NUC8i3 vs. 2017 iMac i5 - definitely not as snappy

I’ve been running Roon Core on my 2017 iMac (3 Ghz i5, 16GB RAM, SSD) and finally made the plunge moving to a NUC8i3 w/8GB RAM, Samsung EVO m.2 SSD and ROCK. The same SSD is being used for library storage.

So far ROCK is running well but UI responsiveness is definitely slower than the iMac, which I realize is quite a bit more powerful but I wasn’t expecting it to matter so much given that the NUC8i3 is plenty fast benchmark-wise. Specifically, any type of navigation like switching between playlists or viewing albums takes a bit longer to render, maybe a few hundred ms so not a big deal but noticeable enough to not feel as snappy, and search is definitely quite a bit slower.

My library isn’t that big (12k tracks) so I don’t think that’s the issue - I just underestimated just how much difference the slower NUC would make. Perhaps I should have gotten the i7? I was really trying to minimize power and fan noise and figured if I’m not running DSP or anything it wouldn’t matter since single-threaded performance on the i3 is quite good. Somehow I doubt the i7 will get me back up to the level of responsiveness of the iMac, but curious if anyone has thoughts or optimization tips.

The Mac for comparison:

Has the ROCK completed analysis?

Are you using the same Roon Remote to compare the ROCK and Mac, not comparing a Roon Remote against Mac GUI?

I’ve always said people who don’t want fan noise should get a fanless chassis. Downgrading is not correct IMHO for the goal of lowering fan noise.

Yes and yes. iPad Air for remote.

Yeah, I considered the options but didn’t really like them. I’m ok with a little fan noise but I wasn’t convinced the i7 would be necessary for my use case given the benchmarking numbers I saw. Single threaded the i3 seems just as fast if not faster but I didn’t factor in caching, buses, etc. It seems more likely to be a difference in I/O speed though?

If you’re observing descreased UI responsiveness even when not playing using the dual core ROCK against the quad core Mac, I’m a little surprised with your report too especially with Roon OS optimization:

Edit: just read your other post Anyone get a NUC8 (Bean Canyon) yet?
I don’t think your signal path falls into the category of non-DSP users who do not need to worry about CPU performance.

That’s true, but I actually just enabled DSP tonight for fun (and because I have a speaker that’s a little lean) and don’t normally run it - I figured I’d report it for those interested. Normally I run zero DSP and while I do play DSD, most of the material is 16/44 or 24/96. Also to your point above, even with nothing playing the UI is noticeably less responsive than my iMac. Hence why I’m wondering if the NUCs are just more I/O bound than faster desktops, since it seems like mostly a memory access thing, but pure conjecture… :man_shrugging:

Which i3 exactly?

I think it’s this dual core i3:

versus this quad core i5:

Benchmarks show the i5 to be better in pretty much all measures but I am still surprised there is an obvious difference in user experience. My guess is that it’s performance in its low power modes lets it down a little but that is conjecture on my part.

Many Roon users started out with a Mac Mini, iMac, or something similar to run Roon. IMO the alternatives have been somewhat oversold.

One can minimize background operations on a full-function computer and still have a high performance music server (with the option of re-purposing it for something else later). You may be able to buy (or just keep using) a full-function computer with faster chips and more RAM for less money than you’d pay for a dedicated high-quality server.

I’ve tried both approaches. Not saying a separate, dedicated server is necessarily a bad idea … only that it won’t necessarily deliver all the expected bang for the buck.

I am not surprised. I have found that the user experience gets better with a faster processor (on the core) and a true graphics card if running the GUI. I only run Roon on desktop i7’s, both clients and cores. When I setup an i5 NUC, it was the first time in my use of Roon, that I had ever seen the Roon logo waiting screen. I was like “What the heck is this?” LOL.

That’s good info. From a technical perspective, I’d like to understand why. As the OP says, max CPU frequency is not that much different. I’m suspecting a lower usual frequency for non-heavy usage for mobile CPU, BIOS fan options limiting the frequency as Henry suggested (I tried to find Intel document to prove this theory but not succesful yet), Roon OS governor favoring low frequency when not stressed, or something in Roon that favors more cores even when not analyzing and not playing.

I always tell people to buy NUC8i7BEH with fanless chassis for Roon ever since NUC8 became compatible.

Hm, let me try setting the NUC to performance CPU mode or whatever in BIOS and see if it improves. It does seem like it might be throttling CPU to keep temps down (the fan barely runs). I just need to steal a keyboard from work again, I haven’t owned a regular keyboard in years #appleproblems

@Rugby and yes, I see the splash screen a lot. What’s particularly slow is when I foreground the iOS app after some idle time, and it needs to refresh the view. It takes a couple seconds, pretty sure it was < 1s with the iMac. I’m not sure I’m willing to go all out just for a Roon Core but I suppose if it annoys me too much I might have to consider an i7 Mac Mini or Windows machine… just seems so highly unnecessary :slight_smile:

This sounds like one of those instances where having multiple physical cores (the i3 is a 2-core machine) may be important. I’m running RoonServer on a much less powerful machine with 4 physical cores. I never see such delays.

Hm, ok. I will report back after tuning the bios.

I suppose more cores could help but I’m curious what could be so well parallelized/threaded in basic access and rendering operations to benefit so obviously from the cores. I assumed this stuff was mostly I/O heavy… I supposed there’s quite a bit of parsing and such going on and I must commend Roon for the impressive threading optimizations if that’s the case. :stuck_out_tongue:

Right now, on my Roon Core machine, Roon is running 108 threads for 5 processes. And that’s with only one zone playing.

Interested to see any updates to this thread. I am running Roon ROCK on the NUC8i3 and have lately noticed some issues - admittedly when asking it to do a lot of work.

I was comparing DACs and was trying to send the same MQA signal to a PS Audio DirectStream DAC over the network and an Oppo 205 over USB connected directly to the NUC - while Chromecasting to my display. My library is stored on NAS. The display and PS Audio worked fine, but the USB to the Oppo was getting lots of dropouts.

I’ve been considering building an AMD Ryzen desktop to run my core in another room as I can build it much more cheaply than the NUC8i7.

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Does Roon still recommend against a NAS? I ruled this out from the get-go. An internal drive will definitely improve performance a lot, maybe less so for the actual playback part but I have to imagine it’ll reduce some overhead. I’m not sure how efficient the network controller on the NUC is, but using local disk will eliminate some CPU usage.

Connecting the DAC directly via USB also seems to be recommended against though in terms of I/O and performance I’m not sure this is any better or worse than network streaming. RaaT likely does a better job buffering and could be more resilient to dropouts.

My keyboard comes tomorrow so I will try tuning BIOS settings then and report back. :slight_smile:

Since the NUC can only accept thin internal drives, I did not consider going that way because I’m close to the 1TB limit of data that the drives that fit can hold. I tried a USB drive directly connected, but the NUC can’t read USB and send output to USB at the same time.

I am using USB for the Oppo because I have DSF files and the Oppo 205 cannot accept DSD signals over the RaaT protocol. It can only accept DSD using DoP over USB.

This is why I am considering building another computer for the Core and re-purposing the NUC as a Roon Bridge.

Well then, you’ll certainly be glad to learn both WD (WD20SPZX) and Seagate (ST2000LM015) make 2Tb 2,5" drives that should fit. If you need more, you could of course also spend some of that other-computer-for-core money and get an SSD (pricey, but those’ll go up to 4Tb in the size you’re looking at).

I think the limit for a 7mm 2.5" spinning drive at the moment is 2TB. Seagate Barracuda ST2000LM015 is one option.