Silent computing systems are preferable for a multitude of use-cases ranging from industrial applications (where dust and fans make for a troublesome configuration) to noiseless HTPCs (particularly for audiophiles). Akasa has been providing thermal solutions in multiple computing verticals for more than 20 years, with a particular focus on passive cooling. Akasa targeted the NUC form-factor early, with the introduction of the Newton chassis for Ivy Bridge NUCs in early 2013. Last year, the company unveiled the Turing fanless case for the Bean Canyon NUCs. It marked a complete re-design of their NUC solution. This review takes a look at the build process and performance characteristics of a NUC8i5BEK board in the Turing chassis.

Introduction

Use-cases for many silent or decade long deployment computing systems require the complete absence of any moving parts. In industrial deployments, the reason may be the need to avoid performance loss due to cooling efficiency degradation resulting from dust build-up. For professional creators, it may be due to the need to avoid extraneous noise affecting the work output. The average home consumer may also prefer a silent system to better focus on the work at hand. For HTPCs, multimedia content can be enjoyed without distractions - an aspect that may be of paramount importance to audiophiles.

Traditionally, passively cooled computing systems have either been woefully underpowered for general purpose use, or carried a significant premium in terms of both cost and physical footprint. Recent advancements in compute performance per watt and novel passive cooling chassis designs (that do not cost an arm and a leg to mass-produce) have combined to give consumers the ability to create powerful, yet affordable, fanless systems. Akasa has been offering passively-cooled cases for NUC boards since 2013.

Akasa Fanless NUC Cases - A Brief History

Akasa introduced their first NUC fanless chassis for the Ivy Bridge NUC, and quickly expanded their offerings to include standard desktop, low-profile, and waterproof models. Since then, each generation has seen variants of the same chassis with a few tweaks. Once ever few years, the company has thrown in some interesting re-designs. Broadly speaking, the fanless NUC cases from Akasa fall into one of these families:

  • Newton
  • Tesla
  • Pascal (IP65)
  • Plato (low profile)
  • Turing

The Plato models are low-profile (38.5mm in height), while the Pascal models are IP65-rated (waterproof). The Turing has a contemporary design. Almost all of the recent models support 2.5" drive bays. The Akasa offerings for various NUCs are summarized in the table below.

Akasa Fanless NUC Cases
Chassis Model NUC Generation Notes
Newton
Newton V
Tesla
Pascal
3rd Gen. (Ivy Bridge) NUCs V model for the vPro Ivy Bridge NUC
Newton H
Tesla H
Newton X
4th Gen. (Haswell) NUCs Tesla H includes 2x 2.5" drive bays
Newton T
Tesla T
Bay Trail Atom (Embedded) NUC Newton T is taller, while Tesla T is wider
Newton L Bay Trail Celeron NUC  
Newton MC
Newton S
Plato MC
Plato
Plato X
Max S
Max MT
Pascal MC
5th Gen. (Broadwell) NUCs Max S includes a rear serial port and an ODD bay
Max MT includes a rear serial port and two 2.5" SATA trays
Newton MC includes a front serial port
Newton S includes a rear serial port
Plato low-profile cases support i3 and i5 models, X supports i7 in addition
Pascal MC supports only the i3 model
Newton P Braswell NUCs  
Newton S6
Plato X6
Max MT6
5th Gen. (Broadwell) NUCs & 6th Gen (Skylake) NUCs Replaceable front and rear panels to support both 5th and 6th Gen. non-i7 NUCs
Characteristics similar to the non-6 variants
Newton S6T 6th Gen (Skylake) NUCs Support for non-i7 Skylake NUCs only
Similar to Newton S6 except for the power switch and LED being on the top panel instead of the front
Galactico Skull Canyon NUC  
Newton AC Apollo Lake Celeron NUC  
Newton S7
Plato X7
Pascal MD
7th Gen (Kaby Lake) NUCs  
Newton S7D
Newton D3
Plato X7D
Pascal MC3
7th Gen (Kaby Lake & Kaby Lake-R) NUCs D3 includes a front serial port, while S7D has it in the rear panel
Newton JC Gemini Lake NUCs  
Plato X8
Pascal BC
Turing
8th Gen (Coffee Lake) NUCs Turing is a contemporary re-imagination of a fanless NUC chassis
Plato PX
Newton PX
8th Gen (Whiskey Lake) Pro NUCs  
Turing FX 10th Gen (Comet Lake) NUCs Contemporary Turing design with updated I/O panels

The unit we are looking at today is the first Bean Canyon NUC Akasa Turing chassis. As mentioned in the Frost Canyon NUC review, the Bean Canyon NUC offers a better all-round package. With the introduction of the 10nm Ice Lake processors with a leap in graphics capabilities and the incoming mini-PCs based on that, the Bean Canyon models currently in the retail channel may offer excellent value for money (given that they are going to be discounted). As we shall see in the rest of the review, the Akasa Turing can act as the perfect case for users looking to silence the Bean Canyon NUC.

 

Setting the Stage

Akasa had provided us with a review sample of the Turing from the first batch last year, and Intel sent us the NUC8i5BEK (Core i5-based Bean Canyon NUC) for use with the Turing. This provided us with the opportunity to look at the performance characteristics of the actively cooled version and compare it against the Turing-based passively cooled one for the same BIOS settings and internal hardware configuration.

A judicious choice of build components tuned for low-power and energy-efficient operation is advisable for passively-cooled builds. Towards that, we chose DDR4 SODIMMs that had a maximum operating frequency corresponding to the qualified memory type for the NUC8i5BEK. On the storage side, we chose a DRAM-less entry-level NVMe SSD with good power efficiency.

  • G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-SODIMM (F4-2400C16S-8GRS)
  • Western Digital SN500 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe SSD

Note that these components are from the time of the build last year - Since then, WD has introduced the SN550 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD as an update for the same entry-level segment.

This review will not go into the hardware features of the Bean Canyon NUC. For that, readers may refer to the review of the NUC8i7BEH - the version with a Core i7 processor. The Core i5 version being looked at today carries over all the features that matter - a 28W TDP processor with four cores and eight threads, Iris Plus Graphics with integrated eDRAM, USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) support on all external Type-A ports, a single Thunderbolt 3 port, and 4Kp60 support with HDCP 2.2 on the HDMI port. This configuration will serve users well even with the Tiger Lake NUCs on the horizon, particularly for non-HTPC applications. Unless 8K playback and AV1 hardware acceleration are needed, the Bean Canyon NUCs can do an excellent job even for HTPCs.


Size Comparison of NUC vs Akasa Turing Silent

We put the standard kit through our benchmarking process first. Following that, we disassembled the unit, and transferred the board to the Akasa Turing. The same benchmarks were processed again on the Turing build. The power consumption and thermal stress tests were performed on both units. In addition to the comparison between the actively-cooled and passively-cooled versions of the NUC8i5BEB, we also consider some of the other passively cooled PCs reviewed earlier, as well as a couple of other recent UCFF NUCs. In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Intel NUC8i5BEB (Akasa Turing) when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Intel NUC8i5BEB (Akasa Turing)
CPU Intel Core i5-8259U Intel Core i5-8259U
GPU Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655
RAM G.Skill Ripjaws F4-2400C16-8GRS DDR4 SODIMM
16-16-16-40 @ 2400 MHz
2x8 GB
G.Skill Ripjaws F4-2400C16-8GRS DDR4 SODIMM
16-16-16-40 @ 2400 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Western Digital WD Blue WDS500G1B0C
(500 GB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2; SanDisk 64L 3D TLC)
Western Digital WD Blue WDS500G1B0C
(500 GB; M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2; SanDisk 64L 3D TLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9560
(2x2 802.11ac - 1733 Mbps)
(Not usable - Missing antennae)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9560
(2x2 802.11ac - 1733 Mbps)
(Not usable - Missing antennae)
Price (in USD, when built) $314 (barebones)
$134 (Akasa Turing kit)
$568 (as configured)
$314 (barebones)
$134 (Akasa Turing kit)
$568 (as configured)

Prior to a discussion of the performance characteristics of the passively-cooled configuration, it is worthwhile to take a look at the build process for the machine. This is followed by a couple of sections devoted to the benchmark numbers for various workloads in order to determine if going the fanless route entails leaving out some performance potential on the table. A section on the HTPC aspects and a detailed discussion of the power consumption and thermal performance of the build precedes the concluding remarks.

Build Process
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  • Hulk - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    Great review. I'm very critical regarding computer noise and built a system using a Seasonic fanless power supply, Noctua cooler with 120mm fan and one 120mm case fan, both Noctua fans. I run the fans at about 1000rpm and the system noise is below my ability to hear unless I put my ear next to the case, and even then it's tough to hear anything. This is a "normal" 4770k non overclocked and it runs fine stock.
    My point is that I suggest anyone needing a silent system might be able to go with a passive power supply, large CPU air cooler, and quiet low rpm fans. You'll get virtually the same result for less money and a more powerful system.
    Reply
  • emgarf - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    Completely agree. It's not "portable", but I always build my systems in a full-size ATX tower and install 2x 140mm front intake, 1x 140mm bottom intake, and 1x 140mm rear exhaust Noctua fans. That way I can run them all at 700-800 rpm and maintain acceptable temps and essentially silent operation. I also usually oversize the (titanium-rated) power supply so that its fan never comes on in normal (< 50% capacity) operation. Reply
  • Hulk - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    Yup. A number of large, high quality fans run at low rpm are virtually silent and move enough air to keep temps down. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    ‘Virtually silent’ is a vague concept. People with partial hearing loss may label quite noisy things in that manner. I also don’t know to what degree what someone notices is a 1:1 correspondence with what can irritate the person’s hearing.

    Droning fans, even when quieter than some noise sources, can be more irritating for a person with tinnitus. I presume this is due to a lack of rest intervals. High frequency emissions may also play a role. Some ball bearing fans are tuned to emit high frequencies.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    Many people also live in places with high levels of ambient noise pollution. Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - link

    You're right about the vague concept. The fans they're describing will be running with FDB bearings, though, and not running at a speed that would produce any human-audible droning at common operating distances (1m+), assuming the sort of noise floor you'd expect in even a very quiet household environment.

    I'm not just stating that as an opinion - it's the sort of conclusion SPCR used to come to with their testing, and it's also my personal experience from building similar systems and testing them in quiet environments (quiet house, no HVAC, not near main roads).
    Reply
  • AT_comma - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    Look a lot like the new Xbox form factor. Perhaps made also to stay in place. Reply
  • Maksdampf - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    I am pretty sure the Akasa Turing was designed to sit upright, not flat on the table. Upright position increases the thermal performance by a significant margin, even though it is already quite good thanks to the beefy heatsink.

    The way it was tested by Anandtech only uses the upper half of the heatsink for convection, the two lower parts are basically dummies with no possibility for natural airflow whatsoever.
    Positioning the Case upright should not only improve overall thermal performance, but also speed up the cooldown time and improve the ssd temperatures a bit.

    Apparently Akasa designed this to embedded standards, as there are no holes in the sides of the motherboard compartment which would improve airflow along the SSD due to natural convection, but would also be susceptible to Dust. A feature that is very liked in dusty Enviroments like industrial manufacturing, or weathery semi-outdoor applications etc.
    Dust is one of the major drawbacks to "almost noiseless" fan designs like the one Hulk mentions in his Post below.
    Reply
  • dontlistentome - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    Maybe, but my 2 previous cases, the orientation made little difference in my room with no active air circulation. There's just not enough convection to cool the 30-40w heat coming from such a small area. Reply
  • The Von Matrices - Monday, October 26, 2020 - link

    Look at the logos on the case. They're designed for the case to be horizontal, like it was reviewed. Reply

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