Intel NUC 12 Extreme review: A powerful DIY mini-desktop for creators and gamers alike

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Intel’s quest to ship the proper mini-desktop continues with the NUC 12 Extreme, its newest “next unit of computing” DIY equipment. Code-named “Dragon Canyon,” it is principally a barely upgraded model of final year’s NUC 11 Extreme, 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 Twelfth-gen desktop processors, which promise to be an enormous improve over final year’s CPUs. While this newest equipment remains to be a bit cramped – and it could actually simply get costly when you add your personal RAM, SSD and GPU – the NUC 12 Extreme 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 Extreme | 12 Photos

Gallery: Intel NUC 12 Extreme | 12 Photos

Given how a lot effort Intel put into growing a big NUC case final year, it isn’t too shocking that the NUC 12 Extreme shares the identical 8-liter housing. It’s massive 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’s clearly a case meant for gaming fanatics, with the telltale signal being the RGB LED cranium up entrance and further lighting beneath. The NUC 12 Extreme is principally the PC equal to a Honda Civic souped up for avenue racing: It cannot exist with no bit of glitz.

Pros

  • Powerful Twelfth-gen Intel CPUs
  • Three NVMe SSD slots
  • Support for 12-inch GPUs
  • All the ports you’d need

Cons

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

Despite 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 Type-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 Type-A ports, an HDMI 2.0b socket and two Ethernet jacks (10GbE and 2.5Gb). We reviewed the NUC12EDBi9 equipment, which included the Core i9-12900 processor, however there’s additionally one other equipment with an i7-12700 out there.

Typically, Intel sends out pre-built NUC kits for review so we are able to get straight to benchmarking. This year, nonetheless, the company issued the identical DIY equipment customers 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 Extreme, together with a spare NVIDIA RTX 3080 card and obtained all the way down to business.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Getting into the NUC Extreme 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 show its innards. Thankfully, I used to be ready so as to add within the RAM and SSD with out eradicating the Compute Card. But if you would like to take that out, maybe to improve to a more moderen mannequin down the road, you simply should hit a latch to unlock the three massive prime followers, pull these again, and yank the cardboard out like another PCI card. You’ll should watch out when eradicating its antenna cables and energy connectors, nevertheless it’s simple sufficient if you happen to’ve already obtained PC constructing expertise. Given the fragile nature of that course of, it isn’t one thing I’d suggest doing except you completely should, although.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The RTX 3080 simply match into the NUC Extreme’s PCIe slot, however I want there was a bit extra inside house to cope with all of its energy cables. As with most powerful 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 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 build high quality.

Once I plugged the whole lot in (and soothed my poor knuckles from being jammed into sharp edges and cables), I booted up the NUC and put in 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 all the graphics settings cranked to most. That’s spectacular, however just about what I’d count on from any system powered by an RTX 3080. More notable, I’d 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 dangerous for a system with severely restricted airflow and no room for any kind of liquid cooling.

None

PCMark 10

3DMark (TimeSpy Extreme)

Geekbench 5 CPU

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

7,914

8,217

1,762/13,371

Intel NUC 11 Extreme (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 Extreme (Core i9-9980HK. NVIDIA RTX 2070)

6,469

4,057

1,312/7,464

Benchmarking the NUC 12 Extreme 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 MacE book Pro with an M1 Max. The NUC’s multi-core rating was additionally round 4,000 factors greater than final year’s mannequin, which makes it an excellent 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.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

While these benchmarks do not inform your entire story, they point out that the NUC 12 Extreme might be a stable workhorse that’ll serve you nicely for years. Of course, its general efficiency will depend on all the different {hardware} you configure it with. But at the least you are free to improve the RAM, SSD and GPU down the road, one thing you possibly can’t do with a competitor like Apple’s Mac Studio.

When I began testing this NUC equipment, 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 typical mid-tower or mini-ITX desktop system simply to have a barely smaller field in your desk? It’s nonetheless fairly expensive: The Core i7 Kit begins at $1,150, whereas the Core i9 mannequin we’re reviewing sells for $1,450, and you then’ll have so as to add round $1,000 for a GPU, reminiscence, SSD and OS. But you recognize what? Apple’s Mac Studio additionally begins at $2,000, and whereas it features a hefty 32GB of RAM, you may in all probability need to add a 1TB or 2TB SSD for a further $200 or $400. Basically, if you would like tiny desktop energy, be ready to pay.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

If something, Intel was simply forward of the present mini-desktop second. If you are within the market for one, and you get pleasure from getting down and soiled with PC {hardware}, then the NUC 12 Extreme will serve you nicely. While the Mac Studio is sleeker and would not require any scraped knuckles, macOS additionally would not have almost the identical stage of gaming assist as a Windows PC, so it is primarily meant for work. Apple Arcade titles are good and all, however they’re no substitute for having a tiny field that’ll play Elden Ring.

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