Portrait of Jacinth
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Roadmap for Hardware Upgrades

Jim Carter, 2018-01-16

Jacinth (CompuLab fit-PC3 LP) was purchased on 2014-02-25, 4 years ago. The machine is starting to get quirky; for example Claude (its VM) several times went catatonic with high CPU utilization, which doesn't happen on other VM hosts. Moving Claude to another host fixed that problem, but Jacinth is mission critical, and we need to plan our response when it goes belly up (like Diamond did). I want to buy the replacement now, replace in an orderly fashion, and relegate the fit-PC3 LP to a hot spare role.

A lot of machines are getting old and showing their age. I need to plan what to do with them overall, not just responding to dead machines in a rush.

Current Machines

We currently (2018-01-06) have these physical machines:


The home server. Wild side router, wireless access point, VPNs, home automation, private webserver, music and photo hosting, mail, directory master (DNS, LDAP, Kerberos), and many other services. CompuLab fit-PC3 LP from 2014-02-04 (4 years old).


Alice's desktop machine, directory slave, backups, distro storage (online updates). Intel NUC 7i5BNH from 2017-12-24; its previous incarnation recently died. Hosts VM Baobei (not for long).


Windows, for tax preparation and accounting. It's currently a virtual machine on Diamond. But a recent update to qemu caused reliability problems.


Home theater, video and audio playback, VM hosting. Intel NUC 5i5RYH from 2016-01-27 (2 years old). Hosts these VMs: Claude (wild side webserver), Oso (development).


Jim's laptop. Directory slave, so it can operate when isolated from the local network. Acer Aspire E5-573H-52G3 from 2016-02-15 (2 years old). Hosts VM Petra for development.


Audio playback. Zotac Zbox AD03BR from 2012-03-16 (6 years old).


Jim's desktop (rarely used), hot spare. CompuLab Fit-PC3 Pro from 2014-07-17 (3.5 years old).

Additional active machines not covered by the upgrade plans:

Proposed Changes

Requirements for the various machines:


Jacinth has a lot of services, but does not need a lot of CPU power. At one time it ran on a Koolu (AMD Geode @300MHz). It runs 24/7 and needs low electrical power more than high CPU power.


Diamond is brand new, i.e. it's already been upgraded.


Baobei runs Microsoft Windows-10, for tax and accounting software that is not available on Linux. It is currently a virtual machine on Diamond. But a recent update to qemu caused reliability problems. Formerly (2017-09-xx) it would not boot; now it boots fine but will not shut down, and it causes qemu to hang in a system call in such a way that a normal shutdown of the host (Diamond) is also impossible. Since it is mission critical, we're going to move it to bare metal. It needs moderate resources, i.e. it doesn't have to be a compute server, but bottom of the line (in CPU and electrical power) isn't going to fly either.


Iris has way more than enough CPU power for the home theater role. But there's a nasty quirk: the firmware in both video capture devices can't deal with a sleeping machine, so Iris has to run 24/7. And it's not exactly lightweight on power. If this could be improved that would be great.


No plans for hardware upgrades here. Actually if I could upgrade to something with an IPS display, that would be a very nice luxury, but Xena is usable if I stay away from graphic arts.


Kermit is the oldest machine in the house and one of the higher power consumers despite its meager CPU power. For audio playback it needs to be adjacent to the speakers, i.e. a virtual machine won't do. I'm planning on replacing it with a modern low power machine.


Aurora is doing fine in its role of sleeping 24/7 as a hot spare. It was used successfully to replace temporarily the old Diamond when it died. I'm going to keep Aurora as-is.


It looks like the long term strategy should be to replace Jacinth, Kermit and maybe Iris with a machine with these requirements. Many are directed at a possible Iris replacement.

What about replacing Kermit with a Raspberry Pi? Pros:


I do want to get a Raspberry Pi in here, but in the future, not in this campaign.

Order of upgrades:

Picking the Machine

The 8th generation Celerons and Pentia are due out in 2018 first quarter and promise substantial performance gains over 7th and 6th generations. But this doesn't mean that NUC motherboards will be available in 2018 1Q, and also, new chipsets have quirks which the kernel needs to take into account, which won't happen until the actual hardware is available. We can't wait for the gen8 chips; we need to get what's available today.

The new Jacinth is going to be on 24/7, and the same for Iris unless I figure out something miraculous, and Kermit needs very little CPU power. I've found that the current Intel Core i3-5-7 processors and motherboards give a lot higher CPU performance, at the cost of higher electrical power. So I'm targeting the Celeron design. I want virtual hosting capability, and that lets out all the Atom processors.

We have a policy of preferring machines sold by and shipped from Amazon, because of a payment method that satisfies our paranoia; competent shipping; and a fair and relatively hassle-free return policy. Other vendors may be slightly cheaper, but with Amazon we're paying extra for the listed features.

Searching on Amazon for Intel NUC with these restrictions: Prime eligible, brand Intel (excludes more than half the hits), seller Amazon, leaving us with 18 hits. I could include only Celerons and Pentiums, but I don't see the words for the processor type in the descriptions, so I'm excluding the Core i3-5-7 by hand. Here's a brief listing of the survivors.

Most of the hits are rejected: NUC5CPYH is the predecessor of the NUC6CAYH and is substantially less capable. I'm not familiar with the Compute Sticks and they look like they don't offer me the features I'm looking for; further research confirms this.

Investigating the BOXNUC6CAYH on Amazon. It has a Celeron J3455 and Intel HD Graphics 500. No memory, disc or OS. (A version prestuffed with all of these is available.) Quad core CPU @2.3GHz. (From other source: @1.5GHz with turbo boost up to 2.3GHz.) 4K graphics, HDMI-2.0. 4x USB-3.0 ports. Visible ports, front: 2x USB-3.0 (1 charging), 4-wire 3.5mm audio jack, power button, dual mic. Rear: 2x USB-3.0, separate audio, HDMI, VGA, RJ45, power. Side: full size SD card slot, Kensington lock slot.

Fly in ointment: The NUC6CAYH was a best seller on Amazon. On 2018-01-16 I ordered another one, but it was DOA, hiss, boo! Returned, successfully. I tried to order another one on 2018-01-25, it was no longer available on Amazon. Now what? Speculation: the 8th generation Celerons are due out in 1st quarter 2018, and they're clearing the decks for this product line. Update: on 2018-01-29 it's back on Amazon, back ordered, expected to ship 2 days future.

Intel's product page for the Celeron J3455:

Intel's product page for the NUC6CAYH:

Memory: Per Intel's compatibility guide for the NUC6CAYH, it supports 1 or 2 sticks, up to 8Gb total, 1.35V DDR3L, 1600 or 1866MHz, no ECC, single or double sided. Here are some of the Intel Validated items: I'm hoping for 1866MHz, but the approved memory is not available on Amazon.

Reviews of the NUC6CAYH

Amazon review by Linuxtuxguy: He loves his (5 stars) in a media center role. At 1080p and Windows, and 2Gb RAM, it performs meda fine. But at 4K it needs more RAM; max appears to be 2x 4Gb (total 8Gb). This is very new on the market (as of 2017-01-xx).

Amazon review by Andrew H. Mcdonald: He put memory in it: Kingston Technology HyperX Impact 8GB Kit 1600MHz DDR3L CL9 SODIMM 1.35V Laptop Memory (PC3 12800) HX316LS9IBK2/8 Black. He installed Kodi 17.6 Krypton, working fine. It does include CIR (infrared) and he's using a Logitech Harmony 650 remote control with it.

Amazon review by Jesse: He likes his (4 stars). He mentions that it has builtin Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Apollo Lake NUC Review in The NUC Blog by Olli, 2017-01-15. Lake (Apollo) identifies the chipset; Canyon (Arches) identifies the product family.

Olli gives the usual benchmark results, which I can't compare with my existing machines. It's generally about half as fast as a 6i3SYH (and about half the price). Comparing with its peers from the previous generation it is 1.3x to 2x faster.

Gotchas when Olli installed Ubuntu 16.04 and Kodi:

Making NAAs out of Intel NUCs by scan80269, 2017-07-02. A NAA is a Network Audio Adapter. As far as I can tell, it receives an audio stream via Ethernet (more properly, via TCP/IP), uses its sound card or equivalent to produce analog audio, and sends that to an amp and speakers. This is what Iris and Kermit do, needing microscopic CPU power. Bingo, he posts power consumption figures. Running Windows-10 with numerous extraneous processes suppressed. The NUC6CAYS at idle uses 2.8W; when performing audio it uses 3.3W. (He also reports for an older NUC5PPYH.) Jimc says: This is exactly the information I need, and is just the range of power consumption I was hoping for. [However jimc was not able to achieve this low power.]

Replacement of Raspberry Pi 3, OP tnemrap, 2017-05-xx. He asks for a recommendation to upgrade a Pi-3 running OpenHAB home automation. peter_juenger replies, recommending a NUC6CAYH. He did the same upgrade. Running Ubuntu Server 16.04 on the NUC. It uses about 6W.

USB Configurations

How will the USB configurations have to change on the new machines?

Kermit now has only a keyboard and mouse. The NUC has 4 USB ports which is plenty. A possible upgrade path is to get speakers that have an integrated sound card communicating by USB, rather than using the NUC's own sound card, but I'm certainly not going to do that today.

Iris is currently a NUC, and the USB geometry can be carried forward with no changes. There is only one USB bus for all the external ports. Its layout goes like this:

Jacinth is the most complicated. There is a plethora of buses that need to be kept straight due to capacity limitations; USB-3.0 may or may not help here. This is the physical geometry; looks like it can be transferred to the NUC pretty much unchanged.

New Monitor for Aurora

Aurora's monitor is 15 years old (2002-11-xx), 1280x1024px. It draws 36W when running and 4W with the power switch off or DPMS off. It's outta here! Its dimensions: 17in diagonal, 19in wide and high. DVI and VGA connectors. No USB hub.

I'm targeting an inexpensive monitor similar to the one on Diamond, which is 20in diagonal, 19in wide, 1920x1200px, IPS LCD or maybe LEDs. LED edge illumination is preferred but not required. Amazon search with filter terms: Prime eligible, 20in, 1920x1080px, SBSF Amazon. 34 hits. There are a lot from vendors I've never heard of. ViewSonic has vanished from the scene. Scanning over them, I think the best is the first one listed: HP Pavilion 21.5in IPS HDMI VGA, $90, Best Seller.

Details for the HP Pavilion 21.5in IPS HDMI VGA, $90.

Amazon reviews for the HP monitor:


4 stars. Not a stunning, perfect display for HD movies or games, but perfect for a low cost secondary display, and/or for web browsing and text work.

Gabe Tea

4 stars. Great monitor, definitely will satisfy anyone who wants to watch movies or play games. He's had it a month with no problems.


The majority of reviewers give it 5 stars. Typical comment: amazing for the price.

Usual trolls

I lost my icons! No HDMI cable included! Doesn't have builtin speakers! Etc. etc.


Nobody reports any power measurements.

Amazon Orders

Iris (ended up as Jacinth)

Same chassis, memory and disc. Item total $255.96, tax 23.94. Order placed 2018-01-16; chassis and disc received 2018-01-18 but the memory was back ordered and is coming on 2018-01-24. Gaak, the machine was dead on arrival, would not power up! Returned successfully.


Not ordered yet.

Portrait of Jacinth