How To Get More Graphics Performance From The Intel NUC

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How To Get More Graphics Performance From The Intel NUC

There is a fine line that all manufacturers must be watch when it comes to having the right balance between energy-efficiency and performance. Intel’s motherboards have always been conservative when it comes to overclocking or pushing a system beyond its originally designed plans. We understand that Intel does this to ensure stability, reduce tech support costs and make sure all of their products have a long and successful lifespan. As enthusiasts, we understand that the shipping clock speeds of processors are safe and designed for mainstream users, but we want to push the limits and get the most from all of our platforms.

new-intel-nuc-hard-drive

One of our favorite Intel platforms right now would be the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYKH (supports 2.5″ drives ) and Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK (no 2.5″ drive support). These tiny platforms really make you rethink what form factor a desktop should be and pack a pretty powerful punch thanks to the 4th Generation Intel Core i5-4250U processor  and Intel HD 5000 graphics that powers the little system. We recently ran across a BIOS setting that allows you to unlock the graphics performance of this platform and just had to share it in the off chance you own this model or were looking into picking one up to try. It isn’t every day that you find a BIOS setting that allows you to boost performance by over 30% and it got us excited.

Just to be clear, this modification only works on the new Intel Core i5 powered models as the lower cost Core i3 version does not have this capability.

Intel NUC Visual BIOS

To get significantly better graphics performance you have to go into the Intel Visual BIOS when the system it is powering up and change one to three settings depending on how aggressive you want to be. Entering the BIOS is simple as you just need to hit F2 when the system posts. Once you get into the Intel Visual BIOS you’ll see a full color user interface and your mouse will be able to work. Click on the performance tab that is located on the top horizontal menu. You should see the menu above. 

 stock-bios-settings

Once you get into the performance tab you’ll see a flow chart style diagram with the various voltage and multiplier adjustments for things like the processor, graphics, memory and so on. You’ll want to click on ‘Cores’ and that will bring up the ‘Processor Cores’ menu on the right hand side. From there you want to click on the ‘Config’ tab and it then you’ll be looking at what we are showing you in the image above. The last setting under the configuration settings is called Sustained Mode Power Limit and this gives you the ability to adjust the amount of Watts that the processor can hold at any given time. It turns out Intel might have been a little conservative or improperly set this limit to just 15 Watts. You can adjust this setting from 0-100 Watts and we’ve found that adjusting it above 15 Watts will give the graphics a major performance boost.

intel-nuc-power-change

You can raise the sustained mode power limit to 25 Watts without impacting any other settings, but once you get past 25 Watts the Burst Mode Power Limit and Sustained Mode Power Limits are linked together. This means if you set one to 27 Watts the other will also be set to 27 Watts. We found the sweet spot for performance on our NUC D54250WYKH was with the Sustained Mode Power Limit set to 30 Watts and we increased the Sustained Mode Time from 28 to 32 seconds. By doing this we are basically telling the processor that it can consume more Watts and hold that power for a longer amount of time. We ran some tests at various Sustained Mode Power Limits and found that CPU performance didn’t budge, but Graphics performance jumped up significantly. Power consumption and temperatures also increased since we increased the maximum TDP that the processor can use. From what we can tell the Intel Core i5 processor shares the TDP load limit parameters and that the graphics core takes priority and that is why we are seeing gains there. What kind of gains are we seeing?

Cinebench R15 OpenGL Benchmark

Cinebench R15 has an OpenGL benchmark test and we went from 25.74 FPS to 33.33 FPS by doing this simple power adjustment in the BIOS. This is a 29.5% performance increase and when you are running integrated graphics you want all the performance that you can get. This is a huge performance gain and the best part is there wasn’t a significant jump in power consumption or a huge rise in heat. The CPU benchmark remained between 233 and 234, so there was absolutely no performance gain or decrease on the CPU side by changing this power setting. The only gains to be had were on the graphics side with the Intel HD 5000 Graphics.

Let’s take a look at some additional benchmarks like 3DMark and Metro: Last Light to see if there are also graphics performance gains to be had there as well.

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  • jimbop14

    Very interesting results thanks. I couldn’t see what your RAM speed was though, especially after the great articles you guys posted on the higher speed RAM making a noticeable difference to the iGPU fps. Looking forward to trying this out on my Abel H2 nuc when it comes!

  • James Thorburn

    Funnily enough I was playing with similar to this with my D54250WYK when the article appeared on my RSS feed. I’m not seeing anywhere near the gains from stock to overclocked that this article suggests – not because my overclocked results are worse, but because my stock results are VASTLY faster.

    For the 15W results you’re lowering the Burst Mode Limit from the standard setting of 25W to 15W, which appears to have the side effect of vastly reducing performance. In fact my stock results in 3DMark are higher than yours at 25W!

    In my testing moving from stock settings up to 28W sustained gives less than a 1000 point increase in 3DMark Ice Storm, but vastly increased temperatures and noise levels…

    I am testing with the graphics multiplier increased to 24x (1.2GHz) at 28W to try and emulate Iris 5100 performance however, I’ll try again at 20x…

    • Nathan Kirsch

      I’m running BIOS 0024 and loading defaults by pressing F9. The stock settings are 15 Watts for the Burst Mode Limit. You should not be seeing anything different than that unless there is a BIOS bug. Can you try resetting your bios by loading the defaults?

      • James Thorburn

        Running BIOS 0024 as well, resetting to defaults gives me Burst Mode Power Limit of 25 and Sustained Mode Power Limit of 15. This is correct as if both were set the same then there is no point in having the Burst Mode Power Limit – the whole purpose of it is to allow the processor to run over the TDP during short periods of activity.

        • Guest

          Just noticed, the second image on Page 1 matches my default configuration…

        • Nathan Kirsch

          Sorry about that had a typo in my post. Very strange if you are getting drastically different results. What are you getting in Cinebench? I’ve attached the screenshot of my results at 30 Watts each with a 32 second sustained time mode. It could be the difference in memory clocks and timings as well as that plays a major role in graphics.

        • James Thorburn

          Had to switch from the latest Intel.com drivers (3345) to the Windows Update drivers (3379) to get the OpenGL test to run correctly in Cinebench R15. It was failing as the floor was rendering white. Result at stock was 27fps.

          This has also reduced my 3DMark score, although still seeing nowhere near the performance increase you are…
          15W: 44.6k
          28W: 45.8k

      • James Thorburn

        Deleted my previous comments as I misread your reply – sorry about that.

        My settings match yours, but I’m seeing much better stock performance. Most odd…

  • Michael Wenyon

    I would just like to be able to push the Celeron model to 1920×1200 out (now its limited to 1920 x 1080).

  • tonyv13

    Those temperatures are scary I would say it’s not worth it

    • Nathan Kirsch

      yeah, they are getting pretty toasty. Stepping up the TDP by 5-10 Watts isn’t nearly as bad and I was using Furmark to show a worst case scenario. Normal games didn’t push the system that hard.

  • exitmrhat

    Does it now handle Lanczos 4 + AR and Jinc in madVR?

    • Nathan Kirsch

      sorry, I’ve not personally used that video renderer. Is it easy to setup? If you wanted to send me links, clips and some basic instructions I can try it out.

      • Ry

        http://forum.doom9.org/showthread.php?t=146228

        Just install using the batch file, use a compatible media player (MPC-HC for example) and set the renderer to madVR.
        You can change the options by right clicking on the video and selecting filters -> MadVR. You’ll want to check different content resolutions etc.

        • asim

          The power lomit is actually abour 21 watts. Unless you raise the cpu max amps above 32. You can put whatever in the sustained mode wont go above about 21(0.67 v x 32A).
          Still better than 15 which seems to be the combined tdp of both cpu and gpu.jinc works on non interlaced videos although fan can get quite noisy.

        • asim

          Just an update
          Cpu voltage can go up to 0.89v in turbo so the limit is about 28.5w at default 32 amps.
          The fully loaded cpu in turbo boost only draws about 11.5 w so raising the sustained mode limit really benefits gpu intesive apps or where both cpu and gpu are being taxed.
          At the default 15 w sustained limit if the gpu is being pushed even the cpu is limited to 0.8 ghz and 0.67v to keep total power under 15 w. Gpu is limited to 600mhz istead of 1 ghz.
          Raising sustained mode limit to 29 or over Unlocks the possibilty to use both cpu and gpu fully but the fan runs at 100 duty cycle so can be very noisy.