Pretty much all NUC models include dual display options. Some offer an HDMI and a DisplayPort, others an HDMI and VGA port, so if you’re looking for a dual display setup, your NUC is probably good to go out of the box.
Triple display setups are a different story. As I said, most NUCs have two ports. If one of the ports on your NUC is a miniDisplayPort, then you can get to triple displays by using a DisplayPort hub. But those can be pricey, and somewhat finicky.
So what’s a geek to do when there are three monitors on the desk, but not enough ports to plug them all in?
Well, last week GoRite sent me a sample of their latest NUC lid and, wouldn’t ya know it, it solves this very problem. This new lid adds a full-sized HDMI port to your 5th/6th gen NUC. The unit they sent me was for 6th gen NUCs, so for testing I snapped it onto an i5 Skylake model.
Like most of GoRite’s NUC lids, this one connects to the NUC via the on-board USB header. Now, I know what you’re thinking…”Yeah, but the NUCs only have a USB 2.0 header…how can you get decent video performance through USB 2.0?” Fair question, made-up question-asker. Hopefully this review will give you some idea of what to expect from it.
GoRite was nice enough to send over the specs for the lid, which is built around a USB to HDMI board running the Trigger T6-688SL chipset. What’s interesting about that is that the board as actually USB 3.0 compliant. That means that while this particular lid is limited to USB 2, if/when Intel comes out with a NUC with an internal USB 3 header, the HDMI lid for that one should be able to take full advantage of the extra performance.
Here’s a breakdown of the specs:
- USB 2.0 speciﬁcation compliant
- HDMI ver 1.3 speciﬁcation compliant
- Display resolution up to: 1920 x 1200 l 1920 x 1080 @ 32bit
- Display Modes: Primary/ Extended / Mirror
- Display Rotation:0°, 90°, 180°, 270°
- Chipset: Trigger T6-688SL
- Display Memory: 64MB DDR2 SDRAM
- Working Current: >=400mA
- Monitor Refresh: 60Hz
- CE, FCC, VCCI, and C-Tick RoHS compliant
- USB Plug-n-Play compatibility
And some system requirements:
- 5th or 6th Generation NUC
- Available USB 2.0 Port
- Single Display (ofﬁce applications):
- CPU: Intel Core i3 2.8GHz or higher
- RAM: 2GB memory or higher
- 2-3 Displays (ofﬁce applications):
- CPU: Intel Quad Core i5 2.8GHz or higher
- RAM: 4GB memory or higher
- 3-4 Displays (ofﬁce applications):
- CPU: Intel Quad Core i7 3.0GHz or higher
- RAM; 4GB memory or higher
- Full HD Video (single display)
- Intel Core i5 or higher recommended
- Quad Core 2.3GHz
- RAM: 4GB memory or higher
- Windows 8/ 8.1/10 (32—bit/ 64—bit)
While the memory recommendation is nothing much, take a look at those CPU recommendations. An i5 or better for three displays? An i7 for four displays??? Remember this is all going through USB, and that means your CPU is going to be doing a little extra work when the display is in use. More on that later.
Check out the installation video below. As with most previous lids, installation is a snap (it’s still funny, right?)
One thing you’ll notice in the video is that the lid’s HDMI port is upside-down when compared to the on-board HDMI port. It doesn’t bother me, but if you’re the kind of person who needs all their towels hung the same length, you might consider not staring at the back of your NUC too much.
Now that I had it installed, I connected it up on the workbench. If you recall, my workbench has two, count ’em two, monitors, and no room for a third. So my initial boot with the lid was a dual monitor configuration, just to make sure everything was working. True to the plug & play claim, as soon as Windows started, it detected the adapter in the lid, installed the driver, and enabled extended display.
The driver that auto installed was pretty new:
As I said, the extended display was enabled automatically, and everything worked smoothly. No lag or hiccups of any kind. I was curious to see whether I could use the lid as my sole display, so I disconnected the on-board HDMI and powered the NUC off, then back on. Surprisingly, it came up just fine as the only display. My desktop came up, and all my icons for the primary desktop were there. Looking at the display properties, I could see it wasn’t ‘actually’ the only display:
So the on-board adapter was still there, and apparently still extended. In fact, when I took a screen shot to grab the above settings, what I actually got was this:
The on-board adapter was still listed as the primary, but it was off to the side with nothing on it, and there was nothing physically connected so I couldn’t see it anyway. I had to tell the system to use the 2nd adapter as the primary, then disable extended display.
Of course, using the lid as my only display also meant I got no boot screen, and had no way to view the BIOS, since it didn’t work until the USB driver was initialized. I’m not sure anyone would ever have a need to do this, but it was an interesting test.
Fortunately, I found a spare monitor (that’s the subject of my next post), and just for giggles I connected a third display, using an HDMI to miniDisplayPort adapter:
Now that I had everything working, it was time to bring it into the house. My workbench is in my garage, and we’re looking at 105 degrees on the thermometer. I wasn’t looking forward to melting myself or my equipment, so I decided to move the testing inside.
I got everything hooked up on the desk I use for my day job, just barely squeezing in that third monitor:
In case the USB 2.0 interface didn’t give it away, this lid is not meant for gaming. This is what you’d call an “office application” display. Still, I wanted to see some numbers, so I put 3DMark to work on it. I’ve found 3DMark to be the best and easiest way to benchmark your system’s gaming performance. I ran the Skydiver benchmark on each monitor.
First, the on-board graphics (with latest driver from Intel installed):
Now, the lid:
Clearly the lid’s adapter suffers from the USB interface when it comes to gaming graphics. But that’s to be expected. Nobody is claiming it’s going to blow the doors off for gaming.
Next I decided to see how the lid performed for playing back 1080p video. After all, that’s a realistic use of this solution: having a third monitor to play video on while you’re doing other stuff.
I tried out several 1080p sample videos, some movie clips, trailers, and even part of a movie. Playback was smooth and crisp, and I didn’t see any jagging, lagging, or dragging. Then I switched back & forth playing video on the on-board display and the lid. While I did this, I monitored the CPU. Sure enough, there’s a bit of CPU overhead when using the lid:
When using the on-board graphics, there was no such increase, which is not surprising. Back when I reviewed GoRite’s VGA NUC lid, I saw the same behavior. It comes down to the fact that everything has to go through USB, so the harder the lid’s adapter has to work, the more it has to push through the USB driver, and the more work the CPU has to do. This is where their CPU recommendations come from. They’re steep because they have to be. Using a weaker CPU could mean choking your system. With the i5, there was plenty of power to handle the increase. I was happily surprised with how well the lid’s HDMI performed. Still, it would be interesting to see if there’s a noticeable difference with USB 3.0.
And Just for Laughs
Oh, what the heck. I was curious, so I downloaded the demo of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I know it’s not the bleeding edge of gaming, but I thought it would be interesting to see how the lid handled it compared to the on-board graphics. So, I played for a few minutes (no screenshots, because 1) I don’t want to be posting shots of licensed material, and 2) I really suck at playing the game). Surprisingly, I saw no difference in game performance, graphics, or responsiveness between the on-board and lid graphics. Since I had multiple monitors I was able to keep an eye on the CPU, and here’s where I could see the difference. Using the on-board Intel graphics, here’s what the CPU load looked like:
When I played using the lid, it was a different story:
That really drives home the whole “this isn’t for gaming” point. The more graphics-intensive the task, the higher the extra load on the CPU. While this didn’t impact game play, it actually did max out the CPU several times. So, word to the wise; if you add this to your setup as a 2nd or 3rd monitor, keep the games on the Intel GPU and use this one for video, web browsing, or office stuff.
Well color me surprised. I went into this review with a healthy dose of skepticism. I really wasn’t expecting much from an HDMI to USB 2.0 adapter, but I was pleasantly surprised. Would I want to be playing graphics intensive games on it? No, and I’d be a fool for trying. But if I’m looking to add a third display to my NUC for everyday productivity, this lid is up to the task.
I don’t see the lid on GoRite’s site yet (hopefully it’s coming soon), so I’m not sure on pricing, but if you’re in the market for a triple display option for your 5th or 6th gen NUC, this just might be work a look.