Intel NUC 12 Excessive Equipment (‘Dragon Canyon’) Evaluation


Intel’s Subsequent Unit of Computing (NUC) mini-PCs are a long-running platform that lets the large chip maker showcase how a lot efficiency and performance can slot in a compact, minimalist desktop design. The NUC 12 Excessive Equipment below overview right here (dubbed “Dragon Canyon” throughout its growth) is a gaming desktop barely bigger than a sport console, however packing in some main firepower: a twelfth Era Intel “Alder Lake” Core desktop processor, plus the area and energy supply for a full-length graphics card. Not solely that, but it surely’s additionally solely end-user upgradable, from its SO-DIMM RAM and three M.2 storage-drive slots to its precise CPU, through Intel’s distinctive Compute Aspect platform.

A conventional mid-tower desktop with these specs would doubtlessly value much less; bought solely as a barebones unit, the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment begins at $1,150 with a Core i7 Compute Aspect put in, leaping to $1,450 for the Core i9 model we’re testing. That’s earlier than you add your individual RAM, storage, working system, and graphics card. However the attract of a mini-PC that may do all of it is plain, and the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment’s excellent efficiency and practicality make it our prime gaming mini-PC, and a repeat Editors’ Selection award winner.

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The Design: Honey, I Shrunk the Gaming PC

The NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is a refresh of 2021’s NUC 11 Excessive Equipment (“Beast Canyon”), utilizing a lot the identical chassis and inside format. (See our deep-dive interview with the Intel NUC staff across the time of the NUC 11 launch.) It makes the all-important soar to Intel’s twelfth Era Core Alder Lake platform, which is leaps and bounds extra succesful than the eleventh Era “Tiger Lake” silicon that was used within the NUC 11 Excessive Equipment.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit

(Photograph: Molly Flores)

Our NUC12EBDi9 overview unit options the 65-watt Core i9-12900, a lower-wattage model of the 125-watt Core i9-12900K. (Hit that hyperlink for a radical background on Alder Lake and its hybrid structure.) The Core i9-12900’s Efficiency-core (P-core) Turbo Increase is simply 100MHz decrease (5.1GHz versus 5.2GHz), which implies that its peak efficiency must be related, however it’ll produce much less warmth in long-running duties since its base clock is far decrease. (That is 2.4GHz versus 3.2GHz; search for our benchmarks later.)

The NUC 12 Excessive Equipment can also be obtainable with the Core i7-12700 (the equipment dubbed NUC12DCMi7, with Compute Aspect mannequin NUC12EDBi7), a likewise lower-wattage model of the Core i7-12700K. No budget-friendly (friendlier?) Core i5 choices are deliberate, although Intel shall be providing the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment with Intel vPro distant administration options as separate SKUs.

Begin up the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment—after you assemble it, after all, extra about which later—and also you’re greeted with a fearsome RGB-backlit cranium faceplate. Like it or hate it, rely me within the former; that is one brash mini-PC, and it makes no pretense of hiding that.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Lit Up)

(Photograph: Molly Flores)

However in case you’re within the second camp, the faceplate is detachable. You’ll be able to substitute the cranium with your individual design, printed on transparency movie, or just flip off the lighting within the BIOS. The NUC’s aspect panels are additionally RGB-lit alongside the underside edges, very like a modded-up automotive with ground-effects lighting.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Ground Effects)

(Photograph: Molly Flores)

Dimension-wise, the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is 7.4 by 4.7 by 14 inches (HWD), or simply lengthy sufficient to suit a full-length (12-inch), two-slot desktop graphics card. The inside quantity is just below eight liters, which makes the compact 12-liter Corsair One i300 appear downright brawny.

A Dragon’s Ports: Stable Connectivity All Round

Connectivity is among the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment’s strengths. On the entrance are two USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (one Sort-A and one Sort-C; the NUC 11 Excessive Equipment had two Sort-As), a full-size SD card reader, and a headset jack. The cardboard reader is a uncommon and good sop to content material creators and professional pictures hounds.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Front Ports)

(Photograph: Molly Flores)

The backplane has six USB 3.2 Gen 2 Sort-A and two Thunderbolt 4 ports. The Core i9 mannequin seen right here has each 10Gbps and a pair of.5Gbps Ethernet jacks whereas the Core i7 mannequin simply will get the 10Gbps jack. The HDMI 2.0b video output is for the CPU’s onboard graphics.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Rear Ports)

(Photograph: Molly Flores)

Observe that no devoted graphics card is put in for these images, however two slots over is the place you’d have the video connectors poking out on whichever card you put in. The HDMI output on the Compute Aspect allows you to depend on the on-chip Intel UHD Graphics on the Compute Aspect with no video card, if you could. However given how a lot you paid for a chassis like this that helps a giant graphics card, what is the enjoyable in that?

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Rear View)

(Photograph: Molly Flores)

The facility wire additionally connects again right here. Extra in regards to the energy provide as soon as we open up the chassis…

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Power Connector)

(Photograph: Molly Flores)

Wi-fi networking comes from an Intel AX211 Wi-Fi 6E card with an antenna that’s constructed into the case as a substitute of being exterior.

Constructing the Barebones: Deft Fingers Required

Contained in the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is the place the magic occurs. As famous, this NUC is bought solely as a barebones unit (therefore the “Equipment” within the title), so having the ability to set up parts is a compulsory talent.

Tips on how to get inside isn’t apparent. It begins with eradicating 4 Phillips-head screws on the plastic again panel. (Tip: you could maneuver the highest a part of the again panel off earlier than the underside will unhook.) With the again of the unit uncovered, you’ll have to take away one other screw that holds down a latch, just under the ability connector, and launch it; this enables each aspect panels to slip ahead and away. In spite of everything that, you possibly can pull up the highest panel, which hinges upward as seen under.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Liquid Cooler)

(Photograph: John Burek)

The highest includes three followers supplying strong cooling for the Core i9 CPU within the Compute Aspect, and on your video card. Right here’s the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment’s inside because it comes within the field.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Interior No GPU)

(Photograph: John Burek)

The skull-emblazoned module is the Intel Compute Aspect. It’s basically a mini-motherboard inside a compartment the place you’ll discover the CPU, three M.2 Sort-2280 PCIe Gen4 x4 slots for SSD storage, and two SO-DIMM slots. The RAM commonplace is DDR4-3200, not DDR5, although in equity, DDR5 reminiscence in SO-DIMM format isn’t usually obtainable but. As much as 64GB of RAM is supported, on two 32GB SO-DIMMs.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Compute Element)

(Photograph: John Burek)

Right here, as soon as we eliminated the Compute Aspect’s plastic cooler ductwork you see above (only one screw, and it lifts off) and unscrewed the entrance face of the Aspect module itself, we might see the Compute Aspect is definitely fairly motherboard-like inside…

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit (Interior of Element)

(Photograph: John Burek)

Observe the SO-DIMM slots to the suitable of the large silver CPU heatsink, and the sticky grey M.2 thermal strips on the heatsinks, exposing two of the M.2 slots. The CPU on this case is socketed, as you possibly can see from the detachable screws on the corners of the heatsink, versus the cell CPU within the NUC 11 Excessive’s Compute Aspect. The fan within the Compute Aspect’s cowl cools the Compute Aspect’s inside by drawing recent air from exterior. In the meantime, the three top-mounted followers draw air by the mesh aspect panels and upward. The followers are audible whereas gaming, however we had no noise complaints; the followers are low-toned and ignorable, no louder than they’d be in a typical gaming mid-tower. The truth is, the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment typically ran silently after we weren’t pushing demanding compute duties by it.

Again to the meeting course of. The Compute Aspect module itself could be taken out to do any part installs, which isn’t arduous to do however isn’t strictly needed. (We put in the boot M.2 SSD and SO-DIMMs with the Compute Aspect nonetheless put in in its slot.) The Compute Aspect connects to the PC through a PCIe Gen4 x16 slot on the underside backplane board, which Intel calls the “NUC Board Aspect.” This modular design permits you, down the road, to swap in a brand new Compute Aspect and keep present with out changing your complete PC. (Not even a Mini-ITX motherboard would slot in this PC, so proprietary upgrades through newer Compute Components are the one improve path you possibly can go.)

Your graphics card slots in proper subsequent to the Compute Aspect, with millimeters to spare between it and the airflow duct. The built-in 650-watt SFX-format energy provide has a modular design and is sweet for powering even a 12-inch GeForce RTX 3080 Ti. You get twin eight-pin GPU energy connectors, with lengths excellent for the tight inside with out cluttering it up with extra cable run.

On that notice, there’s nothing stopping you from putting in a workstation GPU and utilizing the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment as a mini-workstation, both. Protecting it easy, we put in a small Asus-brand GeForce RTX 3060, the identical card that was put in within the 2021 Beast Canyon NUC 11 Excessive predecessor mannequin we examined.

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Kit - GPU

(Photograph: Charles Jefferies)

Rounding out the enlargement functionality is a 3rd M.2 Sort-2280 slot, additionally PCIe Gen4 x4, on the rear of the Compute Aspect. There’s additionally a hatch on the case’s underside that appears M.2-size for fast entry, but it surely led to a clean little bit of PCB in our pattern. Within the NUC 11, it was the doorway to an M.2 slot on the underside of the NUC’s baseboard. Right here, a 3rd M.2 slot is on the reverse aspect of the Compute Aspect module itself.

Total, the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is remarkably modular for such a small PC. Intel notably backs it with a three-year guarantee, although by this PC’s nature it’s not a whole-system guarantee. In case your own-supplied graphics card or RAM or SSD fails, Intel received’t be changing that, so select the parts you put in properly.

Testing the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment: Do not Hassle, This Dragon Can’t Be Tamed

No spoiler alert needed: The NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is among the quickest, baddest mini-PCs you should buy. I paired it off in opposition to another significantly quick compact PCs for our efficiency benchmarks, together with the liquid-cooled, $4,999-as-tested Corsair One i300, the much more costly Maingear Turbo, and the comparatively budget-friendly NZXT H1 Mini Plus. See their primary loadouts under.

The one really “mini” PC amongst them is the NUC 11 Excessive Equipment. We examined the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment with the precise components we used testing that unit, so we might isolate the CPU efficiency variations. Many of the following evaluation will concentrate on the NUC duo; comparisons to the others shall be largely educational, because the NUCs are solely bought as barebones items. Except you employ the identical components as we did—a 500GB Sabrent Rocket 4.0 SSD, 16GB (two 8GB SO-DIMMs) of DDR4-3200 RAM, Home windows 11, and an Asus-brand GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card—your efficiency mileage will range.

Productiveness and Content material Creation Exams

The NUC 12 Excessive Equipment was off to a promising begin in our first take a look at, UL’s PCMark 10, which simulates a wide range of real-world productiveness and workplace workflows to measure total system efficiency. It improved on the NUC 11 Excessive Equipment by a number of proportion factors which, given the take a look at isn’t solely CPU-restricted, is about what to anticipate.

Our different three benchmarks concentrate on the CPU, utilizing all obtainable cores and threads, to fee a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 makes use of that firm’s Cinema 4D engine to render a fancy scene, whereas Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Professional simulates in style apps starting from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine studying. Lastly, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to transform a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p decision (decrease instances are higher).

Our last productiveness take a look at is Puget Methods’ PugetBench for Photoshop(Opens in a brand new window), which makes use of the Inventive Cloud model 22 of Adobe’s well-known picture editor to fee a PC’s efficiency for content material creation and multimedia purposes. It is an automatic extension that executes a wide range of normal and GPU-accelerated Photoshop duties starting from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving a picture to making use of masks, gradient fills, and filters.

Here is the place the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment’s new Core i9-12900 chip comes into its personal. It dominated the NUC 11 Excessive Equipment’s Core i9-11900KB, scoring 50% greater rating in Cinebench and 41% greater in Geekbench. The NUC 12 Excessive Equipment even outdid the Maingear and its Ryzen 9 5950X in that one take a look at.

Graphics and Gaming Exams

For Home windows PCs, we run each artificial and real-world gaming checks. The previous contains two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL’s 3DMark, Night time Raid (extra modest, appropriate for techniques with built-in graphics) and Time Spy (extra demanding, appropriate for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs). Additionally looped into that group is the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which we use to gauge OpenGL efficiency.

Past that, our real-world gaming testing comes from the in-game benchmarks of F1 2021, Murderer’s Creed Valhalla, and Rainbow Six Siege representing simulation, open-world action-adventure, and aggressive/esports shooter video games, respectively. On desktops, we run them at their highest high quality presets (F1 2021 at Extremely Excessive, and Valhalla and Siege at Extremely) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions.

The NUC 12 Excessive Equipment’s efficiency features over the NUC 11 Excessive Equipment aren’t small, topping 10% in Time Spy and practically doubling within the CPU-limited Night time Raid. Mystically, the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment matched or exceeded the NUC 11 Excessive Equipment’s numbers in F1 2021 with out DLSS however underperformed with DLSS. Nonetheless, a lot of the numbers agree that the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is the higher gaming machine.

Mini-PC Excellence: Worry the Dragon (Canyon)

Even beastlier than its “Beast Canyon” predecessor, the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment continues pushing the envelope for high-performance mini-PCs. Our Core i9 mannequin confirmed across-the-board efficiency features, due to its Alder Lake CPU. Regardless of its compactness, this mini-PC presents glorious end-user upgradability, together with slots for 3 M.2 PCIe storage drives and most essential, assist for a full-length graphics card.

Now, given the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is simply bought as a barebones unit, you’ll want to put in your individual parts—reminiscence, storage, an working system, and a graphics card—however we discovered the set up wasn’t all that tough. Offered you’re prepared to sort out that, the NUC 12 Excessive Equipment is a marvel of a mini-PC that received’t make you want you purchased an even bigger tower.

Intel NUC 12 Excessive Equipment (‘Dragon Canyon’)


  • Extremely-compact for a gaming PC

  • Matches a full-length graphics card

  • Intel twelfth Era “Alder Lake” CPU elevates efficiency

  • Spectacular connectivity and M.2 storage assist

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The Backside Line

Intel’s NUC 12 Excessive Equipment mini-PC, constructed on Intel’s particular Compute Aspect platform, rivals sport consoles on dimension, however packs a serious-strength 65-watt “Alder Lake” desktop CPU and might host a full-length GPU.

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