I’m on a new computer kick.
For most of my computing career I wanted the biggest, baddest machine I could afford. Generally this meant large towers with lots of expandability options and the fastest processors I could lay my hands on.
However, over the last year, looking at the latest processor specs I realized that I no longer needed the fastest processors on all machines. My work-load had evolved. With my trading activity trending towards less activity and higher time-frames, I could make do with 4 cores, 8 threads and a 3 GHZ processor.
This realization opened some interesting doors.
Principally that I could possibly use small form-factor PCs now.
As long as the real-world processor speed matches the theoretical specs and I can do with a maximum of 6 displays.
So, for this experiment I’m replacing my secondary machine with the top-of-the-line NUC where I aim to use all 6 displays that the NUC can theoretically drive.
For comparison, I am replacing a machine with the following configuration:
- An intel i7-4770K @ 3.5 Ghz
- 16 GB RAM
- 4 Magnetic HD @ 2 TB Each
- 1 SSD (boot drive) @ 513 GB.
- Display Cards: 2 x Nvdia GT 610 and 1 x Nvdia GTX 760
The replacement NUC 8i7HVK has:
- An intel i7-8709G @ 3.1 Ghz (base)
- 32 GB RAM
- 1 SSD @ 1 TB (boot drive)
- Six displays
To this configuration I will add a couple of external Seagate SlimLine 2 and 5 TB USB drives and use mini-display-ports and thunder-bolt 3 adapters to drive up to six HDMI monitors.
I ordered the NUK 8i7HVK along with a 1 TB Samsung EVO 870 and a couple of 16 GB sticks of SODIMM. On a desktop, installing these two items would be a piece of cake. On the NUK, it was a new experience – one that involved a lot of smaller screws and a hex wrench.
It seems that the smaller the computer, the more specialized the equipment needed. A hex wrench isn’t necessarily a foreign tool – but when all you usually need is a phillips screw-driver, the hex wrench requirement qualifies as ‘specialized’.
The NUK arrived with its own hex wrench which was very convenient. It was required in order to remove the 5 screws from the outer-case. I have no idea why those screws couldn’t be phillips screws but oh well.
Inside the case, I had to remove another single screw to gain access to the SSD slot and the SODIMM slots. That screw required a phillips-head screwdriver!
From there it was a piece of cake. Slip the 2 SODIMMS into their slots along with the M.2 Samsung SSD and close it all up.
I powered it on and…it worked. You have no idea how unique this experience is – usually a new computer where I’m installing parts requires multiple attempts at booting before it’ll work. This required a single attempt! So, yay me?
But it still needed an OS. It took longer to download the OS from MSDN, figure out that I needed an NTFS partition on the USB stick to hold a file that large and that the boot process on the NUK can accommodate an NTFS partition for booting.
Driving Six Displays?
Now for the fun part – can this thing really drive six displays at 1920×1080? And be stable?
For this to work, I at least needed:
- 2 thunderbolt-to-HDMI adapters
- 2 mini-displayport-to-HDMI adapters
Unfortunately for me, I only had displayport-to-HDMI adapters so I was initially stuck with testing on four monitors.
But this is where things got harder. It was relatively smooth sailing up to this point.
On a regular desktop I would install the graphic cards, plug the monitors in and go. On this NUK, plugging in the 4 monitors only resulted in one being available. It took a bit of poking around to realize I needed to explicitly download and install Radeon drivers from Intel.
Doing that resulted in two additional screens being available immediately. So I needed to figure out how to get the fourth monitor running.
I started by updating all the Intel drivers, using their scan utility to identify items that had new drivers. This got me a list of 7 drivers from various manufacturers all being installed under a master Intel installation program. Then the computer needed to be restarted to update the BIOS.
After the restart I still could not get the 4th monitor to work. But re-checking the cables after about 15 mins of futzing around revealed that it wasn’t connected. DUH!
Connecting the cable properly got me 4 monitors working. Yay!
Time to install Tradestation and see if that would work properly. Tradestation is probably the most compute intensive program I run so this is the ultimate test of whether this tiny PC can replace a tower more than 10 times it’s size.
Two Extra Monitors
A couple of days later the thunderbolt-to-hdmi cables arrived and I was able to add the additional two monitors. I just plugged them in and….they worked? Crazy!
The NUK, SSD, Memory and Monitor adapters cost a grand total of $1504.67. This is less than half of what I would normally pay for a new machine outfitted with the latest of everything. The fact that I can run what I need on it with no issues is nothing short of impressive!
Lets see if I can keep it up over a 30 day period!
The NUK itself disappears on the desk in a sea of all the monitors…
Resource: A list of all 8th Gen NUK kits.