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

MSRP $1,180.00

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

Professionals

Stays quiet

Strong processor efficiency

Help 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 dwell, now occupied by Intel’s NUC 11 Excessive, in any other case often called Beast Canyon. It’s a barebones package of welcome compromises, balancing desktop-like efficiency with a type 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 towards 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 obligatory, 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 explicit market — these with an affinity for tinkering that don’t thoughts paying up for fascinating designs. That stated, in the event you don’t thoughts getting your palms soiled (and you’ve got a spare graphics card to place inside), the NUC 11 Excessive is superb.

Design

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

The brand new NUC 11 Excessive is a tiny PC, but it surely’s not as small as earlier variations. The Eight-liter chassis measures 14.1 inches lengthy, 7.1 inches excessive, and four.7 inches huge. The NUC 9 Excessive is taller at Eight.5 inches however a lot shorter and barely much less huge. It additionally doesn’t assist 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, but it surely 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 dimension.

That’s clear when evaluating it to different small type 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 a large 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.

It’s a good suite, permitting you to set a strong colour or set normal RGB modes like strobing or respiratory. 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 slightly buggy. Leaping across the software program is straightforward sufficient, however it will constantly 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 supposed. There’s a trio of 92mm followers beneath the highest panel to maintain all the things cool, they usually by no means acquired loud sufficient to trouble me whereas testing (even in a Cinebench R23 loop). They make noise, however the NUC 11 Excessive is remarkably quiet given its dimension. 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, but it surely didn’t. As is the case with a variety of features of the package, 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.

Up entrance, you might have fast entry to 2 USB three.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 will’ve been good to simply throw it in entrance of the case.

As an alternative, I needed to join it within the again, however that wasn’t an issue. Even on this small of a dimension, Intel manages to cram six USB three.1 Gen 2 ports, 2.5G Ethernet, and two Thunderbolt four 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 in the event you slot in a video card. It’s solely there to supply the choice for built-in graphics, so in the event you add a graphics card, you’ll have entry to the ports that it has, too. Within the case of the RTX 3060 inside my evaluation unit, that included a single HDMI and three DisplayPort outputs.

Over the NUC 9 Excessive, this unit provides one other two USB ports within the again and upgrades the Thunderbolt ports from Thunderbolt three to Thunderbolt four. Even in the event you run out of ports — which is unlikely given the eight USB ports surrounding the case — you may all the time 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 affords the NUC in two configurations: Both with a Core i7-11700B or Core i9-11900KB. As is the case with all NUCs, you’ll must deliver your individual graphics card, SSD, RAM, and working system. All the things 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
Help 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 four.zero M.2 SSDs, as much as two PCIe three.zero M.2 SSDs
Energy provide
650W 80+ Gold
USB ports
As much as 12, eight included
Thunderbolt ports
Two Thunderbolt four
Networking
2.5G Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 5.2
Ports
Headphone/microphone jack, SDXC reader, HDMI 2.0b

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

The Core i9-11900KB is a 65W chip, but it surely nonetheless comes with eight cores and 16 threads, and it will probably turbo as much as four.9GHz based mostly on Intel’s specs. My chip by no means reached that velocity throughout testing, but it surely acquired shut at simply above four.8GHz. The marginally cheaper Core i7-11700B nonetheless comes with eight cores and 16 threads, however a barely decrease clock velocity.

Each chips include built-in graphics, however I used to be dissatisfied to search out that they use Intel UHD graphics, not Iris Xe like many cellular Tiger Lake chips. As I’ll get to in a bit, you want a discrete GPU if you’d like any cheap 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 in every of which you’ll want to put in within the compute component.

Opening all the things up is a breeze. There’s some good consideration to element on Intel’s half 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.

After you have the aspect panels off, the NUC 11 Excessive opens as much as present unprecedented entry on this small of a type. The highest panel, which holds three followers, flips as much as offer you clearance round all components of the case. And there’s not quite a bit happening inside.

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

It’s not with out points, although. The latch for the graphics card PCIe slot is sort of inconceivable 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 you must take away the GPU earlier than getting on the compute component.

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

The NUC 11 Excessive has precisely what it wants, trimming the fats that always 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 problem, too. The RTX 3080, for instance, has a fan on each side. One fan can be instantly towards the again aspect of the facility provide in that case.

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

Essentially the most disappointing a part of the NUC 11 Excessive is you could’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 value of an costly graphics card on prime of the already excessive value of the NUC 11 Excessive is a tricky promote.

The premium is sensible, although. You possibly can’t construct something fairly just like the NUC 11 Excessive with off-the-shelf components. For those who’re keen to buy round and have a mini ITX graphics card, although, there are alternatives just like the Velka three 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 half, but it surely doesn’t have to be on this small of a bundle. There’s a small trade-off, but it surely’s a lot smaller than it needs to be contemplating the dimensions of Beast Canyon.

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

PCMark 10 is demanding, too. The processor reached a most temperature of 93 levels Celsius through the benchmark, but it surely by no means downclocked. Even when slammed, my i9-11900KB continued to spice up barely above four.8GHz.

Cinebench R23 got here subsequent, which pushes processors to their limits by forcing them to render a posh 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 i9-10900Okay can nonetheless outpace it by about 30%. Every other Tiger Lake chip, nonetheless, doesn’t even come shut.

The Core i9-11900KB really beat the desktop Core i9-10900Okay within the single-core check 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 — based on HWiNFO64 — earlier than downclocking to three.4GHz. Even with a strong cooling answer, the NUC 11 Excessive is prone 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. Much like PCMark 10, the Core i9-11900KB beat the desktop Core i9-10900Okay within the single-core check and got here in an in depth second within the multi-core one. It shot means 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 every other Tiger Lake providing out there.

Handbrake informed an analogous 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 cellular half. In comparison with the desktop Core i9-10900Okay, 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 type of machine appears good for the duty, and my outcomes again that up. Total, it scored above a desktop Core i9-10900Okay configured with an RTX 3060 and 32GB of RAM. That’s totally on the again of easy playback efficiency, nonetheless, because the NUC 11 Excessive fell wanting the desktop within the export and GPU scores.

You’re not getting the total 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 every other Tiger Lake providing out there. Warmth was a problem in Cinebench, however that benchmark is a little bit of a stress check. You shouldn’t expertise throttling in most duties.

Gaming efficiency

I solely ran a couple of gaming exams with the NUC 11 Excessive as a result of it doesn’t really ship with a graphics card. Your efficiency goes to depend upon what you fit inside. Nonetheless, I wished to get an summary of how the RTX 3060 inside my evaluation unit would stack up towards one inside a full desktop. And good for Intel, there’s just about no distinction.

The NUC 11 Excessive averaged precisely the identical body price as a desktop configured with a Core i9-10900Okay 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.

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 have been inside a body of one another. The NUC 11 Excessive’s aspect panel affords loads of air to the GPU, and based mostly on my restricted vary of exams, playing cards ought to carry out about in addition to they do in a desktop.

For those who 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 gradual for gaming. They’re out there, however a little bit of a non-option. In reality, I couldn’t full my 1440p exams 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 general rating of Eight,953. With the GPU out, the machine scored simply 828 factors, lower than a 10th 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 slightly 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 superb, however the excellent news is that you just’re giving up just about nothing between a full-size desktop and the NUC 11 in the case 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 superb — so long as you may cope with its excessive value. The package begins at $1,150 for the i7-11700B, and that doesn’t embrace 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 means too costly, however that’s sort 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 value or supply a sure worth. As an alternative, it showcases glorious small type issue design, a novel option to lay out a pc, and efficiency that offers even full-size desktops a run for his or her cash.

For those who’ve been trying on the NUC with envy, it is going to 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 individual 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 will not be solely bigger, but additionally tougher to work with.

That stated, it can save you some cash by constructing your individual machine in the event you’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 just’ll be capable of improve it with a brand new compute component over time. Assuming Intel continues delivering them, you’ll be capable of use the NUC 11 Excessive till the facility provide offers out.

Do you have to purchase it?

Sure, so long as you understand what you’re stepping into. The NUC 11 Excessive isn’t only a mini PC, so in the event you’re on the lookout for one thing you may arrange and neglect, a machine just like the M1 Mac Mini might be higher.

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