Intel kick-started a form-factor revolution within the early 2010s with the introduction of the ultra-compact NUCs. The techniques had been meant to be an alternative choice to the tower desktops utilized in many purposes the place the dimensions, form, and the system capabilities had been principally unwarranted. The success of the NUCs enabled Intel to start out reimagining the construct of techniques utilized in a wider vary of settings.
Extra lately, the introduction of the Cranium Canyon NUC in 2016 was Intel’s first effort to make a gaming-focused SFF PC. And desktop-focused Compute Parts (primarily, a motherboard in a PCIe card form-factor) launched in early 2020 meant that full-blown gaming desktops might credibly come beneath the NUC banner. Within the second half of 2020, the Ghost Canyon NUC9 – the primary NUC Excessive – made a splash out there with help for a user-replaceable discrete GPU. Ghost Canyon was extraordinarily spectacular, however the restrictions on the dGPU dimension and high-end pricing had been dampeners. Intel made some amends with the NUC11 Excessive (Beast Canyon), utilizing a particular Tiger Lake SKU with a 65W TDP and relatively aggressive pricing.
The introduction of Alder Lake and its desktop-first focus has enabled Intel to organize a brand new flagship within the NUC Excessive lineup barely 6 months after the launch of the Beast Canyon NUC. The brand new Dragon Canyon platform was briefly teased on the 2022 CES, with the promise of a Q1 launch. Intel is maintaining its phrase with the launch of a lot of NUC12 Compute Parts and NUC12 Excessive Package SKUs. At this time, we’re having an in depth take a look at what the NUC12 Excessive brings to the desk, significantly compared to the NUC11 Excessive. The latest introduction of Home windows 11 signifies that our benchmarks comparability set is at present restricted – right now’s preview doesn’t cope with any techniques apart from the NUC12 Excessive and NUC11 Excessive. A subsequent follow-up evaluation will cope with gaming benchmarks (utilizing dGPUs) and extra comparability factors with different SFF PCs out there.
Introduction and Product Impressions
Intel’s lineup of gaming-focused NUCs began with the Efficiency collection (Cranium Canyon NUC6i7KYK and Hades Canyon NUC8i7HVK), earlier than transferring up the ladder to the Excessive collection (Ghost Canyon NUC9i9QNX). On the 2021 Computex, the Beast Canyon NUC took over the flagship mantle and led to some essential updates over the Ghost Canyon NUC:
- Help for 65W desktop-class CPUs within the Compute Component (in comparison with the 45W cellular workstation-focused CPU within the Ghost Canyon’s Compute Parts)
- Elevated chassis dimensions to accommodate bigger discrete GPUs
- 10nm Tiger Lake CPU with new micro-architectural enhancements for efficiency and power-efficiency
- Help for a richer set of I/Os (together with PCIe Gen 4)
The teaser for the Dragon Canyon NUC on the 2022 CES introduced in much more spectacular options to the identical form-factor – features that we at the moment are in a position to verify with a pattern in hand:
- Help for 65W user-replaceable (socketed) desktop-class CPUs within the Compute Component (in comparison with the soldered CPU within the Beast Canyon’s Compute Component)
- Alder Lake CPU manufactured in Intel 7 with new micro-architectural enhancements for efficiency and power-efficiency, together with hybrid efficiency and effectivity cores
- Help for sooner I/Os (together with PCIe Gen 5, PCIe 4.0 x8 equal bandwidth between the CPU and the PCH, and 10GbE wired networking help)
- Help for twin LAN ports (10GbE + 2.5GbE) in choose SKUs, and higher ports selection within the entrance – a Sort-C and a Sort-A USB 3.2 Gen 2 port as a substitute of two Sort-A ones within the Beast Canyon
A minor retrogression is the absence of help for PCIe lane bifurcation within the baseboard – whereas Beast Canyon’s PCIe x16 dGPU slot might doubtlessly be utilized in a x8 / x4 / x4 configuration, the Dragon Canyon’s Edge Cove baseboard has no such help. The chassis nonetheless retains the M.2 22110 compartment on the underside, however there isn’t any PCIe slot behind it.
Intel provided us with an engineering pattern of the high-end SKU within the Dragon Canyon line – the NUC12DCMi9 sporting the NUC12 Excessive Compute Component (NUC11EDBi9). This Compute Component is housed in a 357mm x 189mm x 120mm chassis – primarily the identical one used within the NUC11 Excessive (Beast Canyon). Historically, NUCs have been related to the ultra-compact form-factor (100mm x 100mm in a 0.63L or 0.42L chassis). The introduction of the Cranium Canyon and subsequent Hades Canyon NUCs created one more class of 0.7L to 1.2L NUCs, and the 2020 Ghost Canyon took it as much as roughly 5L. The necessity to accommodate the cooling answer of a extra highly effective Compute Component, together with the power to just accept giant dGPUs contribute to the 8L quantity of the Beast Canyon and Dragon Canyon NUC chassis. That is nonetheless inside the realm of SFF PCs – an grownup can nonetheless single-handedly carry the unit round. Different essential SFF features such because the in-built PSU are additionally carried over from the Beast Canyon NUC.
Intel’s NUC lineup has historically included board and equipment variants, permitting its companions to offer worth additions (comparable to a passive chassis or further I/O ports in the long run system). Kits (apart from those that include a pre-installed OS) require the end-user so as to add storage, DRAM, and set up an OS to finish the system. Intel plans to promote two types of the Dragon Canyon NUC Package – the NUC12DCMi9 and the NUC12DCMi7. Nevertheless, OEMs and end-users may construct their very own NUC12 system primarily based on the next elements:
- Compute Component (NUC12EDBi9 or NUC12EDBi7 for the patron market, and the vPro-capable NUC12EDBv9 or NUC12EDBv7 for the skilled market)
- Baseboard (or backplane)
- DRAM (as much as 2x DDR4-3200 SODIMMs)
- Non-volatile storage
- Discrete GPU (non-compulsory)
An off-the-shelf Dragon Canyon NUC12DCM equipment leaves solely the DRAM, non-volatile storage, and discrete GPU to the selection of the end-user. Though the Compute Component sports activities a LGA1700 socket, the 2 Compute Parts being offered in t he market include the processor pre-installed (both Core i9-12900 or Core i7-12700). Previous to the platform evaluation and overview of our evaluation configuration, let’s check out the pre-decided elements within the above checklist.
NUC12 Compute Component
The NUC12DCMi9 we’re reviewing right now comes with the NUC12DEBi9 NUC12 Excessive Compute Component. It comes with a socketed processor – the Core i9-12900. This belongs to the Alder Lake (twelfth Era) household, and has a 8C + 8c / 24T configuration with a 65W TDP. It may well turbo as much as 4.7 GHz. This Compute Component belongs to the collection that began with the NUC9 technology, re-imagining the normal motherboard in a discrete PCIe x16 card form-factor.
The Compute Component comes with a cooling shroud containing a single fan and three M.2 heat-sinks with thermal pads pre-attached. Whereas two of these heat-sinks are within the facet with the fan, the opposite is on the rear, behind the processor. The rear slot helps solely M.2 2280 SSDs, and is linked on to the processor. The 2 slots immediately beneath the cooling shroud are PCH-connected ones. On the intense proper, we have now the 2 SODIMM slots that may function at speeds of as much as DDR-3200 for DIMMs as much as 64GB in whole. These are vertical slots (in comparison with the horizontal ones within the NUC9 Compute Parts), and release precious area that will get taken up by the M.2 slots. It should be famous that the socketed processor requires barely bigger board property – ensuing within the motion of one of many three M.2 slots within the Driver Bay (Beast Canyon) Compute Component to the rear within the Dragon Canyon. The gallery under gives further images of the Compute Component and the cooling shroud.
The NUC12DCMi9 comes with two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 2.5G Ethernet port, a 10G Ethernet port, a HDMI 2.0b show output, and 6 USB 3.1 Gen 2 Sort-A ports within the rear. There are two USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (one Sort-A and one Sort-C), a 3.5mm stereo headset jack, and a SDXC slot with UHS-II help within the entrance. The entrance I/Os are enabled by a daughterboard that connects to the headers within the Compute Component. The Compute Component has its personal energy connection to the PSU.
Eden Cove Baseboard
The baseboard used within the Dragon Canyon (code identify Eden Cove) is an evolutionary replace to the Monster Cove board used within the Ghost Canyon.
The PCIe lanes at the moment are Gen 5, however they drop the x8 / x4 / x4 bifurcation capabilities designed into the earlier technology.
Chassis and PSU
The NUC12DCMi9 chassis has the identical ‘ease’ of set up because the earlier technology Excessive NUC. The size permit the set up of twin slot GPUs as much as 12″ in size. The included 650W 80+ Gold inside PSU additionally provides a 8-pin and a 2×6+2-pin connector for the GPU. The chassis could be disassembled by eradicating the 4 screws to dislodge the rear cowl, and coming out the facet panels.
The highest panel with the three followers rests on a hinge. The embossed instructions within the body helpfully information the consumer to open it up. That is important to get entry to the Compute Component and take away its shroud to put in the RAM and storage.
Regardless of the plastic framing within the entrance panel, the metal-based building in different areas provides the chassis a premium look and durable really feel. The Beast Canyon NUC chassis additionally options customizable RGB underglow lighting, in addition to a replaceable RGB entrance brand. Whereas cable administration shouldn’t be a difficulty by itself, disassembling the NUC and reassembling is difficult due to the restricted area between the PSU and the Compute Component. The myriad connections between the Compute Component and the daughterboard / entrance panel cannot be simply saved separate from the PSU cables. Thankfully, most customers solely want to fret in regards to the dGPU set up. The scope for hassle right here once more comes not from a cable administration perspective – quite, the USB 3.2 Gen 2 header connection cables to the daughterboard are inclined to get free and make the entrance port function at USB 2.0 speeds. These points existed in earlier NUC Excessive Kits additionally, however the absence of an replace to the chassis design signifies that these points stay unaddressed.
The entrance USB ports are recessed, and given their Sort-A nature, determining the right orientation to plug within the peripherals is a little bit of a hit and miss. Sure keyboard / mice receivers can find yourself being fully contained in the recess, making it difficult to take away them when the opposite USB slot can also be occupied. The location of the PSU AC receptacle on the highest finish of the chassis signifies that the heavy AC energy wire might doubtlessly create cable administration points. In each these features, the Ghost Canyon NUC chassis had a a lot better design.
The configuration of our evaluation pattern of the NUC12DCMi9 was accomplished with the next elements:
- 2x Mushkin Redline 4S320NNNF32G for 64GB of DRAM
- 1x Western Digital WD_BLACK SN770 1TB M.2 2280 SSD
The presence of a desktop-class CPU within the system signifies that the Beast Canyon NUC ought to simply have the ability to help highly effective GPUs – a facet we’ll focus on in a future article. At this time, we take a look at the Dragon Canyon NUC with the minimal required further elements. Within the subsequent part, we check out the complete specs of our configured evaluation pattern, adopted by an in depth platform evaluation together with some notes on our setup expertise.