Teardown and Thermal Design Analysis

Systems processed through our evaluation routine are first completely benchmarked prior to any teardowns. This ensures that we do not negatively impact any of the thermal solutions intended by the manufacturer. The details presented in this section were gathered after completing at least one benchmarking pass. However, the results of the evaluation (presented in later sections) needs significant thermal design context. Keeping that in mind, we opt to present the teardown and thermal design analysis ahead of the benchmark sections.

ECS LIVA Z3

The chassis of the ECS LIVA Z3 has a metal underside and a polycarbonate top. It is simple to disassemble - the underside is easily removed by taking out the four screws at the corners. This also needs to be done to get access to the SODIMM and M.2 2280 NVMe slots. The metal underside has a pre-mounted thermal pad to cool down any installed M.2 drive. There is also a small flap integrated on to the plate to allow for airflow.

The board has no additional mounting to the plastic top, and can be easily prised out by flexing the rear panel. Prior to that the DMICs connection to the board and the pigtail antennae connected to the M.2 WLAN card need to be disconnected.

The metallic glint on the underside of the top panel of the chassis above is highly misleading. The plastic top is completely covered and the only ventilation slots are on the sides. While the heat sink place on top of the board seems good enough to cool down a 6W TDP processor, the absence of ventilation slots on top appears strange at first glance. The closed nature makes convective cooling to draw the heat away from the thermal module challenging.

The Jasper Lake package can be seen bathed in thermal paste under the thermal module. Though Intel claims Jasper Lake to be a SoC (system-on-chip) in its documentation, we can see that it is technically a SiP (system-in-package) with two distinct dice - the processor and iGPU on top, and the Jasper Point PCH below it.

The first benchmarking pass results of the ECS LIVA Z3 were quite strange - often the system actually performed significantly worse than the ECS LIVA Z2 based on Gemini Lake. After suspecting thermal throttling due to the lack of convective cooling for the thermal module, we decided to repeat all the benchmarking for the bare board - i.e, with the top of the chassis removed and the DMICs / WLAN functionality discarded. The numbers for this configuration are referenced using ECS JSLM-MINI (the motherboard's model name) in the relevant sections.

ZOTAC ZBOX CI331 nano

ZOTAC adopts a tool-less design, with the rubber feet doubling up as screws. They can be easily removed to access the underside of the board with the SODIMM slots and 2.5" SATA drive bay.

Further disassembly requires voiding the warranty by unscrewing the metal frame that holds the SATA caddy in place along with the motherboard standoffs. The standoffs themselves need to be removed using an uncommon screwdriver bit (thankfully, had it handy in the Mushkin Redline Screwdriver Toolkit).


The rear panel can then be snapped off (held by plastic tabs). The next step involves taking out the spring-loaded screws fastening the board to the heat sink, and this leads to a free board, as shown above.

The heat sink is connected to the perforated plastic chassis using four small screws. which are straightforward to take out. The heat sink is quite heavy compared to the ECS LIVA Z3's thermal module. It has ridges right under the perforations - this allows increased area for heat dissipation, and the perforations allow for convective cooling.

Our main grouse with the thermal design of the ZBOX CI331 nano is the cooling support for the 2.5" drive. Typically, SATA drives do not get significantly hot. However, the underside of the ZBOX has almost no ventilation support. While a quantitative evaluation of the storage cooling mechanism is available in a later section, the problem in the hardware is brought out in the above picture. The green thermal pad attached to the raised block on the underside cools down the SODIMMs. The protection for the SATA drive is activated by affixing the thermal pad supplied in the package to the metal plate on the underside. However, it doesn't possess enough thickness and there is invariably an air gap between the top of the SATA drive surface and this pad. As a result, there is a bit of a compromise in the cooling for the 2.5" drive.

In the next section, we take a look at the system setup and follow it up with a detailed platform analysis.

Introduction and Product Impressions Setup Notes and Platform Analysis
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  • xol - Friday, July 8, 2022 - link

    Correction (?)

    Neither of these reviewed products has a Intel UHD Graphics 605 .. (that's a 14nm Gemini part with 18 EU eg here https://ark.intel.com/content/www/us/en/ark/produc...

    .. Intel seems to have not publisher a 'number' for this iGPU and seems to distinguish them by number of EU eg Jasper Lake 24EU eg https://www.intel.co.uk/content/www/uk/en/products...
    Reply
  • xol - Friday, July 8, 2022 - link

    Somehow messed up the link :

    UHD 605 https://ark.intel.com/content/www/us/en/ark/produc...
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, July 8, 2022 - link

    Thanks for your coverage of fanless mini-PCs. However, I really wish you'd include something with "big cores", so we can get a sense of the scale of performance difference between them and Tremont.

    Another nice-to-have would be at least a few benchmarks including a Raspberry Pi 4. However, it has serious thermal throttling issues, unless it's actively cooled or you use a substantial passive cooling solution.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, July 8, 2022 - link

    I guess the ideal comparison would be a Tiger Lake-based system, since that's the same vintage and similar manufacturing tech as Tremont. Probably much harder to find in a fanless mini-PC, unless we're talking about an industrial PC, but I'd love even to see a comparison between two NUCs: Tiger Lake vs. Tremont. Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, July 8, 2022 - link

    Or maybe Ice Lake would be even better, but did they make Ice Lake-based NUCs? Reply
  • abufrejoval - Thursday, July 14, 2022 - link

    Yes, Tiger Lake NUCs were made, but also very hard to come by: I have both.

    In a way they are perfect to showcase the benefit of E/P cores …in the case of Intel: AMD is really another story.

    The two NUCs look nearly identical on the outside, but inside they are very different beasts.

    For starters: The Tiger Lake NUC11 (i7-1165G7 with 96EU Xe iGPU) is configured with a 64 Watt PL2, a rather long TAU and even the PL2 is 30 Watts by default, I believe. There is a reason it comes with a 90 Watts power brick! I changed PL2 to 50, TAU to 10 seconds and PL1 to 15 Watts to ensure the fan would never howl they way it does with the defaults.

    I’ve seen HWinfo report a 5GHz maximum clock, but 4.7GHz is the official top speed. It’s at 64 Watts and near 5GHz clocks that I have measured 1707/5808 Geekbench 4 results on Linux (always a bit faster than on Windows). Jasper Lake doesn’t quite play in the same league at 781/2540 using 3.3 GHz and 10 Watts. In Watts/compute power Tiger Lake looks rather worse than Jasper Lake, but when it comes to rendering a complex web page or recalculating a giant Excel sheet, its sprinting power certainly has it appear much faster.

    At 64 Watts the Tiger Lake is a desktop CPU, shoehorned into mobile power envelopes. And when it’s constrained to the levels that passive cooling can manage (see the Supermicro SYS-E100-12T-H review here), it really struggles to deliver that performance. The great thing about the Tiger Lake NUC is that you can change PL1, PL2 and TAU to pretty much anything you want and when you set it to the 10 Watts the Jasper Lake gets to use as an absolute maximum, it starts to do rather badly.

    Some of that is because the iGPU always gets preference, leaving close to nothing to the CPU. But some of that is that the remaining power budget forces very low frequencies, where the big Core CPU loses against the Atom cores running at a full speed with these Watts.

    Jasper Lake, like all the other Atoms since the J1900, never slows down. I’ve never seen it drop below its “Turbo” clock unless idle, even on a mix of Prime95 and Furmark, and I’ve never seen it exceed 10 Watts of combined CPU+GPU power consumption either.

    I also have two Ryzen 5800U based notebooks (1443/7855 on Geekbench4), one of which can be switched between 15 and 28 Watts of TDP. When Tiger Lake and Zen 3 are strictly set to the same power levels, Tiger Lake has to run much slower even with half the cores: Ryzen beats it with a much smaller energy footprint per core. But with Tiger Lake left at the default NUC settings (which a battery powered notebook could not support), its four cores will beat an eight core Zen 3 at 15 Watts in Geekbench, which luckily never seems to exceed TAU.

    Intel needs E/P because P cores need too much power at the clock rates they require to beat a Ryzen core, and only with E cores they can hit the efficiency of Zen cores in fully multi-threaded loads.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Thursday, July 14, 2022 - link

    Wow, another awesome post! Thanks for taking the time to relate your findings. Very interesting!

    > the iGPU always gets preference, leaving close to nothing to the CPU.

    Very key point, but also one that Intel could conceivably address, to some extent, in future BIOS updates. Not that they're likely to, if it had been on the market for a while when you tested, but it's conceivable.

    > in Geekbench, which luckily never seems to exceed TAU.

    Another great point! I have never run Geekbench myself, and I haven't noticed reviewers mention this key detail.
    Reply
  • Foeketijn - Saturday, September 3, 2022 - link

    Don't you want to write for Anand? Reply
  • stanleyipkiss - Friday, July 8, 2022 - link

    Zotac makes a fanless zbox with a 1165G7 Reply
  • xol - Friday, July 8, 2022 - link

    Benches I've seen suggest both are very similar in multi to a i3 low power Skylake eg a ie-6100T (2core 4 thread very common thin client chip) - the gfx capability also seems also a close match for the 24EU part [probably a very similar part with improved HEVC support] (the 32EU N6000 should be better)

    For single threaded the old Skylake is ~+50% faster., and from Skylake to Alder Lake it's nearly 2x , so nearly 3x from N5100 to i5-12500 for single thread

    I have an old fanless Atom Z3735F (22nm) and these new SoCs are a impressive step up (~7x both cpu and gpu) -- I think the Pi Model B latest is very roughly 2x better than that nut no where near the 5100T in any metric.

    tldr both benches would have been a wash one way of the other.
    Reply

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