Intel Beast Canyon NUC 11 Excessive evaluate: A real mini gaming PC

MSRP $1,180.00

“The NUC 11 Excessive is just too costly, however that also would not maintain it again.”

Professionals

  • Stays quiet
  • Stable processor efficiency
  • Assist for full-size graphics playing cards
  • Glorious connectivity

Cons

  • Too costly
  • Bigger than earlier NUCs

There’s an empty area on my desk the place my gaming PC used to reside, now occupied by Intel’s NUC 11 Excessive, in any other case often known as Beast Canyon. It’s a barebones equipment of welcome compromises, balancing desktop-like efficiency with a kind issue that’s smaller than a current recreation console.

It’s too costly, inconvenient to work with in comparison with a full-size machine, and barely underpowered put up in opposition to a desktop chip. However I can’t cease utilizing the NUC 11 Excessive. It’s a well designed PC that makes concessions solely the place mandatory, and it’s match to exist in a class all its personal.

That doesn’t imply Beast Canyon is for everybody. It’s focused at a really specific market — these with an affinity for tinkering that don’t thoughts paying up for fascinating designs. That stated, for those who don’t thoughts getting your arms soiled (and you’ve got a spare graphics card to place inside), the NUC 11 Excessive is great.

Design

The side of an Intel NUC 11 Extreme.

Intel first unveiled the NUC, or Subsequent Unit of Computing, idea in 2012. Intel gives the bones of the PC, together with the ability provide, motherboard, and processor, and also you deliver every thing else (together with RAM, storage, and with current NUCs, a graphics card). The center of the PC is the compute component, which you’ll be able to slot out like a graphics card.

The brand new NUC 11 Excessive is a tiny PC, nevertheless it’s not as small as earlier variations. The 8-liter chassis measures 14.1 inches lengthy, 7.1 inches excessive, and 4.7 inches vast. The NUC 9 Excessive is taller at 8.5 inches however a lot shorter and barely much less vast. It additionally doesn’t help full-size graphics playing cards as Beast Canyon does.

That’s the trade-off with Beast Canyon. It’s bigger than earlier NUCs and different mini PCs, nevertheless it helps a full-length graphics card. You possibly can’t have your cake and eat it too, and I’m proud of the compromises Intel made. As I’ll get to within the upcoming sections, the NUC 11 Excessive nonetheless punches above its weight class regardless of the marginally bigger measurement.

That’s clear when evaluating it to different small kind issue choices. The Cooler Grasp MasterBox NR200P is likely one of the smaller mini ITX instances that helps a full-size GPU, and it’s nonetheless 10 liters bigger than the NUC 11 Excessive. There are smaller NUC instances just like the Razer Tomahawk, however that machine comes with an older compute component and at a premium over the NUC 11 Excessive.

The star of the present is an enormous RGB cranium on the entrance of the NUC 11, which joins ambient RGB strips lighting the underside of the case. You possibly can, fortunately, tweak and switch off the LEDs if you’d like. The bundled NUC Software program Studio lets you independently management the cranium, in addition to the entrance, proper, and left LEDs.

Skull on the Intel NUC 11 Extreme.

It’s a good suite, permitting you to set a stable coloration or set customary RGB modes like strobing or respiration. Additionally within the NUC Software program Studio, you may monitor system temperature and utilization, change your fan curve, and change between processor efficiency modes.

Though the NUC Software program Studio presents a good record of choices, it’s a bit buggy. Leaping across the software program is straightforward sufficient, however it might persistently dangle for a second or two after I modified any setting. It’s not a deal-breaker, however the NUC Software program Studio doesn’t really feel nice to make use of.

For my testing, I stayed on the Balanced fan mode to see the curve Intel meant. There’s a trio of 92mm followers below the highest panel to maintain every thing cool, they usually by no means acquired loud sufficient to hassle me whereas testing (even in a Cinebench R23 loop). They make noise, however the NUC 11 Excessive is remarkably quiet given its measurement. Whereas answering e-mail or simply hanging out on-line, the NUC 11 Excessive was silent.

Connectivity

Intel may have trimmed down on the variety of ports with the NUC 11 Excessive, nevertheless it didn’t. As is the case with a whole lot of features of the equipment, you’re giving up surprisingly little in comparison with a full-size desktop. You’re spoiled for port choices with the NUC 11 Excessive, and in some methods, it goes past some full-size PCs.

Front ports on Intel NUC 11 Extreme.

Up entrance, you might have fast entry to 2 USB 3.1 ports, a headphone/microphone combo jack, and an SDXC card slot. That proved to be sufficient in my testing, although I missed a entrance panel USB-C connection. I usually use a Samsung T5 exterior SSD to swap video games between PCs, and it might’ve been good to simply throw it in entrance of the case.

As a substitute, I needed to join it within the again, however that wasn’t an issue. Even on this small of a measurement, Intel manages to cram six USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, 2.5G Ethernet, and two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the again of the case. The motherboard additionally contains an HDMI 2.0b output in case you need to use the built-in graphics.

In fact, the HDMI out isn’t all you might have entry to for those who slot in a video card. It’s solely there to supply the choice for built-in graphics, so for those who add a graphics card, you’ll have entry to the ports that it has, too. Within the case of the RTX 3060 inside my evaluate unit, that included a single HDMI and three DisplayPort outputs.

Back ports on Intel NUC 11 Extreme.

Over the NUC 9 Excessive, this unit provides one other two USB ports within the again and upgrades the Thunderbolt ports from Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 4. Even for those who run out of ports — which is unlikely given the eight USB ports surrounding the case — you may at all times throw a Thunderbolt dock into the equation to broaden your connectivity additional.

For wi-fi connectivity, the NUC 11 Excessive contains Intel’s AX201 chip, which gives dual-band Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2.

Internals

Intel presents the NUC in two configurations: Both with a Core i7-11700B or Core i9-11900KB. As is the case with all NUCs, you’ll have to deliver your personal graphics card, SSD, RAM, and working system. All the pieces else you want is already contained in the compute component or the case. That features a 650W 80+ Gold energy provide and an Intel AX201 chip.

CPU Intel Core i9-11900KB or Intel Core i7-11700B
GPU Assist for full-size, dual-slot GPU or Intel UHD 750
Reminiscence As much as 64GB of dual-channel SO-DIMM DDR4
Storage As much as two PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSDs, as much as two PCIe 3.0 M.2 SSDs
Energy provide 650W 80+ Gold
USB ports As much as 12, eight included
Thunderbolt ports Two Thunderbolt 4
Networking 2.5G Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.2
Ports Headphone/microphone jack, SDXC reader, HDMI 2.0b

My evaluate unit got here kitted out with the Core i9-11900KB compute component, which is a beefed-up laptop computer chip that’s part of the 10nm Tiger Lake household. In brief, you shouldn’t confuse it with the desktop Core i9-11900K, which is constructed utilizing Intel’s 14nm course of and requires over twice the ability.

The Core i9-11900KB is a 65W chip, nevertheless it nonetheless comes with eight cores and 16 threads, and it will possibly turbo as much as 4.9GHz based mostly on Intel’s specs. My chip by no means reached that pace throughout testing, nevertheless it acquired shut at simply above 4.8GHz. The marginally cheaper Core i7-11700B nonetheless comes with eight cores and 16 threads, however a barely decrease clock pace.

Each chips include built-in graphics, however I used to be upset to seek out that they use Intel UHD graphics, not Iris Xe like many cell Tiger Lake chips. As I’ll get to in a bit, you want a discrete GPU if you’d like any affordable gaming efficiency out of Beast Canyon.

In any other case the NUC 11 Excessive helps what you may deliver to it. That features as much as 64GB of dual-channel DDR4 laptop computer reminiscence (SO-DIMM), a dual-slot graphics card, and as much as 4 M.2 SSDs, one among which you’ll want to put in within the compute component.

Opening every thing up is a breeze. There’s some good consideration to element on Intel’s part right here, together with the tiny captive screws holding on the again plate, a helpful door for unlatching the compute component, and an SSD slot on the underside so you may shortly improve your storage.

Intel NUC 11 Extreme without a GPU installed.

After getting the facet panels off, the NUC 11 Excessive opens as much as present unprecedented entry on this small of a kind. The highest panel, which holds three followers, flips as much as provide you with clearance round all parts of the case. And there’s not lots happening inside.

Many of the PC lives contained in the compute component, so that you’re left with a small, specifically designed motherboard, the ability provide, the compute component, and GPU when you have one put in. The NUC 11 Excessive has precisely what it wants, trimming the fats that usually comes together with small builds.

It’s not with out points, although. The latch for the graphics card PCIe slot is nearly unattainable to achieve with a card put in. I needed to push the again finish of a screwdriver between the GPU and the compute component to get it open, and it’s a must to take away the GPU earlier than getting on the compute component.

Assist for full-size graphics playing cards ought to include an enormous asterisk, as nicely. It’s true that you may slot a full-length, dual-slot GPU into the NUC 11 Excessive, however that’s it. That doesn’t take into consideration the additional modular energy cables, both, which have to share the area with the tail finish of the GPU.

The NUC 11 Excessive has precisely what it wants, trimming the fats that usually comes together with small builds.

Twin-slot is the restrict, although. In case your cooler even protrudes barely previous the dual-slot mark, it received’t match within the NUC 11 Excessive. Nvidia Founder’s Version playing cards would possibly pose a difficulty, too. The RTX 3080, for instance, has a fan on either side. One fan could be instantly in opposition to the again facet of the ability provide in that case.

Total, although, that is probably the most nice small kind issue expertise I’ve ever had. I’ve just a few niggles with the graphics card slot and the additional cables, however these are simple to miss with the clear consideration Intel paid to the constructing expertise. The NUC 11 Excessive continues to make a case for barebones, small kind PCs.

Probably the most disappointing part of the NUC 11 Excessive is that you may’t purchase it full. Including RAM, an SSD, and Home windows is straightforward sufficient, however Beast Canyon actually shines with a GPU put in. And including the worth of an costly graphics card on prime of the already excessive worth of the NUC 11 Excessive is a troublesome promote.

The premium is sensible, although. You possibly can’t construct something fairly just like the NUC 11 Excessive with off-the-shelf parts. In case you’re keen to buy round and have a mini ITX graphics card, although, there are alternatives just like the Velka 3 which can be really smaller than the NUC 11 Excessive.

Processor efficiency

Getting right down to the uncooked energy of Beast Canyon, it’s extra highly effective than I anticipated. The Core i9-11900KB isn’t fairly on the extent of a full desktop part, nevertheless it doesn’t have to be on this small of a package deal. There’s a small trade-off, nevertheless it’s a lot smaller than it must be contemplating the dimensions of Beast Canyon.

I began testing with PCMark 10, which gives a pleasant overview of efficiency throughout an extended record of duties. The NUC 11 Excessive earned an total rating of seven,520, which is simply barely off the MSI Aegis RS 10 —  a mid-tower desktop packing a full-size Core i9-10900K. It handily beat the flagship Tiger Lake chip within the HP Elite Dragonfly Max, too, scoring almost 3,000 extra factors.

Compute element in Intel NUC 11 Extreme.

PCMark 10 is demanding, too. The processor reached a most temperature of 93 levels Celsius in the course of the benchmark, nevertheless it by no means downclocked. Even when slammed, my i9-11900KB continued to spice up barely above 4.8GHz.

Cinebench R23 got here subsequent, which pushes processors to their limits by forcing them to render a fancy 3D picture. Right here, the Core i9-11900KB earned a single-core rating of 1,636 and a multi-core rating of 11,424. The multi-core rating is on the excessive finish, although a desktop Core i9-10900K can nonetheless outpace it by about 30%. Some other Tiger Lake chip, nevertheless, doesn’t even come shut.

The Core i9-11900KB really beat the desktop Core i9-10900K within the single-core take a look at by about 23%. Though a powerful exhibiting, Cinebench revealed some weaknesses of Intel’s design. The Core i9-11900KB peaked at its most working temperature of 100 levels Celsius — in accordance with HWiNFO64 — earlier than downclocking to three.4GHz. Even with a stable cooling answer, the NUC 11 Excessive is vulnerable to throttling when pushed to the restrict.

GeekBench 5 isn’t almost as demanding, and the NUC 11 Excessive as soon as once more confirmed its energy. Just like PCMark 10, the Core i9-11900KB beat the desktop Core i9-10900K within the single-core take a look at and got here in a detailed second within the multi-core one. It shot manner forward of the NUC 9 Excessive, too, beating the older unit by round 23%.

It’s a reliable counterpoint to a desktop chip, and performs far above some other Tiger Lake providing obtainable.

Handbrake instructed an identical story. The NUC 11 Excessive shaved 13 seconds off our encoding time of the Elysium trailer in comparison with the NUC 9 Excessive. That stated, Handbrake confirmed that the Core i9-11900KB continues to be, at its core, a cell part. In comparison with the desktop Core i9-10900K, the chip was a full 30 seconds slower.

Lastly, I turned to PugetBench for Premiere Professional to see how the NUC 11 Excessive would deal with video modifying. This sort of machine appears excellent for the duty, and my outcomes again that up. Total, it scored above a desktop Core i9-10900K configured with an RTX 3060 and 32GB of RAM. That’s totally on the again of clean playback efficiency, nevertheless, because the NUC 11 Excessive fell wanting the desktop within the export and GPU scores.

You’re not getting the complete efficiency of a desktop chip with the NUC 11 Excessive, however at lower than half the wattage, that shouldn’t come as a shock. It’s a reliable counterpoint to a desktop chip, and performs far above some other Tiger Lake providing obtainable. Warmth was a difficulty in Cinebench, however that benchmark is a little bit of a stress take a look at. You shouldn’t expertise throttling in most duties.

Gaming efficiency

I solely ran just a few gaming assessments with the NUC 11 Excessive as a result of it doesn’t really ship with a graphics card. Your efficiency goes to rely on what you fit inside. Nonetheless, I wished to get an summary of how the RTX 3060 inside my evaluate unit would stack up in opposition to one inside a full desktop. And good for Intel, there’s nearly no distinction.

The NUC 11 Excessive averaged precisely the identical body charge as a desktop configured with a Core i9-10900K and RTX 3060 in Fortnite at 1080p Epic settings. As much as 1440p, solely three frames separated the NUC 11 Excessive from the desktop, with the NUC averaging 83 fps (frames per second) and the desktop averaging 86 fps.

Intel NUC 11 opened up.

That was the case in Civilization VI, too, the place the NUC averaged 141 fps at 1080p Extremely and the desktop averaged 143 fps. At 1440p with the identical settings, the 2 machines had been inside a body of one another. The NUC 11 Excessive’s facet panel presents loads of air to the GPU, and based mostly on my restricted vary of assessments, playing cards ought to carry out about in addition to they do in a desktop.

In case you order a NUC, you received’t get this efficiency with out including a graphics card. The UHD graphics contained in the Core i9-11900KB are pitifully sluggish for gaming. They’re obtainable, however a little bit of a non-option. In reality, I couldn’t full my 1440p assessments as a result of the built-in graphics merely wouldn’t maintain up.

3DMark Time Spy confirmed simply how a lot of a distinction there may be. With the RTX 3060 put in, the NUC 11 Excessive earned an total rating of 8,953. With the GPU out, the machine scored simply 828 factors, lower than a tenth of what the RTX 3060 may handle. I couldn’t push previous 1080p Excessive settings in Fortnite, both, with the built-in GPU averaging simply 15 fps.

Civilization VI was a bit higher at 1080p with Medium settings, however even then, the UHD graphics averaged simply 23 fps. The built-in graphics aren’t good for gaming until you’re keen to drop right down to 720p and run at Low settings, and even then, some video games might battle.

You’re clearly supposed so as to add a GPU to the NUC 11 Excessive. The built-in graphics aren’t excellent, however the excellent news is that you simply’re giving up nearly nothing between a full-size desktop and the NUC 11 in terms of GPU efficiency. The design of the chassis permits loads of air inside, so most playing cards ought to maintain up.

Our take

The NUC 11 Excessive is great — so long as you may take care of its excessive worth. The equipment begins at $1,150 for the i7-11700B, and that doesn’t embody an working system, RAM, an SSD, or critically, a graphics card. Add these into the combination, and also you’re a machine that simply prices over $2,000, and that’s with no high-end GPU.

It’s manner too costly, however that’s type of the purpose. You already know if the NUC 11 Excessive is for you. It’s not a machine that’s making an attempt to hit a sure worth or supply a sure worth. As a substitute, it showcases glorious small kind issue design, a singular method to lay out a pc, and efficiency that offers even full-size desktops a run for his or her cash.

In case you’ve been wanting on the NUC with envy, it can ship in your expectations — given that you’ve got a graphics card to fit inside.

Are there any options?

There are different mini PCs, however nothing fairly just like the NUC 11 Excessive. Until you hunt down a boutique case and configure your personal rig, there isn’t one other machine that crams as a lot energy because the NUC 11 Excessive does on this small of a case. Most mini ITX instances should not solely bigger, but additionally harder to work with.

That stated, it can save you some cash by constructing your personal machine for those who’re OK with a barely bigger case or can accept a mini ITX GPU.

How lengthy will it final?

The purpose of a NUC is that you simply’ll be capable to improve it with a brand new compute component over time. Assuming Intel continues delivering them, you’ll be capable to use the NUC 11 Excessive till the ability provide provides out.

Do you have to purchase it?

Sure, so long as you recognize what you’re moving into. The NUC 11 Excessive isn’t only a mini PC, so for those who’re searching for one thing you may arrange and overlook, a machine just like the M1 Mac Mini might be higher.

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