Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) mini-PCs are a long-running level that lets the large spot shaper showcase however overmuch show and functionality tin acceptable successful a compact, minimalist desktop design. The NUC 12 Extreme Kit nether reappraisal present (dubbed “Dragon Canyon” during its development) is simply a gaming desktop hardly larger than a crippled console, but packing successful immoderate large firepower: a 12th Generation Intel “Alder Lake” Core desktop processor, positive the abstraction and powerfulness transportation for a full-length graphics card. Not lone that, but it’s besides wholly end-user upgradable, from its SO-DIMM RAM and 3 M.2 storage-drive slots to its existent CPU, via Intel's unsocial Compute Element platform.
A accepted mid-tower desktop with these specs would doubtlessly outgo less; sold lone arsenic a barebones unit, the NUC 12 Extreme Kit starts astatine $1,150 with a Core i7 Compute Element installed, jumping to $1,450 for the Core i9 mentation we’re testing. That’s before you adhd your ain RAM, storage, operating system, and graphics card. But the allure of a mini-PC that tin bash it each is undeniable, and the NUC 12 Extreme Kit’s outstanding show and practicality marque it our apical gaming mini-PC, and a repetition Editors' Choice grant winner.
The Design: Honey, I Shrunk the Gaming PC
The NUC 12 Extreme Kit is simply a refresh of 2021’s NUC 11 Extreme Kit (“Beast Canyon”), utilizing overmuch the aforesaid chassis and interior layout. (See our deep-dive interrogation with the Intel NUC team astir the clip of the NUC 11 launch.) It makes the all-important leap to Intel’s 12th Generation Core Alder Lake platform, which is leaps and bounds much susceptible than the 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” silicon that was utilized successful the NUC 11 Extreme Kit.
Our NUC12EBDi9 reappraisal portion features the 65-watt Core i9-12900, a lower-wattage mentation of the 125-watt Core i9-12900K. (Hit that nexus for a thorough inheritance connected Alder Lake and its hybrid architecture.) The Core i9-12900’s Performance-core (P-core) Turbo Boost is conscionable 100MHz little (5.1GHz versus 5.2GHz), which means that its highest show should beryllium similar, but it volition nutrient little vigor successful long-running tasks since its basal timepiece is overmuch lower. (That's 2.4GHz versus 3.2GHz; look for our benchmarks later.)
The NUC 12 Extreme Kit is besides disposable with the Core i7-12700 (the kit dubbed NUC12DCMi7, with Compute Element exemplary NUC12EDBi7), a likewise lower-wattage mentation of the Core i7-12700K. No budget-friendly (friendlier?) Core i5 options are planned, though Intel volition beryllium offering the NUC 12 Extreme Kit with Intel vPro distant absorption features arsenic abstracted SKUs.
Start up the NUC 12 Extreme Kit—after you assemble it, of course, much astir which later—and you’re greeted with a fearsome RGB-backlit skull faceplate. Love it oregon hatred it, number maine successful the former; this is 1 brash mini-PC, and it makes nary pretense of hiding that.
But if you’re successful the 2nd camp, the faceplate is removable. You tin regenerate the skull with your ain design, printed connected transparency film, oregon simply crook disconnected the lighting successful the BIOS. The NUC’s broadside panels are besides RGB-lit on the bottommost edges, overmuch similar a modded-up car with ground-effects lighting.
Size-wise, the NUC 12 Extreme Kit is 7.4 by 4.7 by 14 inches (HWD), oregon conscionable agelong capable to acceptable a full-length (12-inch), two-slot desktop graphics card. The interior measurement is conscionable nether 8 liters, which makes the compact 12-liter Corsair One i300 look downright brawny.
A Dragon's Ports: Solid Connectivity All Around
Connectivity is 1 of the NUC 12 Extreme Kit’s strengths. On the beforehand are 2 USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (one Type-A and 1 Type-C; the NUC 11 Extreme Kit had 2 Type-As), a full-size SD paper reader, and a headset jack. The paper scholar is simply a uncommon and bully sop to contented creators and pro photography hounds.
The backplane has six USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A and 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports. The Core i9 exemplary seen present has some 10Gbps and 2.5Gbps Ethernet jacks whereas the Core i7 exemplary conscionable gets the 10Gbps jack. The HDMI 2.0b video output is for the CPU’s onboard graphics.
Note that nary dedicated graphics paper is installed for these photos, but 2 slots implicit is wherever you’d person the video connectors poking retired connected whichever paper you install. The rear I/O larboard panel, you'll note, has an HDMI output, truthful you tin trust connected the on-chip Intel UHD Graphics connected the Compute Element without a video card, if you request to. But fixed however overmuch you paid for a chassis similar this that supports a large graphics card, what's the amusive successful that?
The powerfulness cord besides connects backmost here. More astir the powerfulness proviso erstwhile we unfastened up the chassis...
Wireless networking comes from an Intel AX211 Wi-Fi 6E paper with an antenna that’s built into the lawsuit alternatively of being external.
Building the Barebones: Deft Fingers Required
Inside the NUC 12 Extreme Kit is wherever the magic happens. As noted, this NUC is sold lone arsenic a barebones portion (hence the “Kit” successful the name), truthful being capable to instal components is simply a mandatory skill.
How to get wrong isn’t obvious. It starts with removing 4 Phillips-head screws connected the integrative backmost panel. (Tip: you indispensable maneuver the apical portion of the backmost sheet disconnected earlier the bottommost volition unhook.) With the backmost of the portion exposed, you’ll request to region different screw that holds down a latch, conscionable beneath the powerfulness connector, and merchandise it; this allows some broadside panels to descent guardant and away. After each that, you tin propulsion up the apical panel, which hinges upward arsenic seen below.
The apical comprises 3 fans supplying robust cooling for the Core i9 CPU successful the Compute Element. Here’s the NUC 12 Extreme Kit’s interior arsenic it comes successful the box.
The skull-emblazoned module is the Intel Compute Element. It’s fundamentally a mini-motherboard wrong a compartment wherever you’ll find the CPU, 3 M.2 Type-2280 PCIe Gen4 x4 slots for SSD storage, and 2 SO-DIMM slots. The RAM modular is DDR4-3200, not DDR5, though successful fairness, DDR5 representation successful SO-DIMM format isn’t mostly disposable yet. Up to 64GB of RAM is supported.
Here, erstwhile we removed the Compute Element’s integrative cooler ductwork you spot present (just 1 screw, and it lifts off) and unscrewed the beforehand face, we could spot the Compute Element is really rather modular inside...
Note the SO-DIMM slots to the close of the large metallic CPU heatsink, and the sticky grey M.2 thermal strips connected the heatsinks, exposing 2 of the M.2 slots. The instrumentality successful the Compute Element's screen cools the Compute Element's interior by drafting caller aerial from outside. Meanwhile, the 3 top-mounted fans gully aerial done the mesh broadside panels and upward. The fans are audible portion gaming, but we had nary sound complaints; the fans are low-toned and ignorable, nary louder than they’d beryllium successful a emblematic gaming mid-tower. In fact, the NUC 12 Extreme Kit often ran silently erstwhile we weren’t pushing demanding compute tasks done it.
Back to the assembly process. The Compute Element module itself tin beryllium taken retired to bash immoderate constituent installs, which isn’t hard to bash but isn’t strictly necessary. (We installed the footwear M.2 SSD and SO-DIMMs with the Compute Element inactive installed successful its slot.) The Compute Element connects to the PC via a PCIe Gen4 x16 slot connected the bottommost "backplane board," which Intel calls the NUC Board Element. This modular plan allows you, down the line, to swap successful a caller Compute Element and enactment existent without replacing the full PC. (Not adjacent a Mini-ITX motherboard would acceptable successful this PC, truthful proprietary upgrades via newer Compute Elements are the lone upgrade absorption you tin go.)
Your graphics paper slots successful close adjacent to the Compute Element, with millimeters to spare betwixt it and the airflow duct. The built-in 650-watt SFX-format powerfulness proviso has a modular plan and is bully for powering adjacent a 12-inch GeForce RTX 3080 Ti. You get duplicate eight-pin GPU powerfulness connectors, with lengths conscionable close for the choky interior without cluttering up with excess cablegram run.
On that note, there’s thing stopping you from installing a workstation GPU and utilizing the NUC 12 Extreme Kit arsenic a mini-workstation, either. Keeping it simple, we installed a tiny Asus-brand GeForce RTX 3060, the aforesaid paper that was installed successful the 2021 Beast Canyon NUC 11 Extreme predecessor exemplary we tested.
Rounding retired the enlargement capableness is simply a 3rd M.2 Type-2280 slot, besides PCIe Gen4 x4, connected the rear of the Compute Element. There’s besides a hatch connected the case’s underside that looks M.2-size for speedy access, but it led to a blank spot of PCB successful our sample. In the NUC 11, it was the doorway to an M.2 slot connected the underside of the NUC’s baseboard.
Overall, the NUC 12 Extreme Kit is remarkably modular for specified a tiny PC. Intel notably backs it with a three-year warranty, though by this PC's quality it’s not a whole-system warranty. If your own-supplied graphics paper oregon RAM oregon SSD fails, Intel won’t beryllium replacing that, truthful take the components you instal wisely.
Testing the NUC 12 Extreme Kit: This Dragon Can’t Be Tamed
No spoiler alert necessary: The NUC 12 Extreme Kit is 1 of the fastest, baddest mini-PCs you tin buy. I paired it disconnected against immoderate different earnestly accelerated compact PCs for our show benchmarks, including the liquid-cooled, $4,999-as-tested Corsair One i300, the adjacent much costly Maingear Turbo, and the comparatively budget-friendly NZXT H1 Mini Plus. See their basal loadouts below.
The lone genuinely "mini" PC among them is the NUC 11 Extreme Kit. We tested the NUC 12 Extreme Kit with the nonstop parts we utilized investigating that unit, truthful we could isolate the CPU show differences. Most of the pursuing investigation volition absorption connected the NUC duo; comparisons to the others volition beryllium mostly academic, since the NUCs are lone sold arsenic barebones units. Unless you usage the aforesaid parts arsenic we did—a 500GB Sabrent Rocket 4.0 SSD, 16GB (two 8GB SO-DIMMs) of DDR4-3200 RAM, Windows 11, and an Asus-brand GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card—your show mileage volition vary.
Productivity and Content Creation Tests
The NUC 12 Extreme Kit was disconnected to a promising commencement successful our archetypal test, UL’s PCMark 10, which simulates a assortment of real-world productivity and bureau workflows to measurement wide strategy performance. It improved connected the NUC 11 Extreme Kit by a fewer percent points which, fixed the trial isn’t wholly CPU-restricted, is astir what to expect.
Our different 3 benchmarks absorption connected the CPU, utilizing each disposable cores and threads, to complaint a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon's Cinebench R23 uses that company's Cinema 4D motor to render a analyzable scene, portion Primate Labs' Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates fashionable apps ranging from PDF rendering and code designation to instrumentality learning. Finally, we usage the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to person a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p solution (lower times are better).
Our last productivity trial is Puget Systems' PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud mentation 22 of Adobe's celebrated representation exertion to complaint a PC's show for contented instauration and multimedia applications. It's an automated hold that executes a assortment of wide and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and redeeming an representation to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.
Here's wherever the NUC 12 Extreme Kit’s caller Core i9-12900 spot comes into its own. It dominated the NUC 11 Extreme Kit’s Core i9-11900KB, scoring 50% higher people successful Cinebench and 41% higher successful Geekbench. The NUC 12 Extreme Kit adjacent outdid the Maingear and its Ryzen 9 5950X successful the latter.
Graphics and Gaming Tests
For Windows PCs, we tally some synthetic and real-world gaming tests. The erstwhile includes 2 DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL's 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for systems with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs). Also looped into that radical is the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which we usage to gauge OpenGL performance.
Beyond that, our real-world gaming investigating comes from the in-game benchmarks of F1 2021, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Rainbow Six Siege representing simulation, open-world action-adventure, and competitive/esports shooter games, respectively. On desktops, we tally them astatine their highest prime presets (F1 2021 astatine Ultra High, and Valhalla and Siege astatine Ultra) astatine 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions.
The NUC 12 Extreme Kit’s show gains implicit the NUC 11 Extreme Kit aren’t small, topping 10% successful Time Spy and astir doubling successful the CPU-limited Night Raid. Mystically, the NUC 12 Extreme Kit matched oregon exceeded the NUC 11 Extreme Kit’s numbers successful F1 2021 without DLSS but underperformed with DLSS. Nonetheless, astir of the numbers hold that the NUC 12 Extreme Kit is the amended gaming machine.
Mini-PC Excellence: Fear the Dragon (Canyon)
Even beastlier than its “Beast Canyon” predecessor, the NUC 12 Extreme Kit continues pushing the envelope for high-performance mini-PCs. Our Core i9 exemplary showed across-the-board show gains, acknowledgment to its Alder Lake CPU. Despite its compactness, this mini-PC offers fantabulous end-user upgradability, including slots for 3 M.2 PCIe retention drives and astir important, enactment for a full-length graphics card.
Now, fixed the NUC 12 Extreme Kit is lone sold arsenic a barebones unit, you’ll request to instal your ain components—memory, storage, an operating system, and a graphics card—but we recovered the instal wasn’t difficult. Provided you’re consenting to tackle that, the NUC 12 Extreme Kit is simply a marvel of a mini-PC that won’t marque you privation you bought a bigger tower.