Hands On: Intel’south NUC 12 Extreme ‘Dragon Canyon’ Kit Is Compact, Powerful and Complicated

(Image credit: Tom’southward Hardware)

2/25/2022 Update:

Nosotros accept added some functioning testing below, too equally tweaked the text to clarify some setup issues that weren’t articulate to us during initial testing.

I take to give Intel some credit. When the chipmaker

debuted its PCIe-carte based Compute Element back in 2019

, moving the CPU, RAM, storage and more off the motherboard, I was skeptical the company would stick with the form factor. Yet hither we are going on four years later and the company’south latest ‘Eden’ compute element not simply packs a 12th Gen CPU, but it comes with standard socketed desktop chips this fourth dimension around, in the form of a Core i7-12700 or the Core i9-12900 they sent our way, packed inside the company’southward complicated but impressively compact (8-liter) NUC 12 Farthermost ‘Dragon Canyon’ kit.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

First off, allow’s tackle pricing. The Compute Element itself is basically a PCIe expansion board with an LGA1700 socket, CPU, and two slots for And so-DIMM (laptop) DDR4 RAM and two M.2 sockets, plus a surprising amount of ports and headers, starts at $750. But if you want one with a Core i9-12900 CPU, the price jumps to $1450. Keep in mind these prices are without RAM, storage or an Bone. And if you want something to plug your Eden Element into, the full NUC 12 Farthermost Kit, basically a case with a daughter lath, three fans, and a 650W SFX ability supply, a 2d PCIe slot for installing a dedicated GPU, plus the Compute Chemical element with your choice of CPU, volition sell for $ane,150 for the i7 model or $1,450 for the i9 Intel sent our manner. You could, however, also use this to upgrade previous gen NUC Extreme kits.

Continue in mind, just like with the bill of fare, those prices don’t include storage, RAM, an OS, or a GPU. And don’t expect to drop in something beefy like a 3080 Ti. The NUC 12 Extreme supports cards up to 12 inches long, but just 2 slots thick. Anything thicker and y’all aren’t going to be able to put the side panel on because your blower is going to exist hanging exterior the chassis, which is impressively compact at about fourteen ten 4.75 10 seven.5 inches (LWH). The dimensions are basically the same as terminal year’s

NUC xi Farthermost

, although there’southward a USB-C port up front end now and ane USB-A, where the previous model had two USB-A ports. The ports on the Compute Element are also different, which we’ll delve into in the next department.

Competition and Eden Compute Element

In terms of packing high-cease components into a small space, the closest thing I tin think of to the NUC 12 Extreme is
Corsair’south One i300. That organisation is noticeably bigger at 14.96 x half dozen.93 x 7.87, but it’southward a vertical tower, and so takes up far less desk space. It also supports higher-finish CPUs and GPUs, and both are liquid-cooled.

(Epitome credit: Tom’s Hardware)

The NUC 12 Extreme, meanwhile, has three fans upwardly top for cooling, a tiny cooler with a pocket-size corporeality of fins for its CPU and the surrounding VRMs (to exist off-white, both CPU options are moderate 65W models), and a plastic fan duct designed to pull cool air from exterior the chassis. The problem with the latter, though, is that due to the five-slot design of the chassis, the intake vent for the CPU sits right side by side to the rear vent for your GPU. At the very least, you probably want to avert blower-way GPUs with this kit. Otherwise, during gaming or other GPU-heavy loads, your CPU is going to exist sucking down the warm air exhausted by your graphics bill of fare. Every compact, high-power system is going to accept some thermal compromises, but this, paired with the slim cooler of the CPU, seems far from ideal, especially on i9 models.

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(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

That said, the port pick on the expansion subclass of the Eden Compute Element is more packed with ports than many full-size motherbaords. You get six 10 Gbps Type-A ports, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, both 10 and 2.five Gb Ethernet ports and a full-size HDMI port. That’s a whole lot of connectivity in a small infinite. Just it’s as well so packed together that it’southward going to be tough to use most of it at the same time, unless you’re only plugging in cables.

Disassembly and Setup

With all those details out of the way, it’s worth pointing out merely how complicated it is to get the NUC 12 Farthermost kit up and running. There is quite a bit of disassembly involved and some very tight clearances, specially if you want to take the Compute Chemical element carte out of the organisation, as we did.

Because the kit needs storage and RAM, both of which are installed within the compute element, you demand to offset open up the chassis. To begin this process you need to loosen four captive Philips caput screws at the back. So the ii mesh side panels pull off from the rear section, giving you admission to the interior.

To remove the Compute Element, you’ll need to go admission to the peak. While it’due south not immediately clear (although parts of the metal frame near the superlative are labeled ‘pull), the whole top portion, fans and all, flips upwards from the top outer edge. From there, removing another spiral lets yous elevator upwards the flap locking the expansion brackets. Removing two more than screws from the brackets finally sets the Compute Chemical element costless.

Notation you don’t expressly
to remove the chemical element card. With the system laid on its side and top flipped up, you can loosen the ii screws on the internal chassis of the bill of fare and flip it up, giving you admission to the RAM and M.2 sockets. At the time of initial writing, we weren’t enlightened of this considering we didn’t have admission to the installation guide. Plus we wanted to remove the card to become a better look at it and take photos anyhow, so our full removal and disassembly experience follows below.

If y’all desire to remove the carte du jour, y’all can’t practice information technology just nonetheless, because there are still a agglomeration of cables that demand to exist unplugged. At the stop of the card are the 8-pin CPU power connector, two front-panel USB connectors (there’s an additional USB-C and USB-A port up front, along with an SD card slot and an audio jack), to antenna connectedness points for the Wi-Fi hiding upwardly on the peak edge of the card (which required pliers for me to get off), and a couple more small header plugs that yous tin’t even run across considering the power supply and its plugs are in the mode. This can be mitigated somewhat by removing the ability supply. But doing that requires taking iv screws out from the back, and then unplugging the
and of one of the USB front-console cables on the lesser of the chassis (because it blocks the removal of the PSU), and so slowly edging the power supply out of its cramped space in the front end of the case. Only you can’t remove information technology very far because the main PSU ability socket cable, which is permanently fastened, has nearly three inches of slack and routes up through the top three-fan housing to the dorsum of the instance, where you plug in your standard 3-prong PSU cable.

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Once you lot’ve done all that, then removed two pocket-sized header cables on the Compute Chemical element board, yous tin can remove it. Afterwards this complex and careful disassembly, y’all can you beginning taking the Compute Element apart so you lot can install your storage and RAM. Although over again, you don’t expressly take to remove the card. You can admission its inernals past loosening a couple of screws on the side of the card and flipping up the card’s shroud.

The get-go time I removed the Compute Element, I did so without removing the PSU. And because everything was so close together, at that place were clearly some moments where bits were pushing upwardly against other parts of the instance. But with the Compute Element out I installed two SO-DIMMs (for a total of 64GB of RAM) and and a 512GB Patriot PCIe 3.0 SSD. I then put the whole thing back together, installed an RTX 2060 GPU (the just graphics carte I had on hand that was slim enough to fit), and put the whole thing carefully dorsum together.

Powering up the NUC 12 Extreme (or trying to)

With everything dorsum in its identify (or so I thought), and the power supply plugged in, I powered the system up –- or at to the lowest degree attempted to. The fans on the GPU spun up, simply not the fans on the chassis, and the system didn’t boot. Later disassembling the NUC 12 Extreme kit once again, carefully, I looked closely at the Compute Element and the residuum of the internals, eventually noticing a xanthous 3-pin jumper, with its iii pins still intact, laying at the bottom of the chassis.

After some back-and-along with an Intel rep, they confirmed this was the “recovery jumper,” which unremarkably sits on the terminate of the board, most a couple of those small header cables that connect $.25 of the Compute Element to the front-panel portions of the case. It must accept gotten snagged when I removed the Element for the first fourth dimension. Clearly, this was the reason the kit wouldn’t kick.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Intel NUC 12 Extreme Performance

Intel did send u.s.a. a second unit of the NUC 12 Extreme, merely it arrived less than 24 hours before launch. So it took u.s.a. another couple days to get it gear up and do some basic testing. Since the arrangement comes without storage, RAM, an Bone or a GPU, we only ran CPU tests. The 65W Core i9-12900 in our kit isn’t quite as powerful equally the total-wattage i9-12900K, but it’south easily powerful plenty to handle any 12-inch, dual-slot GPUs that volition fit in the NUC chassis, as is the lesser Core i7-12700 option.

To become a sense of the NUC 12 Extreme’s performance, we ran a few productivity tests and compared it to the previously mentioned Corsair One i300, a slightly larger desktop with a Core i9-12900K and an RTX 3080 Ti–and also a much college toll at $4,999 as tested, but it is a complete system, with a powerful GPU, 64GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage. As a more straight comparison, we also included Intel’south previous-generation
NUC 11 Extreme Creature Canyon
kit, which uses a very like chassis, but its Compute Element carte features a non-upgradable
Core i9-11900KB, as opposed to the standard socketed 12900K in the Dragon Canyon kit.

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We outfitted the NUC12 Extreme Dragon Coulee with 64GB of DDR4 memory and a 512GB Patriot PCIe 3.0 SSD for testing.

NUC 12 Extreme Geekbench Chart

(Epitome credit: Future)

First off in Geekbench five, the twelfth Gen NUC edged past the 11th Gen model just slightly on the single-core test, only its mulit-cadre score of 12,704 was much higher than the 9,410 scored by the 11th Gen model on the aforementioned exam. Merely neither 65-watt CPU could friction match the liquid-cooled 125W 12900K in Corsair’s One i300, which scored i,945 on single-core and 17,965 in the multi-core part of the test.

NUC 12 Extreme Handbrake Chart

(Image credit: Futurity)

Nosotros saw a similar blueprint in our Handbrake exam, which taxes a CPU past transcoding a 4K video file to 1080p. On this test, the Dragon Canyon’s time of 5:06 looked impressive confronting the previous-gen Beast Canyon model’s time of six:28. But once again, the more powerful, liquid-cooled Ane i300 finished the same test nearly xc seconds sooner than the NUC 12 Extreme, finishing in 3:38.

Since the storage, retention and GPU operation all depend on what components you put in the system, there’s fiddling else to test here that would employ to the NUC itself.

If you are considering the Dragon Canyon kit, know that it’southward very densely packed and complicated to piece of work in. Although be sure to check out the manual for help since this is a far-from-standard PC form cistron. And note that you don’t actually have to remove the Compute Element bill of fare to become access to the storage and RAM slots. Still, setting information technology up or upgrading the organisation is more complicated than you probably expect. And if you e’er want to remove the Compute Element from the chassis to upgrade the CPU or bandy in whole new hereafter card, await the procedure to feel more similar fixing a piece of quondam stereo equipment than upgrading a “standard” desktop.

That, plus the fact that it’s so expensive ($1,450, without a GPU, storage, RAM or an Os), means that almost people would be ameliorate off opting for something like Corsair’s One i300 if they want a compact, powerful PC for gaming or other intense workloads. That system is as well very expensive, but it has much better (liquid) cooling for both the CPU and graphics card. And while it is somewhat larger, its vertical orientation means that information technology volition take up much less space on your desk-bound or flooring than the NUC 12 Extreme. Plus, it comes completely assembled out of the box, while the NUC requires a off-white amount of trivial in an unfamiliar form factor–unless perchance you bought one of the last-generation Extreme NUCs.

Matt began piling upwards calculator experience as a child with his Mattel Aquarius. He built his starting time PC in the late 1990s and ventured into mild PC modding in the early 2000s. He’s spent the concluding decade covering emerging technology for Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports, while testing components and PCs for Figurer Shopper and Digital Trends. When not writing about tech, he’s often walking—through the streets of New York, over the sheep-dotted hills of Scotland, or just at his treadmill desk-bound at abode in front of the 50-inch 4K HDR TV that serves as his PC monitor.

Source: https://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-nuc-12-extreme-dragon-canyon-hands-on