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Intel NUC 12 Excessive evaluation: A strong DIY mini-desktop for creators and avid gamers alike

Intel’s quest to ship the right mini-desktop continues with the NUC 12 Excessive, its newest “subsequent unit of computing” DIY package. Code-named “Dragon Canyon,” it is mainly a barely upgraded model of final yr’s NUC 11 Excessive, which was notable for being the primary of its form that might match a full-sized desktop graphics card. Now it has Intel’s hybrid Twelfth-gen desktop processors, which promise to be an enormous improve over final yr’s CPUs. Whereas this newest package remains to be a bit cramped – and it may simply get costly when you add your individual RAM, SSD and GPU – the NUC 12 Excessive proves that Intel is clearly dedicated to the world of tiny desktops. And with Apple’s Mac Studio coming quickly, it could be extra compelling than ever for PC creators.

Gallery: Intel NUC 12 Excessive | 12 Pictures

Given how a lot effort Intel put into growing a big NUC case final yr, it isn’t too shocking that the NUC 12 Excessive shares the identical 8-liter housing. It is giant sufficient to slot in a 12-inch graphics card, however the remainder of its inside is tightly filled with its energy provide and Compute Unit, a detachable card that homes its CPU, three NVMe SSD connections and two RAM slots. It is clearly a case meant for gaming fanatics, with the telltale signal being the RGB LED cranium up entrance and extra lighting beneath. The NUC 12 Excessive is mainly the PC equal to a Honda Civic souped up for avenue racing: It could’t exist with out a bit of glitz.

Professionals

  • Highly effective Twelfth-gen Intel CPUs
  • Three NVMe SSD slots
  • Assist for 12-inch GPUs
  • All of the ports you’d need

Cons

  • Costly in comparison with different PC desktops
  • Design could also be a bit too gamer-centric for some

Regardless of its small stature, the NUC’s case has nearly all of the connectivity you’d need from a desktop. Up entrance, there’s a USB-C Thunderbolt 4 port, a USB 3.1 Kind-A socket, an SDXC card slot and a headphone jack. And on the again of the Compute Card, there are two extra Thunderbolt 4 USB-C connections, six USB Kind-A ports, an HDMI 2.0b socket and two Ethernet jacks (10GbE and a couple of.5Gb). We reviewed the NUC12EDBi9 package, which included the Core i9-12900 processor, however there’s additionally one other package with an i7-12700 accessible.

Sometimes, Intel sends out pre-built NUC kits for evaluation so we are able to get straight to benchmarking. This yr, nonetheless, the corporate issued the identical DIY package customers would get, which solely contains the case, PSU and Compute Card. That meant I needed to roll up my sleeves and put together for scraped knuckles – it was PC constructing time! I scrounged up 16GB of RAM and a one-terabyte Samsung SSD from the earlier NUC Excessive, together with a spare NVIDIA RTX 3080 card and received right down to enterprise.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Compute Card opened, showing the CPU block, RAM slots and SSD.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Entering into the NUC Excessive is fairly easy: You simply need to take away a couple of screws from the rear, open up the portion of the case blocking the PCI slot screws and take away a facet panel to reveal its innards. Fortunately, I used to be ready so as to add within the RAM and SSD with out eradicating the Compute Card. However if you would like to take that out, maybe to improve to a more recent mannequin down the road, you simply need to hit a latch to unlock the three giant high followers, pull these again, and yank the cardboard out like every other PCI card. You may need to watch out when eradicating its antenna cables and energy connectors, but it surely’s simple sufficient for those who’ve already received PC constructing expertise. Given the fragile nature of that course of, it isn’t one thing I might advocate doing except you completely need to, although.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme side profile

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The RTX 3080 simply match into the NUC Excessive’s PCIe slot, however I want there was a bit extra inner area to cope with all of its energy cables. As with strongest GPUs, the RTX 3080 requires two 8-pin PSU connections, that are connected to the cardboard by a dongle. It was a problem stuffing all of these cables into the NUC, and I used to be consistently apprehensive they’d be clipped by the GPU’s fan blades. I additionally had a tough time accessing the PCIe latch to take away the 3080 after I put in it. I used to be finally capable of unlock it with a flat-edge screwdriver, as I sometimes do in tight PC builds, however the latch flew off as quickly as I eliminated the cardboard. Clearly, there’s room for higher construct high quality.

As soon as I plugged every thing in (and soothed my poor knuckles from being jammed into sharp edges and cables), I booted up the NUC and put in Home windows 11 by way of a flash drive. Then, I rewarded myself the way in which each PC builder should: I began gaming. I averaged round 100fps whereas taking part in Halo Infinite in my monitor’s ultrawide (3,440 by 1,440) decision with the entire graphics settings cranked to most. That is spectacular, however just about what I might count on from any system powered by an RTX 3080. Extra notable, I might say, is that the NUC was capable of play video games for hours with out overheating. I sometimes see CPU temperatures between 80 and 85 Celsius underneath load, whereas the GPU by no means surpassed 82C. Not unhealthy for a system with severely restricted airflow and no room for any form of liquid cooling.

None

PCMark 10

3DMark (TimeSpy Excessive)

Geekbench 5 CPU

Intel NUC 12 Excessive (Intel Core i9-12900, NVIDIA RTX 3080)

7,914

8,217

1,762/13,371

Intel NUC 11 Excessive (Intel Core i9-11900KB, NVIDIA RTX 3060)

7,167

4,143

1,684/9,345

Alienware x14 (Intel Core i7-12700H, NVIDIA RTX 3060)

7,073

3,362

1,529/13,315

Intel NUC 9 Excessive (Core i9-9980HK. NVIDIA RTX 2070)

6,469

4,057

1,312/7,464

Benchmarking the NUC 12 Excessive additionally made it clear that Intel’s Twelfth-gen processors are a severe improve. Its GeekBench 5 CPU rating was the very best we have seen on any system; the closest match was the Alienware x14, powered by the Twelfth-gen Core i7-12700H, adopted by Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Professional with an M1 Max. The NUC’s multi-core rating was additionally round 4,000 factors greater than final yr’s mannequin, which makes it a fair better option for creators doing severe rendering work. It additionally achieved the very best PCMark 10 rating we have seen but, although that is partially influenced by GPU energy.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme rear ports

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Whereas these benchmarks do not inform your complete story, they point out that the NUC 12 Excessive may very well be a strong workhorse that’ll serve you effectively for years. In fact, its total efficiency is dependent upon the entire different {hardware} you configure it with. However no less than you are free to improve the RAM, SSD and GPU down the road, one thing you may’t do with a competitor like Apple’s Mac Studio.

Once I began testing this NUC package, I used to be involved it was going to be one other overly costly curiosity like its predecessors. Why spend 1000’s greater than a normal mid-tower or mini-ITX desktop system simply to have a barely smaller field in your desk? It is nonetheless fairly dear: The Core i7 Package begins at $1,150, whereas the Core i9 mannequin we’re reviewing sells for $1,450, and then you definitely’ll have so as to add round $1,000 for a GPU, reminiscence, SSD and OS. However you realize what? Apple’s Mac Studio additionally begins at $2,000, and whereas it features a hefty 32GB of RAM, you will in all probability need to add a 1TB or 2TB SSD for an extra $200 or $400. Principally, if you’d like tiny desktop energy, be ready to pay.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme compute card

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

If something, Intel was simply forward of the present mini-desktop second. For those who’re available in the market for one, and also you take pleasure in getting down and soiled with PC {hardware}, then the NUC 12 Excessive will serve you effectively. Whereas the Mac Studio is sleeker and does not require any scraped knuckles, macOS additionally does not have practically the identical degree of gaming assist as a Home windows PC, so it is primarily meant for work. Apple Arcade titles are good and all, however they’re no alternative for having a tiny field that’ll play Elden Ring.

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