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

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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 principally a barely upgraded model of final yr’s NUC 11 Excessive, which was notable for being the primary of its variety that might match a full-sized desktop graphics card. Now it has Intel’s hybrid 12th-gen desktop processors, which promise to be an enormous improve over final yr’s CPUs. Whereas this newest package continues to be a bit cramped – and it may simply get costly when you add your personal 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 Photographs

Given how a lot effort Intel put into creating a big NUC case final yr, it is not too stunning 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 fans, with the telltale signal being the RGB LED cranium up entrance and extra lighting beneath. The NUC 12 Excessive is principally the PC equal to a Honda Civic souped up for road racing: It may possibly’t exist and not using a bit of glitz.

NUC 12 Extreme

Professionals

  • Highly effective 12th-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 Four 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 Four USB-C connections, six USB Kind-A ports, an HDMI 2.0b socket and two Ethernet jacks (10GbE and a pair 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 shoppers would get, which solely consists of 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 acquired right down to enterprise.

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

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Moving into the NUC Excessive is fairly easy: You simply should 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 in a position 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 should hit a latch to unlock the three giant prime followers, pull these again, and yank the cardboard out like some other PCI card. You will should watch out when eradicating its antenna cables and energy connectors, nevertheless it’s simple sufficient for those who’ve already acquired PC constructing expertise. Given the fragile nature of that course of, it is not one thing I might advocate doing until you completely should, 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 hooked up to the cardboard by a dongle. It was a problem stuffing all of these cables into the NUC, and I used to be always fearful 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 ultimately 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 little 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 through a flash drive. Then, I rewarded myself the best way 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 all the graphics settings cranked to most. That is spectacular, however just about what I might anticipate 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 beneath load, whereas the GPU by no means surpassed 82C. Not unhealthy for a system with severely restricted airflow and no room for any kind 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 12th-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 12th-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 more sensible choice 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 entire story, they point out that the NUC 12 Excessive might be a strong workhorse that’ll serve you effectively for years. After all, its general efficiency is determined by all the different {hardware} you configure it with. However at the least you are free to improve the RAM, SSD and GPU down the road, one thing you’ll be able to’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 regular 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 Equipment begins at $1,150, whereas the Core i9 mannequin we’re reviewing sells for $1,450, and then you definately’ll have so as to add round $1,000 for a GPU, reminiscence, SSD and OS. However you already know what? Apple’s Mac Studio additionally begins at $2,000, and whereas it features a hefty 32GB of RAM, you may most likely need to add a 1TB or 2TB SSD for an extra $200 or $400. Principally, in order for you 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. When you’re out there for one, and also you get pleasure from 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 help 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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