Introduction and Product Impressions Setup Notes and Platform Analysis System Performance GPU Performance Miscellaneous Aspects and Concluding Remarks
Intel had led to an evolution in the form factor at the beginning of 2010 when it introduced the concept of Ultra-compact NUCs. They were developed to replace tower-style desktops, which were utilized in various applications where the dimensions, shapes, and capabilities of the device weren’t always appropriate. The popularity of NUCs caused Intel to begin thinking about designing systems that are suitable for use in a wider range of types of software.
The introduction of the Skull Canyon NUC in 2016 was the first time the company had a go-to to create a gaming-focused SFF PC. The NUC also came with computer-focused desktop Compute Elements (essentially, a PCIe motherboard form factor) introduced in early 2020. led to gaming desktops that could be included under the NUC brand. In the second quarter of the year 2020, The Ghost Canyon NUC9 – the first NUC Extreme – made a popular sensation on the market due to its replacing the users’ existing discrete graphics card. Ghost Canyon was extremely impressive, but the limitation on GPU size and the high-end cost was a hurdle. Intel did some tweaks to NUC11 Extreme, the NUC11 Extreme (Beast Canyon), a custom-designed Tiger Lake SKU with 65W TDP, and a comparable price.
The release of Alder Lake and its desktop-first design has enabled Intel to design a new flagship model within the NUC Extreme lineup just 6 months after the introduction of Beast Canyon NUC. The innovative Dragon Canyon platform was briefly presented during the 2022 CES, leading to a release in the early 2019’s first quarter. Intel was true to its word when it announced the release of a range of NUC12 Compute Elements and NUC12 Extreme Kit SKUs. Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at what a NUC12 Extreme brings to the table, specifically its predecessor, the NUC11 Extreme. The introduction to Windows 11 means that our benchmarks set of comparisons is restricted to the current preview. The set doesn’t include any other devices aside from NUC12 Extreme and the NUC12 Extreme, and NUC11 Extreme. The next review in this series will focus on gaming-specific benchmarks (using GPUs) and include comparisons to other SFF PCs in the market.
Introduction and Product Impressions
Intel’s gaming-oriented NUCs introduced the Performance series (Skull Canyon NUC6i7KYK and Hades Canyon NUC8i7HVK) before moving to the Extreme series (Ghost Canyon NUC9i9QNX). Then, at the 2021 Computex, it was revealed it was the year that Beast Canyon NUC would be the new model. Beast Canyon NUC took over the title of Ghost Canyon NUC’s flagship model and brought certain significant improvements compared to earlier versions and versions of Ghost Canyon NUC:
- This support is available for desktop processors up to 65W is included in the Compute Ellement (compared with the 45W workstation-focused mobile-focused CPUs that are found in Ghost Canyon Computer Elements)
- Chassis has been extended to accommodate larger GPUs
- 10nm Tiger Lake CPU with new micro-architectural enhancements to enhance the performance and efficiency of energy.
- It supports a greater variety of outputs and inputs (including PCIe Gen 4)
the teaser trailer for Dragon Canyon NUC at the 2022 CES added even more incredible features at the same size, which we are now able to test with a sample in our hands:
- Support for the user-replaceable 65W (socketed) desktop-class processors inside the Compute Element (compared to the soldered CPUs that are part of the Beast Canyon’s Compute Element)
- Alder Lake CPU manufactured in Intel 7 with new micro-architectural improvements to power efficiency and performance thanks to the hybrid cores to improve high performance and efficiency.
- Allows I/Os that have higher rates (including PCIe Generation 5 PCIe Gen 5 4.0 equivalent to x8 PCH and CPUs, and the 10GbE network wired support)
- The support of dual-port Ethernet (10GbE as well as 2.5GbE) for certain models, as well as a better choice of ports at the front, with both one type C or the Type A USB 3.2 Gen2 port instead of two Type-A ports found on Beast Canyon
One of the flaws in the absence of PCIe bifurcation lane bifurcation on the baseboard. While Dragon Canyon’s PCIex16-based DGPU slot can be used in an x8/x4 and x4 configuration, the Dragon Canyon’s Edge Cove baseboard lacks support for this setup. This chassis is equipped with its M.2 22110 compartments, located on the bottom, but there’s no PCIe slot on the side.
Intel has supplied our engineers with an engineering model for the premium SKU of the Dragon Canyon line – the NUC12DCMi9 with the NUC12 Extreme Compute Element (NUC11EDBi9). The Compute Element is housed within the 357mm x 120mm chassis. It can be the same chassis used for the NUC11 Extreme (Beast Canyon). In the past, NUCs have been associated with ultra-compact designs (100mm across on 0.63L or 0.42L chassis). The launch of Skull Canyon and subsequent Hades Canyon NUCs introduced a new category that consists of 0.7L and 1.2L NUCs. With the 2020 Ghost Canyon increased it to about 5L. The need to support its cooling systems of larger Compute Element and the capability to accommodate massive GPUs contribute to the size of 8L that is NUC chassis. Beast Canyon and Dragon Canyon NUC chassis. It’s still within the limit of SFF PCs, but an adult can still transport the device around. Furthermore, SFF aspects like the built-in PSU are included in the previous model. Beast Canyon NUC.
The Intel NUC line has traditionally offered board and kit versions that allow its partners to provide additional value (such as active chassis or adding more ports for I/O for the unit). Kits (apart from those that include pre-installed operating systems) will require users to purchase storage DRAM and operating systems to create the system completely. Intel plans to provide two versions of NUC kits, including that of the Dragon Canyon NUC Kit, which is it’s the NUC12DCMi9 as well as NUC12DCMi7.
NUC12DCMi7. However, OEMs and customers can also create their NUC12 system based on these components.
- Compute Element (NUC12EDBi9 or NUC12EDBi7 to serve the consumers market, and the vPro-capable NUC12EDBv9 and NUC12EDBv7 to those looking to provide professional services)
- Baseboard (or backplane)
- DRAM (up to 2x DDR4-3200 SODIMMs)
- Non-volatile storage
- Discrete GPU (optional)
The on-the-shelf Dragon Canyon NUC12DCM kit leaves only the DRAM, non-volatile storage, and discrete GPU to your discretion as an individual. Although the Compute Element comes with an LGA1700 socket, it is the same for the two Compute Elements sold on the market with the processor set up (either the Core I9-12900 or the I7-12700). Before we begin the analysis of the platform and an overview configuration, let’s take a look at the specific components in the above list.
NUC12 Compute Element
The NUC12DCMi9 that we’re looking at is a NUC12DEBi9 NUC12 Extreme Compute Element. It is equipped with socketed processors. It’s one of the core I9-12900. It’s one of the Alder Lake (12th Generation) families. It comes with the 8C and 8c/24T configuration, including a TDP of 65W. It can be turbocharged up into 4.7 GT. A Compute Element comes as part of the NUC9 series launched in the NUC9 Generation. The NUC9 Generation redefined the traditional motherboard into a PCIe x16-compatible discrete card form factor.
The Compute Element comes with a cooling shroud, which houses one fan and three M.2 heat sinks with connected thermal pads. Both heatsinks are in the same place. One of them is in the area with the fan. The third one is behind, to the left of the processor. The rear slot is compatible with M.2 2280 SSDs, and it is connected directly to the CPU. Two slots underneath the shroud for cooling have slot PCH connected. To the left are 2 SODIMM slots that allow speeds that can reach DDR-3200 on DIMMs that hold 64GB capacity. These slots are vertical (compared to the horizontal ones within NUC9 Compute Elements) NUC9 Compute Elements) These slots can be used to free up space used by M.2 slots. M.2 slot. It is important to note that the socketed processor requires additional space on the board, resulting in the transfer from one of the three M.2 slots in the Driver Bay (Beast Canyon) Compute Element to the rear of the Dragon Canyon. Below is an image gallery that shows what’s inside the Compute Element and cooling shroud.
The NUC12DCMi9 features two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 2.5G Ethernet port, a 10G Ethernet port, an HDMI 2.0b output to display, and all six USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports located on the back. It has two USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (one Type-A and one Type-C) in addition to the 3.5mm stereo headphone port, as well as an SDXC slot. SDXC with UHS-II support at the top. The front I/Os are powered by a daughterboard that joins with the motherboard of the Compute Element. It is vital to know that Compute Element has its power connector directly to the PSU.
Eden Cove Baseboard
The baseboard used for Dragon Canyon (code name Eden Cove) Dragon Canyon (code name Eden Cove) is an upgraded version of earlier versions Monster Cove board used in the Ghost Canyon.
The PCIe lanes are upgraded to Gen 5. However, they no longer include the x8 / bifurcation capabilities developed for the previous Generation.
Chassis and PSU
NUC12DCMi9 chassis has the same installation ease as the original Gen Extreme NUC. The dimensions enable the possibility of installing two slots with GPUs that measure up to twelve” across. The included 650W -80+ Gold PSU has an 8-pin connection and two pin connections that can be used to connect to the GPU. The chassis can be removed by removing the four screws, removing the rear cover, and removing the sides panels.
The panel on top with three fans is mounted in an adjustable hinge. The embossed instructions inside the frame guide users to open the frame. This is required to access the Compute Element and take off its shroud to install memories and storage.
Although the frame is made of plastic on the top of the chassis, the metal structure on the other sides gives the chassis a premium appearance and solid feel. The Beast Canyon NUC chassis also features adjustable RGB lighting that has an underflow and upgradeable RGB graphics at the top. Even though cable management isn’t a problem in and of itself, removing this NUC to assemble it could be an issue because of the small space between the PSU and the Compute Element. The many connections between the Compute Ellement and the panel on top and the daughterboard can’t be separated from PSU cables.
Therefore, it is good that most users only need to consider installing their computer’s GPU. The risk of having trouble is not solely from the standpoint of managing cables; however, it’s due to there being a USB 3.2 Gen2 cable connecting the motherboard to the USB 3.2 Gen 2 header that may be untidy, making the front port function in USB 2.0 rate. Similar issues were found in earlier NUC Extreme Kits; however, the absence of any revision to the chassis’s design suggests that the issues remain unsolved.
It is vital to keep in mind that front USB ports feature a recess and, due to their Type A nature, it is difficult to identify the best direction for connecting peripherals. This can cause a missed or a miss. Certain mice and keyboards can be buried completely within the recess, making it difficult to get them out if another USB port is filled. The PSU AC receptacle on the top of the chassis indicates that the huge AC power cord could cause problems with the management of cables. In both of these instances, it’s evident the NUC Ghost Canyon chassis was the best design.
Our review sample’s setup for NUC12DCMi9 was built with this set of components
- 2x Mushkin Redline 4S320NNNF32G for 64GB of DRAM
- 1x Western Digital WD_BLACK SN770 1TB M.2 2280 SSD
The addition of a desktop-style CPU in the system means it’s probable that Beast Canyon NUC should easily be able to cope with powerful GPUs. This is an aspect we’ll cover in a subsequent piece. Today, we’ll take a look at the Dragon Canyon NUC with the minimum required parts. Next, we’ll examine all the specifications of our tested model, followed by a detailed study of the system and some tips on setting up the experience.