation of i7 board from which to choose. I also am not wedded to these cases if other board versions are the smart way to go and there are other good fanless cases available for them. I also am not wedded to the NUC itself, as noted above.

Is there any particular board version or US-available mini-PC that’s most useful for an audio application?

I expect to use an m.2 ssd for the OS and a spare 1TB 2.5" ssd just to get it out of my closet. 16gb minimum RAM.

Thanks for your help.

Check out the PrimeMini4. It’s based on one of the supported Intel NUCs, but comes with a fanless case that works. It’s mildly warm most of the time and only becomes warm like a heating if you scan your whole library.

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Thank you, @Rohangis_Mohseni . Looks like what I had in mind, although I was hoping to stay below US$1000 by doing the assembly myself.

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Mike, if you want to do the assembly yourself then take a look at the HDPlex cases and power supplies. You can assemble a very nice and powerful media PC, totally silent and passively cooled. For my Roon core server I used the H3V3 chassis, with an Asus mini-ITX motherboard, Core i5-8600 CPU, 16 GB RAM, M.2 SSD for OS and Roon and a SATA SSD for music files. I also installed a S/PDIF bracket to have coax and TOSLINK output, and a WiFi card to be able to integrate the core server into my WiFi network, even if this is officially advised against. I run this server with Ubuntu Linux, but Windows certainly is an easy option.

My DAC is connected via TOSLINK directly to this server and works very well. I am happy with this setup… it’s rugged, expandable, keeps cool and looks reasonably nice.

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An i3 is amazingly powerful, especially with small to medium libraries and DSP to just one or two end points. An i7 will be needed for much larger libraries and more extensive DSP (more endpoints.
Since you did not mention a library of 100,000s of tracks or a desire to use HQPlayer, I can’t imagine what advantages would come from an i9.
The major versions you’ll see used are Intel NUC8ix boxes in the short BEH or tall BNH configurations.

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Couldn’t a problem arise if you don’t use a supported NUC? The official HowTo warns that they don’t guarantee that ROCK will continue to work on unsupported systems.

I don’t use ROCK. Didn’t want to. I wanted a fully functional OS I can administrate and over which I have control. I use Ubuntu Linux, the OP wishes to use Windows 10…

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Thank you, @Andreas_Philipp1. Yours sounds like a great setup. I don’t think I emphasized enough, though, that I really am seeking a mini form factor because this unit will have to sit on the only unused corner of my desk. While the HDPlex case looks great - and I already am running HDPlex LPS units - I don’t think I have that much room to spare. I will measure more carefully, though, and see if I can squeeze in something as large as the HDPlex case. I certainly would have more options if I determine that I do have that much space.

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Yes. I prefer the passive cooling capacity of a case a little bigger than a NUC case, and the expandability this system gives you over a little NUC board. I am happy with my setup.

Thank you, Scott. As it happens, I have about 5tb of music, much of which I probably won’t ever get through, but it makes for a tough grind if the computer doesn’t have enough horsepower.

I thought an i7 would be a safe choice because I am upsampling to DSD256 everything I stream to two of my DACs that love that input. My current i7 has plenty of headroom for doing that (usually a 2x or above) but it runs freaking hot, exceeding 80c sometimes when set at 100% in power management. I therefore usually run it add 99%, which keeps temps below 50c.

I also read Kal Rubinson’s review of the Nucleus+, in which he said that it choked on DSD upsampling his large library despite having some (unknown) flavor of i7. I therefore thought it unlikely that a lesser processor makes little sense in my application.

My other thought was that I like having the i7 headroom, but would appreciate better heat management. Some of the fanless designs look like one big heatsink, so I assumed that a dedicated powerful computer, having only one function and better vented, would do the same job as my Dell XPS 8930 but at 100% power and without running quite so hot.

I would prefer to avoid an i9 for economic reasons, but was open to the idea if smarter people than I thought it a good recommendation. Sounds as though you think I might not even need that much horsepower.

Thanks for the link to the ROCK thread.

My (fanless) PrimeMini 4 i7 temperature operates at 35 degree C.

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Is that with Windows, ROCK, or another OS?

It’s running ROCK

You might want to look at some of custom builds from users like @andybob and @lkjhgdaa. If you are pushing the limits of what an i7 in a desktop build can do, NUCs might not get 'er done for you. Doesn’t hurt to get that perspective

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I’m definitely not one of the smarter people you mention here (@andybob and @grossmsj tick those boxes!) but…

I think Kal @mitr had some issues with upsampling DSD64 to DSD256 (and downsampling in reverse) and with multiple channels. Look at his Roon signal path:

https://www.stereophile.com/content/music-round-96-roon-dolby-atmos-page-2

I saw you mentioned you have two DSD upsampling Roon Zones. But are you upsampling to DSD to both of these zones at the same time? Or only one zone at a time?

If you are upsampling to DSD256 to one 2-channel zone at any one time, I don’t think a NUC8i7BEH would have any issues.

Since you want to run Win10, I’d really like to recommend an i9-9900 in a big Fractal Design case with big Noctua fan (much quieter than you’d think). But I see you mentioned size & space is an issue.

Small Green Computer do make an i9-9900 in a fanless case (so it’s silent) but it’s a little pricey:

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Definitely not ticking any smarter boxes here. You guys must be thinking of @rugby and @wizardofoz.

This is my current server build. I’ve since added a 5TB HD for storage. It’s only an i7 7700 (not K) with a GTX-970 CUDA, but in HQPlayer it does 256 DSD with EC mods and 512 DSD with xtr-2s filters.

The server runs Windows 10 with a lot of stuff turned off. It only runs RoonServer, HQPlayer and a monitor program. The only problem I have with Windows is that it develops audio hiccups when it wants to upgrade. I could turn autoupgrades off, but I’m happy for it to happen when I power it down. If I forget to power it down then it backs up Roon to a USB stick overnight, which is a kind of fail-happy system.

This server is not silent. The AIO block clicks softly and the radiator has push-pull fans on either side. But silence isn’t a problem because it’s in another room. It runs quite cool, about 45-60 C.

If I was building it again, I’d just use a normal form factor. The mini-ITX is cute, but it’s an expense I could have saved. If anyone is going to use this case then pick an AIO with a lower profile block. The Corsair fits, but it’s a very tight squeeze.

I haven’t had any experience of running multiple DSD 256 streams in Roon, but my guess is that an i7 or i9 would handle two. Roon DSP is optimised for computing efficiency.

HQPlayer, however, is optimised for SQ and has selectable software options well beyond the capability of any current desktop rig. I believe it is limited to a single output stream.

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@Mike_Rubin, what endpoints are you playing to now?
If you are just starting Roon, and love the upsampling already, it’s easy to envision you’ll enjoy convolution filters for room correction, or something similar. I mention this because the combination of DSD upsampling and further DSP (like convolution filters) gets very hard on the CPUs. On top of that, Roon is designed to devote one core to DSP, which can be overrode to split it between two. Take home is you can be driving the CPUs pretty hard. But I don’t know what all the extra cores of an i9 will do for you (they are handy for HQPlayer).
I also don’t know what the thermal trade-off is between a well-ventillated case that’s hidden away vs a closed box with heat sinks. Many of us use RoonServer run headless and tuck it away somewhere, letting ethernet (or wireless) drive our endpoints.

The much higher (25% higher) max boost speed of an i9-9900 (not the additional cores) may have helped Kal, with the example he shared in Stereophile?

Maybe?

That sure would help, I should think. But I only know enough to be dangerous. :slightly_frowning_face:

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For a Roon only box, I can easily recommend a NUC. I built a couple fanless ones.

But if you want the box doing other things also, I’m really surprised at the cost and how quiet my i9-9900K build turned out. Well I’ve since given it to my old man (dad) now but it was mine :grin:

It’s so quiet, I would have no problem having it inside the listening room… something I would probably never do again but if I had no option, it wouldn’t be an audible issue at all. That surprised me. And that’s with high CPU loading sh!t with HQPlayer, that actually runs close to 5GHz max speed for 2 cores.

I compare that to my original NUC’s (in their original cases), laptops and Mac’s I used to used inside the listening rooms - that all ended up sounding like vacuum cleaners when doing DSP !

  • i9-9900K
  • ASRock Phantom Gaming 4 motherboard (cheap!)
  • Fractal Design R6 (good airflow, good sound reduction)
  • Noctua NH-D14 fan (big fan @ low/normal speed with excellent airflow, so quiet!)
  • Seasonic 750W PSU (in case I add a big RTX 2080Ti GPU later, if HQPlayer needs it)

I’m gonna have to build another machine for myself soon and I’ll probably just build the exact same. I wouldn’t gain any new functionality with 10900K (and suitable motherboard) for the higher price.

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